Just a quick entry tonight (fnarr) to say that I’ve been playing Perfect Dark on Xbox Live Arcade, the enhanced port of the Nintendo 64 original. Over ten years after its initial release, it’s intriguing to see how the game has held up. In terms of the single player level design, not particularly well. The many identikit rooms can make you hopelessly lost, while unclear mission objectives often frustrate. It’s easy to kill or destroy an essential mission person or item, necessitating a restart, and the lack of in-level tutorials and objective markers is quite a culture shock when compared to modern releases. The twitchy aiming controls and exceptionally dodgy voice acting (the hilarious “American Sean Connery” impression of one character is a particular highlight) don’t exactly help.
So why am I smiling? Well, playing Perfect Dark is like visiting an old friend. The upgrade to full 1080p, 60fps visuals has moved the game through time rather nicely despite the design quirks, making it look like how I remembered it when it was technologically impressive (the original is a horribly jerky, vaseline-smeared monstrosity in comparison), and this improvement in framerate instantly makes it worth experiencing again. The imagination present in the weapon designs still impresses, particularly when it comes to their innovative secondary functions (it’s strange that more games haven’t stolen the feature), and the gunplay has a feel to it that’s just “right”, despite being very different to the likes of Halo or Call of Duty.
It’s a big game, too. Some of the single player levels may be rather small, but the added objectives on harder difficulties, weapons challenges, huge variety of multiplayer customisation options, bots, splitscreen, Xbox Live play, co-op and counter-ops modes add up to far more than 800 Microsoft Points’ worth of value. The Live stuff in particular is superb fun, and reminds me of many hours in my early twenties spent with friends packed around a CRT, playing four player splitscreen. One hit kills with pistols on the Felicity level (the Perfect Dark remake of Goldeneye 007’s classic Facility) remains priceless.
So luckily, Perfect Dark on XBLA isn’t an anachronism. Sure, gamers who hammered the original back in the day will doubtless get more out of it, but first time players will gain a valuable insight into how things used to be. As an exercise in nostalgia it’s a great success, but its comprehensive multiplayer suite is still capable of impressing even today. Quickly accessible from the Xbox 360’s hard drive, the game is set up perfectly for bite-size shooty sessions, and should rightly prove to be very popular for some time to come.