This review originally appeared in E85, June 2000.
If ever a game demanded better technology, Perfect Dark is it. Appearing three years after GoldenEye and four years into the N64’s existence, PD pushes Nintendo’s console beyond the limits of its technical abilities, requiring you to invest in a Expansion Pak if you wish to indulge in anything other than a limited version of the glorious multiplayer options. Edge assumes most hardcore N64 devotees already own such memory-enhancing hardware, but for those who don’t, it could prove one of the wisest investments they’ll ever make. Without it, PD is massively restricted, but with just 4Mb of extra RAM it suddenly metamorphoses into the most astounding FPS experience currently available.
While the narrative, which sees Carrington Institute covert agent Joanna Dark battle the evil dataDyne corporation 23 years from now, isn’t quite as adventurous as Edge had originally hoped, it does at least take you to an uncommonly varied set of locations as you infiltrate, deactivate, incapacitate and exterminate your way through nine missions spread over 17 levels (excluding bonuses). The majority of these span vast areas and are at least as sublimely designed as anything GoldenEye can offer.
Predictably, PD shares much with Rare’s first FPS venture. Here, the levels are also split into three degrees of difficulty with the number of mission objectives increasing the harder the setting. If you fail to play through the higher difficulty levels then you’re not getting the full experience – finish the game in its lowest setting and you’ll walk away feeling that some of the elements appear disappointingly underused.
But the sensational beauty of PD, as with GoldenEye, is that while a specific appliance is occasionally required for certain tasks, most of the time you’re free to deal with situations as you see fit. And it’s the same for most of the mission objectives – few of them dictate an absolutely linear approach. Combine that with the size and complexity of some of the levels and you’ll be surprised at the number of permutations available to you. In other words, it’s an intelligently developed game that rewards intelligent play, the implications of which should not be underestimated: the resulting sense of immersion is unparalleled. It’s what defines PD and GoldenEye as the best firstperson shooters the world has to offer.
And that’s only the oneplayer game. Rare has added a twoplayer co-operative option allowing two individuals to work together through the missionsm which – other than the occasional frame rate problem – is magnificent, introducing a whole new set of strategic options into the equation. Similarly inspired is the counter-operative mode, where one player controls Joanna while another forms part of the dataDyne troops.
Then there’s the combat simulator, where the most comprehensive set of multiplayer options yet seen resides. Aside from 30 challenges (anything from standard deathmatch to more inventive ‘king of the hill’-type scenarios), and a few preset games on offer (free-for-all or teamwork-based), there’s the main one- to fourplayer combat. You can add CPU simulants of varying personalities at any stage (a maximum of eight players per arena is imposed) and, if you wish, segregate everyone into teams (again, up to eight). Classic GoldenEye arenas make a return but many others have been specifically designed with multiplaying in mind, maximising refresh rate and gameplay. It’s an exceptional addition to an already unequalled package.
If there is a gripe it would be a technical one. The frame rate, for anyone used to the smoothness offered by current PC FPS titles, is initially disillusioning but, after a while, chances are you’ll be too engrossed in the action to notice. Twoplayer co-op and counter-op action has more significant moments of update trouble, particularly during more open areas, and fourplayer combat can also serve as a reminder of the host machine’s limitations.
Regardless, Perfect Dark refines GoldenEye’s phenomenal gameplay while massively developing its multiplayer components. It fails to be as revolutionary on as many levels as its predecessor but, if you’re a N64 owner, consider this utterly indispensable entertainment. And if you don’t already possess Nintendo’s console, then you really no longer have an excuse not to.