Goldeneye 007 (1997) is a tough act to follow. With it, developer Rare single-handedly made first person shooters viable on home consoles, a genre relegated to PC’s at the time. All eyes were on their next game, wondering if Goldeneye was a flash in the pan or the start of something grand. Masterfully, Rare avoided the sophomore slump, creating the next evolution in the genre, Perfect Dark. Unlike its contemporaries, this actually employed many conventions still in practice today, and some that should have never left.
Rare immediately began development on Perfect Dark, not wanting to pigeonhole themselves with Bond. When the game was announce in 1998, the internet, such as it was, exploded. The hype was immediately through the roof, growing as more features were announced. As one of the last games for the Nintendo 64, released in May, 2000, Dark pushed the limits of the system. Many of the game’s modes were gated behind the not-required-but-totally-needed RAM Expansion Pak. Confused? Don’t worry, a handle table was included.
The single player campaign was a little overboard for my taste. Players controlled secret operative Joanna Dark as she embarked on corporate espionage missions. The game started with a distinct Blade Runner esque style that quickly shifted to more a V or They Live one. I preferred the former than the latter as Rare executed it more effectively. Also, Joanna Dark is a dumb character. Her hair is stupid.
Despite existing before internet gaming was prevalent, one of Dark’s main features was the multiplayer functionality. Competitive matches returned with a bevy of new modes and features. Up to four players could compete with now traditional modes such as Death Match, Team Death Match, Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, or more unique ones like Hold the Briefcase or Hacker Central. What made the modes fun were the inclusion of bots, with up to 8 allowed at a time, creating 12 player matches. A.I. for the bots ranged from cannon fodder to super kill machines. Also included in the multiplayer was two variants of co-op. One was the traditional split screen that had players working together to complete objectives. The other had one player as Joanna while the other controlled an enemy, hopping to a new body upon their death.
The weapons included secondary functions, many of which obviously having multiplayer in mind. While the standard fair was included, two were memorable, the Laptop gun and FarSight XR-20. The Laptop Gun, while a descent weapon, was more valuable for its secondary feature, sticking to a surface and converting to a motion sensing turret. Great for traps in multiplayer, but worthless in the campaign. The FarSight AR-20, though well intended, broke the game. This had an X-ray scope, allowing wielders to not only see through walls, but fire through any obstacle, yielding one hit kills. The purpose was to alleviate campers, but instead gave them their greatest weapon. One only needed to hide on the furthest side of the map, silently sniping opponents.
Whether through desire or mandate, Rare attempted to use every Nintendo gadget at the time. Released separately from the N64 version was Perfect Dark for Game Boy Color. It was terrible. Using the Transfer Pak, a controller add-on allowing gamers to connect Game Boy games to the N64, additional features could be unlocked. Another feature, though removed from the final product, was the ability to take black and white photos with the Game Boy Camera (yeah, that existed), use the Transfer Pak to import them, and map friends faces onto bots. It was removed, sighting that they couldn’t complete it, though the supposed real reason was the implication of allowing kids to shot their friends. Personally, I think it was because of the perverted images that would have crept in. Though it was axed, many games journalist, Nintendo executives like Shigeru Miyamoto, and even Robin Williams were in the game.
A sequel was eventually produced for the Xbox 360 entitled Perfect Dark Zero, but we won’t talk about that. The original was remade for XBLA, showing that the game held up remarkably well.
Perfect Dark was very much a Nintendo game as it focused on gameplay and fun. While the story and campaign were lacking, and the frame-rate chugged, it didn’t matter, the game was too much fun to play. I can’t recall the countless hours I lost fighting hordes of bots alone. Though it’s more of a curiosity now, Perfect Dark is still worth a glance. The original though, avoid everything else. Trust me.
Think the campaign was overcooked? Did you find all the cheese? Comment below!
No, really, there was cheese.