Perfect Dark

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This article is about the Nintendo 64 video game. For other uses, see Perfect Dark (disambiguation).
Perfect Dark
A red headed woman's face occupies the foreground on an industrial-style background. She is holding a gun. A grey alien is visible at the bottom right corner. In the bottom of the image, the title "Perfect Dark" featuring a double slash symbol after the word "Dark". Rareware's logo, Nintendo' Seal of Quality, BBFC's rating of "18", and the Dolby Surround Sound logo are shown at the bottom left corner. On the right side of the image, game specifications.
European box art
Developer(s) Rare
Director(s) Martin Hollis
Designer(s) Duncan Botwood
David Doak
Chris Tilston
Keith Rabbette
Mark Edmonds
Composer(s) Grant Kirkhope
Graeme Norgate
David Clynick
Series Perfect Dark
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release date(s)
  • JP October 21, 2000
  • NA May 22, 2000
  • PAL June 30, 2000
Genre(s) First-person shooter, stealth
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer
Distribution 256 Mb (32 MB) cartridge

Perfect Dark is a first-person shooter video game developed by Rare for the Nintendo 64 video game console. It is considered the spiritual successor to Rare's earlier first-person shooter GoldenEye 007, with which it shares many gameplay features. Perfect Dark was first released in Canada and the United States on May 22, 2000; PAL and NTSC-J releases followed soon afterwards. A separate Game Boy Color version set in the same fictional universe and also titled Perfect Dark was released in August 2000 as a supplement to the game. This version allows certain features within the Nintendo 64 game to alternatively be unlocked with the use of a Transfer Pak.

The game features a single-player mode consisting of seventeen missions in which the player assumes the role of special agent Joanna Dark, an operative for the fictional Carrington Institute, as she attempts to stop a conspiracy by rival corporation dataDyne. It also features a range of multiplayer options, including co-operative and "counter-operative" modes in addition to traditional deathmatch settings. Technically, it is one of the most advanced games developed for the Nintendo 64, with optional high-resolution graphics and Dolby Surround Sound. A Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak is required to access the game's campaign and most of the multiplayer features.

Perfect Dark was developed over the course of three years and uses a modified version of the GoldenEye 007 engine. The game met with critical acclaim and commercial success upon release, selling more than three million units worldwide. Critics widely praised its customisable multiplayer modes and replay value, though opinions were mixed on its inconsistent frame rate. The game's success has led to the development of the Perfect Dark franchise, which includes the 2005 prequel Perfect Dark Zero and other types of merchandise such as novels and comic books. A remake, also titled Perfect Dark, with enhanced graphics, online multiplayer and some other minor changes, was exclusively released as an Xbox Live Arcade game for the Xbox 360 in 2010.


Perfect Dark series fictional chronology

Perfect Dark is set in 2023 against the backdrop of an interstellar war between two races: the Maians, who resemble the archetypal grey alien; and the Skedar, reptile-like extraterrestrials who use a holographic disguise to appear as Scandinavian humans, bearing similarities to Nordic aliens.[1] Using this disguise, they can interact with humans on Earth without looking too overtly suspicious. Meanwhile on Earth, there is an on-going rivalry between two factions: The Carrington Institute, an R&D center founded by Daniel Carrington that secretly operates an espionage group in league with the Maians;[1] and dataDyne, a sinister defence contractor corporation led by Cassandra De Vries, who secretly made a deal with a group of Scandinavians: she agreed to assist them in constructing an AI to crack the codes of a "Cetan" alien ship buried on the ocean floor.[1] In return, the Scandinavians promised to supply them with enough alien technology to become the biggest corporation on Earth.[1]

The player is cast as Joanna Dark, an agent of the Carrington Institute, whose excellent scores in training have earned her the codename "Perfect Dark".[2] On her first mission, she is sent to extract a defector named Dr. Caroll from the dataDyne skyscraper.[1] It is revealed that Dr. Caroll is in fact the AI created by dataDyne, who felt that dataDyne had betrayed ethical and moral standards.[1] After the operation, Carrington is held captive at his private villa by dataDyne soldiers and forced to tell them where Dr. Caroll has been hidden. Once Joanna rescues Carrington, he informs her that Dr. Caroll has been taken to the G5 Corporation headquarters in Chicago, which is suspected to be a front for dataDyne.[3] In Chicago, Joanna learns that dataDyne and their conspirators plan to kidnap the President of the United States to get access to a deep sea research vessel which will allow the conspirators to reach the Cetan ship.[4] Despite the President being in danger, Carrington alerts Joanna that a Maian craft was shot down near Area 51 and sends her to rescue any survivors from the base.[5] While inside the base, she rescues one survivor, a Maian Protector named Elvis who is key in stopping the conspiracy.[1]

As the President of the United States refuses to loan dataDyne the research vessel, the conspirators plot to kill him and replace him with a dataDyne-grown clone.[4] To accomplish their plans, an NSA strike team led by Trent Easton invades the air base from which Air Force One will depart.[1] When Joanna foils this strike, the NSA along with some Scandinavians take over the plane itself, which crashes after an attempt to detach a craft attached to it.[1] Having survived the crash, Joanna eliminates the president's clone and rescues the real president.[1] Due to his failure to kill the president, Easton is killed by one particular Scandinavian known as Mr. Blonde, who turns out to be a Skedar.[6] Unbeknownst to dataDyne, the Carrington Institute learns that the Cetan ship contains a megaweapon and that the conspirators are actually Skedar aliens disguised as Scandinavian humans who intend to test the weapon on the Earth before using it against the Maian homeworld.[1]

Without permission from the president, dataDyne blindly elect to hijack the deep sea vessel and take it to the ancient alien spacecraft.[1] Joanna and Elvis follow where they find a reprogrammed Dr. Caroll decoding the megaweapon. Joanna replaces its current personality with a backup of the original, and the restored Dr. Carroll sets the weapon to self-destruct.[7] In retaliation, the Skedar later launch a strike on the Carrington Institute, capturing Joanna and taking her to their homeworld.[1] While in the spaceship, she is met by Cassandra, who has also been imprisoned due to her failure to comply with the deal. Feeling that she has been used, Cassandra makes a distraction by sacrificing herself, freeing Joanna and therefore giving herself a chance for revenge.[8] Joanna is later assisted by Elvis and both manage to land on the Skedar planet.[1] There, she defeats the Skedar High Priest, leaving the Skedar in disarray. The game ends with Elvis and Joanna leaving the planet just prior to an orbital bombardment from the Maian navy.[1]


A metallic room with columns and computers located in the farthest side. A hand holding and reloading a gun is seen on the bottom right corner. A crosshair and graphics symbols representing ammunition are also visible.
Unlike GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark features unique and visible reload sequences. The green bars on the HUD at the bottom right corner show remaining ammunition in the weapon's magazine.

Perfect Dark features many elements that are typical of a first-person shooter game, including a range of weapons to collect, enemies to defeat and distinct environments to explore.[9] Although Perfect Dark is not set in the James Bond universe, the gameplay is extremely similar to that of its predecessor and many features were retained, including the ability to use stealth to tackle missions, and objectives that vary with the difficulty setting.[10][11] The player can take part in a number of tutorials and training activities by exploring the Carrington Institute, which acts as the game's central hub.[10] The most substantial of these activities is the firing range, in which the player's proficiency with each of the game's weapons is tested against specific targets.[10] Completing these trials unlocks so-called "Classic Weapons", which are renamed versions of weapons from GoldenEye 007.[12]

The weapons of Perfect Dark include handguns, rifles, submachine guns, a shotgun, rocket launchers, combat knives, grenade launchers, various explosives, and several extraterrestrial weapons.[13] Almost all of the weapons in the game have two modes of fire: a primary mode in which the weapon is used in a typical fashion, and a secondary mode which tends to use the weapon in a more unconventional manner, such as pistol-whipping or proximity detonation.[13] Players can carry an unlimited number of weapons, and certain guns can be used in duplicate, one in each hand.[14] Unlike in GoldenEye 007, where the guns were simply dipped below vision during reloading, Perfect Dark '​s weapons all feature unique and visible reload sequences.[10]


In the game's campaign mode, the player controls the main protagonist, Joanna Dark, through a series of levels collected together into missions.[12] In each level, the player must complete certain objectives and then exit the stage.[12] The requirements are varied, with many levels requiring the recovery and use of numerous high-tech gadgets. If Joanna is killed or fails an objective, the player must start the level again. Any level can be completed through three distinct difficulty settings (Agent, Special Agent or Perfect Agent), and several aspects, such as the number of objectives that must be completed, the amount of ammunition available, and enemy accuracy and damage, can vary in function of the chosen difficulty.[12] On higher difficulties, the optional "auto-aiming", in which the game corrects slight aiming errors automatically, becomes less effective and bonus items such as protective shields are absent to increase the challenge.[12] Once the game has been completed on one difficulty level, the levels can be tackled in any order on the other difficulties, apart from the final mission of the main story arc, which can only be played at a given difficulty after all other missions have been beaten on that difficulty. If all the levels are completed on Perfect Agent difficulty, an additional setting becomes available, titled Perfect Dark.[12] Like the "007" option in GoldenEye 007, this mode allows the player to customise various aspects of enemies, such as their health, their aiming accuracy and the damage they inflict.[12]

Four bonus missions may be unlocked by the player.[15] One, "The Duel", is a holographic training simulation against three opponents, and is unlocked by completing all of the entry-level weapon challenges in the firing range.[15] The other three bonus missions are unlocked by completing the game on each of the three standard difficulties,[15] and allow the player to control other characters — Elvis, Mr. Blonde and a Maian warrior — in scenarios parallel to the main narrative. The gameplay is essentially unchanged, with objectives to accomplish and enemies to battle, but these characters do have some special characteristics, such as Mr. Blonde's cloaking device.[16] Players can also unlock cheats by beating the levels within certain time limits.[17] Some cheats, such as "All Weapons", can alternatively be unlocked by using the Perfect Dark Game Boy Color game and Transfer Pak.[18] The cheats range from "Perfect Darkness", which makes the level pitch dark but gives the player a pair of night vision goggles, to more traditional extras such as Unlimited Ammo.[17]

The game includes a co-operative mode in which two players, or one player and up to three computer-controlled players, can tackle the missions together.[10] If two humans play, the game uses a split screen display, with the option to split horizontally or vertically. Only one human player is required to survive the mission, although all the objectives must still be completed. Additionally, the game also features a "Counter Operative" mode, in which one player plays the missions as Joanna while the other takes over the role of an enemy — including their weaponry and low health — and attempts to stop her.[19] The Counter Operative player takes control of another enemy if they are killed, and cannot cause the mission to fail directly by, for example, killing Joanna's allies before she meets them.[19]

There are numerous easter eggs and strange objects, areas and glitches to fuel the exploration efforts and wild speculation of many gamers. Perhaps the most famous curiosity is the piece of cheese hidden on every level.[20] These were intended to be collectible items, although the purpose of collecting them has never been revealed. This idea was scrapped, but the cheese remained. The face of celebrity Nintendo fan Robin Williams was used for Daniel Carrington. The face of Shigeru Miyamoto along with faces of other Nintendo executives and games journalists can be seen on minor characters such as enemy guards in the missions and as selectable avatars in the multiplayer mode.[21]


The Combat Simulator is Perfect Dark '​s multiplayer mode. A game can be played with up to four human players and eight computer-controlled players.[10] Again, a split-screen is used if more than one human is playing. If three or four humans play, the screen is divided into quarters, with one quarter left blank if necessary.[22] Players enter the game unarmed and with a certain amount of health. Weapons and ammunition are scattered around the level in preset positions. Once a player is killed, they are regenerated elsewhere in the level, once again unarmed. The overall objective of the game is determined by the scenario being played.[23]

Scenarios range from the traditional deathmatch mode, where players score points by killing their respective enemies, to popular objective-based games, such as Capture the Flag or King of the Hill.[24] Other scenarios include Hold the Briefcase, where players must take a briefcase and survive with it for as long as possible. Points are received for every set number of seconds the case is held and, if the player with the briefcase is killed, the briefcase is dropped and can be picked by anyone else.[24] Hacker Central is another gametype where players score points by hacking a computer system using a data uplink. Although both the data uplink and computer system are randomly placed in the level, the data uplink can be moved to a new location if the player carrying it is killed;[24] and Pop a Cap, in which one player is labelled as the target, and the other players go after him. The target receives a point for every 60 seconds they stay alive. If the hunters kill the target, they receive two points and the targeted player changes.[24]

Aspects of each game can be customised, such as the chosen map, the weapons available, and the winning conditions.[24] Players can be grouped into teams or compete individually.[24] In a team game, the players can optionally be shown coloured according to their team.[24] Each game can be customised to a greater degree than was possible in GoldenEye 007 '​s widely acclaimed multiplayer mode.[23] For example, the earlier game only allowed players to specify a pre-set class of weapons, such as "Automatics", but in Perfect Dark, players can individually select the weapons to be included and where each should be located.[23] Shields may be placed in any of the weapon slots or omitted entirely; GoldenEye 007 '​s body armour was fixed in one position for each level.[24]

Computer controlled bots, called "Simulants", can be included in the multiplayer game.[23] The appearance, team affiliation, skill level and playing characteristics of each Simulant can be individually customised.[23] For example, the VengeSim always pursues the player that killed it last, the FistSim will not fire guns but will attack with punches and thrown weapons, while the PeaceSim does not fight at all but merely tries to disarm the other players.[23][24] Simulants can perform super-human feats on the highest difficulty settings, such as moving faster than the player can. During team matches, a human player can issue specific orders to the Simulants on their team, such as "Defend the Base".[22] The Combat Simulator also includes thirty "Challenges", pre-set games against Simulants which may be tackled by one or more players.[25] The Challenges cover a variety of game types, weapon arrangements and level setups. As a player completes them, additional features — including new weapons, player models and bot difficulties — are unlocked in the Combat Simulator.[24][25]

At the end of a match, the overall results are shown, alongside information about the individual players' performance.[10] Color-coded "medals" are awarded to the winners in several categories: Accuracy, Head Shots, KillMaster (for achieving the most kills) and Survivor (for suffering the fewest deaths). The game also acknowledges, often humorously, other aspects of performance by awarding messages such as "Best Protected" (for people who frequently use body armour) and "Mostly Harmless" (for particularly ineffective players). Players can also keep track of their performance by creating and saving multiplayer profiles, which also allow players to customise their in-game appearance by selecting the head and body of any of the game's character models (excluding the Skedar), as well as several which do not appear in the single-player mode.[23] Additionally, each profile contains a ranking, ranging from "Beginner: 21" to "Perfect: 1", which is determined based on the accumulation of certain statistics such as number of kills, time played, ammunition used or number of medals earned. A player achieving the rank of "Perfect: 1" is given the message "Username: Entropic Decay, Password: Zero-Tau." Rare had originally intended these details to allow access to password-protected parts of the official Perfect Dark website, but these sections were never implemented.[26]


A two color image showing a room. A woman is sitting on a couch and holding a gun in her right hand. A large weapon is lying on the left wall. Around the image are Japanese symbols.
While the localised title of Red and Black was ultimately dropped, Japanese advertisements and box art for Perfect Dark still kept its dual color theme. Also evident in this ad is that Perfect Dark could be bought bundled with an Expansion Pak in Japan; such a bundle was not made available in the American release.

Perfect Dark was developed by Rare and directed by Martin Hollis, who previously led the production of GoldenEye 007.[27] Rare rejected the prospect of working on the GoldenEye sequel Tomorrow Never Dies "without hesitation", as the development team felt they had spent too much time immersed in the James Bond universe.[28] Work on the game began almost immediately after the release of GoldenEye 007.[29] The game's science fiction setting was chosen due to the developers' interest in the genre.[30] The decision to make the central character a woman was part of Hollis' belief that there "should be more games centred on women."[27] To this end, the team created Joanna Dark, influenced by a number of other fictional heroines: Kim Kimberly from Level 9 Computing's text adventure Snowball, the seductive spy Agent X-27 in the 1930s film Dishonored, the eponymous femme fatale of the film Nikita, and FBI agent Dana Scully from The X-Files.[27] The name "Joanna Dark" was taken from the French pronunciation of Joan of Arc as "Jeanne d'Arc".[27]

Ghost in the Shell was a major influence on the character, setting and plot.[27] The name of the in-game company "dataDyne" was inspired by Yoyodyne from The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon.[28] The writing of author Philip K. Dick and the film Blade Runner also represented significant influences.[27][29] Hollis explained that he and designer David Doak "picked a range of locations we thought would be impressive and architectural, on the model of GoldenEye but sci-fi dystopias... The settings came first; the plot was then constructed by Dave to sew them together".[27] The word "Dark" was chosen for its association with the game's bleak focus on killing.[27] Hollis has noted the similarities to Criterion Software's naming of Black: "Game developers just like black, nihilism, dystopian futures, the number zero, infinity, spheres, perfection—all that kind of stuff."[27]

The "double slash" symbol in the game's logo was inspired by the Japanese dakuten mark, and the bad grammar of the phrase "Perfect Dark" alludes in some degree to Hollis' affection for the way the Japanese use English words in their own games.[28] At one time, Nintendo of Japan considered releasing the game there under the title Aka to Kuro (赤と黒?, lit. "Red and Black").[31] "Perfect Dark" does not translate well into Japanese, and the title "Aka to Kuro" was considered sufficiently edgy.[32] However, it was eventually released as パーフェクト・ダーク (Pāfekuto Dāku), a transliteration of the Western title.[33]

Originally Hollis hoped that the difference between light and dark would be a significant feature of the gameplay, and the title was intended to reflect this focus.[27] A flashlight was implemented by Steve Ellis,[27] who had been responsible for much of the multiplayer mode in GoldenEye,[34] but it was not included in the final game due to the limitations of the N64 hardware (see Game engine section). Hollis remarked that such aims were overambitious: "Even today, you can see game developers struggle to make light and dark foundational from a gameplay perspective. I suspect it will take a few years before significant and pervasive gameplay innovation occurs here."[27] Although not all these intended features were realised, the game does contain more advanced lighting than GoldenEye; lights can be shot out, gunfire illuminates rooms, and the player can use infra-red and night vision goggles.[10]

Martin Hollis was involved with Perfect Dark for the first fourteen months of its three-year development, during which progress was troubled and long delayed.[27][30] He explained, "each of us was asking for more than the other could give. This situation ended with my departure, and with very deep regret I was unable to see Perfect Dark to completion".[35] David Doak also left at the end of 1998, and Steve Ellis soon after, to form Free Radical Design.[36] What followed by those remaining on the project was a comprehensive re-design of the game, with the story and characters being the main items kept intact. Hollis was impressed by the comprehensive range of multiplayer options in the released version of Perfect Dark, which he described as "a vast array of features I never planned".[27] Doak, however, remarked, "GoldenEye pretty much exhausted the performance of the machine. It was hard to push it further. Perfect Dark had some good ideas but was dog slow."[34]

A feature called "Perfect Head", which appeared in previews of the game but was not included in the final product, was intended to take customisation of multiplayer profiles further.[37] This feature allowed the player to place a photograph of their choice onto their in-game character's face, via a Game Boy Camera combined with the Nintendo 64 Transfer Pak. The images taken would be uploaded to the cartridge and manipulated with a simple image editing program to adjust color and skin tone (as the Game Boy Camera was black and white) and add facial features such as facial hair. This texture could then be saved to either the cartridge or a Controller Pak and then loaded onto a player's character in multiplayer, thus creating a virtual representation of the player.[38][39] Although Rare officially said that the feature was dropped due to "technical issues", the real reason was revealed to be "sensitive issues" surrounding the ability to attack images of real people.[37][40][41]

Game engine[edit]

A data chart showing numerical and categorical information.
Expansion Pak information as estimated on the game's box.

The Perfect Dark engine is a modified version of that of GoldenEye 007, and many of the gameplay features are unchanged.[42] For instance, the manual aiming system, originally inspired by Sega's Virtua Cop,[43] is graphically enhanced but essentially the same. Players can crouch, duck and lean but notably there is still no ability to jump.[42] Despite this, it is possible to drop from most ledges, a feature rarely used in GoldenEye 007.[29] Most weapons have a finite magazine and must be reloaded after a certain number of shots. Interaction with the environment is via a single "Use" command, which opens doors, activates computers and so on. Enemies and players can disarm each other at close range, and the player can use this feature to steal weapons or knock foes unconscious. Like GoldenEye, Perfect Dark uses location-based damage;[44] for example, a shot to the torso causes more damage than a shot to a limb. However, unlike GoldenEye, in the single-player mode a head shot on a guard is instantly fatal on any difficulty level.[22]

The engine also includes a number of graphical enhancements, the most conspicuous of which is the option to play in hi-res 640x480 graphics.[29] The Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak is needed to access the game's campaign and most of the multiplayer features,[45] although a limited subset of the Combat Simulator options are available without the device (around 35% of the game is playable without an Expansion Pak, as estimated on the game's box and Instruction Booklet).[22] The lighting system was improved so that gunfire and explosions illuminate areas dynamically, and lights can be shot out to create darkened areas.[10] Further progressions from GoldenEye include weapon-specific reloading animations, and more elaborate gore effects which allow gunshots to project enemies' blood onto nearby walls and objects.[46] Another graphical novelty is the "dizziness" effect; if a player is punched, poisoned by a throwing knife or shot with the Tranquilizer gun, their nausea is represented through a motion blurred view. The degree of blurring increases with dizziness, and a badly stunned player may have difficulty seeing anything at all.[10] The disadvantage of such detailed graphics is that the frame rate inevitably suffers in some areas; this was one of the main criticisms levelled at the game by reviewers (see Reception section).[10] The same limitation was present in GoldenEye, but the other graphical enhancements in Perfect Dark serve to exacerbate the problem. In multiplayer, the game must render the scene separately for each player, although at reduced resolution. Nevertheless the frame rate issues arise again, particularly if a large number of Simulants are involved.[47]

Perfect Dark's engine offered audio features that had not been available on the N64 before; for example, it was one of the few games to offer Dolby Surround Sound.[29] Some of the game's audio data was compressed into MP3 format to fit into the relatively small storage space afforded by a cartridge,[48] though the music was sequenced. There is full voice-acting for all the dialogue, and the guards can be heard having conversations amongst themselves about the events of the level.[29] Additionally, both NTSC and PAL N64 systems run the game in full screen, without the "letterboxing" seen in many PAL releases, and there is a 16:9 option for use on widescreen televisions.[49]

The artificial intelligence of the guards includes the ability to call for help and sound nearby alarms.[50] The guards can be alerted by nearby gunfire, and the various weapons in the game have distinct volumes; for example, guards are less likely to be alerted by suppressed pistols than powerful rifles. Enemies can also throw grenades and, if the player disarms them, draw a secondary weapon.[51] One criticism raised of GoldenEye 007 '​s guards was their weakness at very close range, since their weapons appear to shoot straight through the player. This is resolved in Perfect Dark, whose guards can deliver punches and kicks at close range, inflicting damage and causing dizziness. In GoldenEye, the guards could not see through glass — a feature included deliberately so that the player could spy on foes through windows.[43] This aspect is retained in Perfect Dark, although enemies can now see and shoot over railings. In the later stages of the game, the player encounters Skedar enemies still in reptilian form, and while the Skedar weapons and characteristics are different, their AI is qualitatively the same.[52] The multiplayer Simulants are considerably more advanced, and can exhibit abilities similar to those of a human player but with some limitations. For example, they have the ability to complete multiplayer objectives, such as capturing the briefcase, but they are not able to use some of the weapons, such as remote mines.[22] Simulants make no attempt to avoid simple traps such as proximity mines or sentry guns, even on the highest skill setting.

There are a number of bugs and technical issues in the game engine. For example, in the first level, a flaw in the level geometry makes it possible to pass through a supposedly solid wall, allowing the level to be completed on the easiest difficulty in just a few seconds.[53] Also, as with many older first-person shooters, players can use a technique called straferunning (or "speed-strafing") to exploit a bug in the engine whereby moving diagonally allows the player to move faster than by running forwards or sideways alone. This technique is almost essential to achieving some of the target times required to unlock cheats.[44]

Marketing and release[edit]

Rare announced in mid-1998 that their follow-up to GoldenEye would appear at that year's E3 as Nintendo's lead game,[54] and claimed that the game, using the same engine as its predecessor, would be available by Christmas 1998.[21] The release date gradually slipped but the game continued to be heavily trailed in magazines,[55] with Nintendo Official Magazine predicting that it would be "the best shooting game this century".[56] A working version of the game appeared at the European Computer Trade Show 1998;[57] N64 Magazine described the preview as having "the kind of attention to detail that had everyone who saw [it] drooling".[58] Shortly before release, Rare unveiled a number of websites for companies in the game's universe, such as, to promote interest in the game's storyline.[59][60]

The first release of the game came on May 22, 2000 in North America. Nintendo arranged a number of publicity stunts to promote the release, including hiring model Michele Merkin, who appeared as the lead character Joanna Dark in commercials and in-store promotions for the game cartridge.[61][62] Unlike GoldenEye 007, the game received an M (Mature) rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board due to its graphic content and adult language.[46] This caused some controversy, as Nintendo has a reputation for family-friendly games like Mario and Pokémon.[63] Total sales for the game reached 1.3 million copies in the United States.[64] The European release followed on 30 June, and finally the game was released in Japan on 21 October. The Japanese launch was a success, with the sale of 35,000 copies in the first week,[64] and 77,000 in total.[65] Worldwide, Perfect Dark sold 3.2 million copies according to game designer Chris Tilston.[66] As a result, a Player's Choice edition was released in 2001.[67]

A separate Game Boy Color game set in the same fictional universe, also titled Perfect Dark, was released shortly afterwards in August 2000 to help promote the Nintendo 64 game. Although its storyline is different from the Nintendo 64 title, the game features a compatibility mode that allows certain features within the Nintendo 64 game to alternatively be unlocked, via a Transfer Pak.[68] On the other hand, a double soundtrack album, titled Perfect Dark: Dual CD Soundtrack, which features the complete score of the game, was released on November 15, 2000 exclusively through Nintendo Power magazine.[69]


Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 95% (45 reviews)[70]
Metacritic 97% (30 reviews)[71]
Review scores
Publication Score
Edge 9/10[11]
GamePro 5/5 stars[72]
Game Revolution A-[73]
GameSpot 9.9/10[52]
IGN 9.8/10[10]
GameCritics 9.0/10[74]
Gaming Age A-[47]
Gaming Target 9.5/10[75]
N64 Magazine 96%[76]

Upon release, Perfect Dark received very strong reviews from magazines and websites. Critics praised multiple aspects of the game, particularly its graphics, sound and value.[10] GameSpot reviewer Joe Fielder awarded the game a rating of 9.9 out of 10, making it the highest-reviewed first-person shooter of the site.[77] He commented, "As a single-player or multiplayer [first-person shooter] experience, Perfect Dark is unparalleled on the console systems".[52] Patrick Klepek, writing for Gaming Age, described it as "probably one of the best [first-person shooters] to be released in quite a while",[47] while Chi Kong Lui of GameCritics criticised the "weak characters and an unoriginal storyline", but nevertheless judged the "extraordinary amount of high-quality multiplayer modes and features", meant that "the game is still a blast".[74]

The graphics were praised for their dynamic lighting, clean textures, and realistic and fluid animations.[10] IGN journalist Matt Casamassina remarked that the levels are much more detailed than the ones from GoldenEye 007 and that the polygon character models and weapons are "wonderfully animated".[10] Game Revolution highlighted the game's semi-realistic look, saying that it "adds to the depth and addiction of the game".[73] The sound received similar praise, with Jonathan Nicklas of Gaming Target comparing it favourably to that of Capcom's survival horror title Resident Evil 2.[75] The voiced cutscenes, amount of ambient noises, musical score, and Dolby Surround Sound capabilities were said to effectively bring the game to life.[10][52] The music was described as a mixture between Vangelis' Blade Runner theme and GoldenEye 007.[10]

The gameplay was generally praised for the challenging artificial intelligence of enemies and varied level design.[10][52][74] GameCritics credited the missions for their "nice mix of timed, patterned, and random events that makes playing through them different and refreshing each time".[74] The enemies were admired for their use of squad tactics, for waiting for the player to come back instead of obediently chasing after them, and for ducking around a corner for cover.[52] GamePro also gave high marks to the game's counter-operative mode, noting that the player "never [knows] which of the random bad guys [the] opponent controls".[72] The multiplayer and replay value were seen as the strongest features of the game.[10][52][72][74][75] Reviewers noted that the flexibility of options, amount of game modes, "clever" weapons, number of unlockable features, and customisable simulants give the game "endless replay value".[10][52] GameCritics stated that "Perfect Dark is easily the most advanced, elaborate, and entertaining multiplayer gaming experience on any home console."[74]

One frequently criticised aspect of the game was its low and inconsistent frame rate.[10][11][47][52] According to Trigger Happy author Steven Poole, "The game's inadequate temporal resolution—owing to a wrongheaded choice to privilege visual detail over frame-rate—made it unplayable at higher difficulty levels."[78] In contrast, IGN pointed out that the frame rate "can be sluggish in certain wide-open areas or when there are lots of enemies on-screen, but for some odd reason it's never really bothersome. Most of the time you're so caught up in the game that you don't notice it, and when you do, you're willing to forgive it as Perfect Dark is just too much fun to dwell on such an issue".[10] Poole also described the "lazy sci-fi fetishism" of Joanna Dark's character design as "a blatant and doomed attempt to steal the thunder of Lara Croft",[78] and argued that she illustrated the challenges of characterising the protagonists of first-person shooters, a problem that GoldenEye had avoided by using the already well-known character James Bond.[79]

The overall positive reaction from critics can be gauged by the results of review compilation sites. The game has a Metacritic rating of 97%, which is considered "universal acclaim",[71] and a GameRankings aggregate review score of 95% as of June 2007.[70] Perfect Dark has also been featured in several "greatest game" lists. In 2006, the game was placed at number 15 on IGN's Readers Choice Top 100 Games Ever and Nintendo Power rated it the 100th best game made on a Nintendo system.[80][81] In 2007, the game was placed at number 86 on IGN's Top 100 Games of All Time and Edge placed it at number 28 on their list of 100 Best Videogames (a list voted for by readers, Edge staff and gaming industry professionals).[82][83] Rare was also recognised for its work on the game, as the company was awarded the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Moving Images Award for 2000 and the Golden Satellite Award for Best Interactive Product in 2001.[84][85] GameSpot awarded Perfect Dark Best Nintendo 64 Game and Best Shooting Game for 2000.[86][87]

Edge published two retrospective articles on Perfect Dark in 2007 and 2008. The magazine acknowledged that the game's frame rate and other dated elements of its design rendered it "nigh-on unplayable",[88] but found its ambitious range of options still praiseworthy: "At release, Perfect Dark was the most comprehensive first-person shooter ever made, and in some ways it still is."[83] Edge found the ambitious mentality which resulted in weapons and bots being "designed for possibilities rather than balance", both one of Perfect Dark's most interesting aspects and the cause of its biggest problem: "Restraint [...] would have made Perfect Dark a tighter, more focused experience, helped with those framerate issues, and removed almost all of the fun."[88] The magazine concluded that despite Perfect Dark not standing up as a good game to play in 2008, "its currency of ideas and provocation [...] remains sound."[88]


Perfect Dark was the last major first-person shooter game for the Nintendo 64, which was already nearing the end of its lifespan; Nintendo unveiled their new console, the GameCube, at SpaceWorld 2000.[89] The game was also the last appearance of the GoldenEye 007/Perfect Dark engine. Twenty months before Perfect Dark was released, some of the development team left Rare to form Free Radical Design.[36] This company went on to develop the PlayStation 2 game TimeSplitters, another first-person shooter based around a completely new engine. TimeSplitters and its sequels bear several gameplay and presentational similarities to GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, including a similar aiming system and unlockable options through quick level completions.[90][91]

Meanwhile Rare began development of a prequel titled Perfect Dark Zero for the Nintendo GameCube. However, the company was purchased by Microsoft in 2002,[92] and as a result it was announced that Perfect Dark Zero would be an Xbox title. Later it was decided that the game would instead be released for the Xbox 360, and it became a launch title for that system. The game retains Perfect Dark '​s first-person perspective and mission objective system, although other features were not carried over. Joanna Dark remains the lead character. The game's multiplayer mode allows many more computer players, thanks to the more advanced Xbox 360 hardware, and can also be played online (via Xbox Live), which was not possible with the Nintendo 64.[93] While Perfect Dark Zero received generally positive reviews from critics,[94] some publications such as Eurogamer and Game Informer found it to be a disappointment.[95][96]

Perfect Dark '​s worldwide sales were not as great as its predecessor's 8 million,[97] and Joanna Dark did not attain the same status in pop culture as other video game heroines such as Tomb Raider '​s Lara Croft. Nevertheless, the game's universe continued to be developed with the release of the novel Perfect Dark: Initial Vector, a Rare-sanctioned paperback by Greg Rucka.[98] The novel is set in the time between Perfect Dark Zero and Perfect Dark, and portrays Joanna Dark as an ex-bounty hunter drawn into the Carrington Institute's battle with dataDyne through her own vendetta against the hyper-corporations.[99] Rucka stated, "If you've played the first game, you're going to get a huge treat, because a lot of stuff that happens in Perfect Dark we set up in the novel."[100] In 2007, two new titles were developed: the comic series Perfect Dark: Janus' Tears, written by Eric Trautmann,[101] and a second novel by Rucka titled Perfect Dark: Second Front, both of which are direct chronological sequels.

In 2010, Perfect Dark was re-made on the Xbox 360 as an Xbox Live Arcade game, including reworked graphics and online features (see Perfect Dark XBLA). The development was handled by 4J Studios, the same studio that previously handled the Xbox Live Arcade ports of Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie.[44] The remake was generally well received: while some critics considered the relatively unchanged game to be outdated, most agreed that the title was a great revival of a classic.[102][103] A total conversion mod of the game, called Perfect Dark: Source and using Valve's Source engine, was in development at some point.[104]


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External links[edit]