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Review – Perfect Dark Zero

posted on August 17th, 2006 by christian

If you, or anyone else you know, still needs proof that Rare has become irrelevant, then I suggest you find a way to play Perfect Dark Zero. There is no doubt in my mind that any and all talent that may have existed at the company left a long time ago. All that is left are either old relics who have failed to change with the times (which can happen when your games take half a decade to complete), or perhaps new faces that are too afraid to do anything but imitate those that came before them. Forget the fact that this debuted on a next generation console; Perfect Dark Zero is a design that was irrelevant before even Halo came along. I can only imagine the meetings that may have gone on in Microsoft’s secret lair.

Huh…I wonder what would happen if I shot a red barrel. HOLY SHIT!!!! IT EXPLODED!!!!!!!!!

“Killer app? Not even close. We just need to get this friggin’ game out on the shelves before it gets any worse. We’ll sell enough on the name alone.”

It is entirely possible that such a conversation never took place, but it seems plausible. They say that anyone behind a game, no matter how bad it is, is proud of it in some fashion. Yet all one has to do is put PDZ next to just about any other half way decent shooter of the last five years, and it seems hard for anyone at Rare to swell up with pride. This is not the same developer, and not the same game.

Thanks to PDZ, this review is brought to you by the word “outdated”. Let’s see how we can use this word to describe the game….

Outdated AI: In both Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, it was often a good strategy to get the attention of the guards, then backtrack a little and wait for them to all charge around the corner while you stood there and unloaded into the crowd. The same tactic works very well in PDZ. Back on the N64 this was both acceptable and enjoyable. In 2006, it is boring and foolish. Oh, and on the higher difficulties, they still have inhuman accuracy and can take out half your health with a well placed shot. You’d figure after all this time they would have added some code to their AI routines.

Okay so maybe they did. Sometimes they don’t rush at you, but instead remain in whatever convenient location Rare decided to place them in, so they can snipe at you with lethal accuracy. You know the drill; slowly spot an enemy, take careful aim, and hope you don’t get plugged in the back by someone you can’t even see. Or should I say you know the drill if you were ever familiar with Quake 3 era PC shooters.

The only way to truly enjoy the combat in PDZ is to think of it as parody. Watch as your foes run in circles, screaming “I need backup!” and “Cover me I’m reloading” like a bunch of excited rent a cops wishing they were part of the SWAT team. Or just be amazed at how many guards you’re fighting are senior citizens with bald and greying hair. When you shoot someone with body armor and watch it literally crumble like Play-Doh with just a few bullets, go ahead and let out a chuckle. Nothing could be this ridiculous unless it was meant to make you laugh. Could it?

This is actually from the game’s official website but it pretty much sums up why they hope you’ll buy the game. I’m glad she doesn’t even have a head; faces make it that much harder to see women as objects.

Outdated level design: Now there are some FPS out there that have been slowly trying to improve level design. They replace the endless corridors and linear paths with large outdoor environments and much more natural layouts. Half Life 2 immediately comes to mind. Yet most of the early attempts didn’t fare so well. For example, while Halo 2 has some pretty solid levels, its predecessor was a bit of a mess. Outside it was often tough to know what direction to take, and indoor levels were often so large and repetitive that the Library has arrows installed in the floor to show you were to go. I thought I could never forgive Bungie for such stupidity, but perhaps now I can, because Perfect Dark has it beat.

The levels in PDZ are so confusing, that if you’re stuck for a few minutes a magical trail of arrows appears to show you where to go. It’s not some hologram or probe or anything. Just some markers that hover above the floor until you find the next scripted scene. How many games out there are so confusing that they have to literally hold your hand through each level? In that case I’ll take linear hallways, thank you very much. This would be a lot less of an issue if Rare didn’t insist on recycling assets, or making their jungle levels as confusing as an actual jungle. It’s as if someone was holding the Realism Gun to their head throughout the design process. Nothing is as fun as the cold sterility of yet another research base.

Outdated weaponry: I think we’ve played with these weapons before. Yeah, we definitely have. In the first Perfect Dark. And Goldeneye. And is that an AWP from Counterstrike I see? No, it’s the Jackal, another large, green sniper rifle. My mistake.

Outdated sense of “cool”: PDZ is insists on having a globetrotting adventure full of conspiracy theories, a sleek, fancy near-future setting, and a whole lot of bad stereotypes. Basically, it thinks Deus Ex is still the biggest thing in shooters (though that game came from an era when solid presentation in an FPS was still iffy). Thus we have Asians with broken English and scientists with “poindexter” voices that come off sounding like bad Woody Allen imitations. Daniel Carrington has gone from classy European millionaire to Fat Bastard. The whole time I expected him to say “Joanna, I want to eat your baby,” but it never came, even though it would have been infinitely more enjoyable than the rest of his dialogue. Levels include Hong Kong streets, an underwater lab, an arctic mountain lab, a desert temple, and even a jungle complete with Ewok village. The only thing missing is the fire level. There’s uninspired, and then there’s Perfect Dark Zero.

Oudated graphics design: it looks good enough really, but they decided that they wanted the entire game world to look and move like Max Steel (or any other late 90’s American CGI cartoon). It’s so awkward and silly that it bears no more mention.

“Classic Rare” style: There’s a scene in an early level where you can use a radio to distract some guards and turn off security. You have three choices of things to say to them, and only one works. The only way to find out is to guess randomly until you get it right. This is just one of many optional mission objectives sprinkled throughout the game, and virtually none of them can be completed through anything but trial and error (meaning constant restarting). In a world where most developers are at least trying to give the player some honest to goodness freedom, Rare still insists on making you play the game the way they want you to play it, and any deviation will result in failure. They also insist on you using silly gadgets like the Locktopus (does everything need a cute name?). You can’t fool me guys, not until you get better at hiding bullshit.

“I’m like, so totally a punk rocker.”

Of course, this same bullshit is complimented by the usual Halo ripoffs (limited weapons, regenerating health, very slow movement), and some awkward product placement (Samsung? In the future? Glad to know they’ll be around to supply me with HDTV’s for the 360). I don’t think there’s an original shred in this game. By the way, their insistence on following Halo has also broken the multiplayer, perhaps the only thing that could have been a saving grace. Slow speed minus Halo’s decent map layouts, and horrible balance that make headshots the only way to victory (acceptable in Counterstrike, not on a 360 pad).

There’s no way around it. Perfect Dark Zero is one of the worst big name shooters to come out in years. 1998 should be calling for their game back. Actually, that’s offensive to say; Half Life came out in 98. It isn’t terribly surprising, considering that all the talent left Rare already (some ended up at Free Radical). Still, to think that the same company that once debuted with Halo had to put any sort of backing behind this is sad and embarrassing. Microsoft, congratulations on purchasing Rare. You’ve spent millions on the shell of a legend.

Final Verdict? Joanna shakes her Hi-Def butt when going up ladders. Let a new era begin…

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