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Platform

Xbox 360

 

Genre

Shooter

 

Publisher

Microsoft

 

Developer

Rare

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

November 2005

 

 

- Tons of weapon variety

- Great online modes

- Looks good on most levels

- Co-op can be used for the single-player levels

 

 

- Single-player lacks a coherent story

- Some meandering level design can bring the action to a crawl

- Checkpoint saves can be very far apart

 

Review: Call of Duty 2 (360)

Review: Quake 4 (360)

Review: Kameo: Elements of Power (360)

 

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Perfect Dark Zero

Score: 8.1 / 10

 

The whole "zero" craze was pretty much over for me with the release of Resident Evil Zero.  Although the word is fun to say and it indicates where the story lies in the overall mythos of a series, its seems to get a little too much play and it shows a lack of creative subtitles.  Be that as it may, here we have Perfect Dark Zero, set before the events featured in the seminal N64 classic, Perfect Dark.  In fact, it must be well before those events because Joanna Dark looks to be about 19-years old.

 

perfect dark zero          perfect dark zero

 

There's a plot pushing Perfect Dark Zero forward but it's hardly of any concern -- insane capitalist searching for an artifact, etc., only one person can set things right, etc. -- because it's the action that's the main focus.

 

Joanna begins each area with a set of objectives, a couple of gadgets and a gun or two.  Like the original, the weapon roster is extensive and it's further augmented by the fact each weapon has a secondary fire mode, some of which are very creative. (While the armory is less of a concern in the single-player game, knowledge of the weapons can make or break your chances online against human opponents.)  Most of the weapons make a satisfying "pow!" and impact on targets with the kind of explosiveness you'd expect, while the sniper guns offer a rewarding "death from afar" feeling.

 

The levels and mission objectives are structured in such a way that you'll have to use a mix of weapons and because Joanna can only carry a strict limit of weapons, difficult weapon choices are par for the course.

 

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Each level is suitably sprawling but the design is occasionally haphazard to the point where you're not sure where to go next.  Anticipating this Rare has included helpful "This Way, Dumb-Ass!" arrows that appear when the game thinks you're lost.  It doesn't completely eliminate the feeling of frustration though because you'll still manage to meander a lot. (The arrows can actually be turned off if they really get on your nerves.)

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Another source of frustration are instances of trial-and-error progression in the same vein of old adventure games where one slip-up meant death.  At least with adventure games you could save anywhere, Perfect Dark Zero has only a checkpoint system -- with checkpoints separated by great chunks of game -- so if Joanna dies it can mean getting sent well back of where she bought it.  I almost game up on the 4th Mission due to this frustrating limitation.  The mission starts with a slow jog through an open area populated by snipers and roving guards, then a dash across the top of a wall also populated by guards, then attempt to bluff your way into through a security door.  That's where the trial and error process starts because if you guess wrong on the response to open the door the area fills with guards.  Muck it up again and the mission can't proceed.  At an average of 15 minutes to get to that point after I've picked my way through the level only to have to start over again and again... the fun started to wane. (It's possible that on a lower difficulty setting it would have proved easier but who wants to take the wimpy way out?)

 

perfect dark zero          perfect dark zero

 

The AI opposition is in the same range as most other first-person shooter titles -- the slightest noise will bring every enemy within a mile down on you, enemies standing side-by-side won't acknowledge their buddy getting sniped -- but they'll also behave with some intelligence by taking cover and waiting for you to get closer.  However, most enemies are easily dispatched from cover.  Joanna can pretty much use anything as cover, which allows her to take aim without exposing herself to danger.  She can also roll out of harm's way in a cinematic, third-person dive that looks a lot like Samus Aran's armadillo move.  It makes things tougher for the enemy AI but they always have numbers on their side so it's fair.

 

During online play you'll face a much different beast against human players.  Basically it boils down to deathmatch and "dark-ops" (read: Counter-Strike-esque) but there's enough variation on each theme to provide a very engrossing experience.  And if you'd prefer to hone your skills prior to leaping online, Perfect Dark Zero includes bot support.  The maps are also good at creating action and forcing players to cross paths.  If I had to choose between single-player or multiplayer, I'd probably choose multiplayer because it offers more variety, unpredictability, and it runs solidly.

 

The graphics and overall framerate of Perfect Dark Zero remain steady on and offline.  Most of the scenery won't bring tears of graphical joy to your eyes but it is good and the animation can be fun to watch. (Body armor splintering off enemies is hilarious.)  Still, on a big screen, Perfect Dark Zero is a good showcase of the possibilities of what the 360 is capable of.  But if you really go looking for flaws you'll find them.  My favorite are waterfalls that will actually display bullet holes.

 

Oddly enough, the music is almost completely forgettable.  At the very least, it's not memorable.  Although music kicks in a certain climatic moments to heighten the tension, which is does quite well, I can't hum any of the music tracks.  Hummability is the indication of a great soundtrack.

 

Perfect Dark Zero's first-person shooter competition on the 360 is Quake 4 and Call of Duty 2 and it falls directly between the two -- no match for Call of Duty 2's cinematic approach but better than the familiar feeling of Quake 4.  The online portions of Perfect Dark Zero are more varied and fun than either of Call of Duty 2 or Quake 4 so if multiplayer is a make-or-break feature, Perfect Dark Zero should get your attention.

 

- Omni

(January 31, 2006)

 

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