Perfect Dark (Xbox Live Arcade)
|Publisher(s)||Microsoft Game Studios|
|Genre(s)||First-person shooter, stealth|
Perfect Dark is an first-person shooter video game developed by 4J Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios. It was released for the Xbox 360 on March 17, 2010 through its Xbox Live Arcade download service. The game is a remake of the original Perfect Dark, a Nintendo 64 game developed by Rare and released in 2000. The player controls Carrington Institute agent Joanna Dark as she attempts to stop a conspiracy by rival corporation dataDyne. Things become complicated rapidly as she finds herself in the middle of a war between two alien races who have allied themselves with different factions on Earth.
The game was under development for nearly a year and features several improvements over the original game, including higher resolution textures and models, and a multiplayer mode that supports the Xbox Live online service. The game has been generally well received by video game critics, garnering an aggregate score of 79% on both GameRankings and Metacritic. Some critics considered the relatively unchanged game to be outdated, but most agreed that the title was a solid revival of a classic. The game has sold more than 325,000 units as of year-end 2010 and nearly 410,000 units as of year-end 2011.
Perfect Dark is a first-person shooter with elements of stealth games. In the game's campaign mode, the player controls Joanna Dark through a series of nonlinear levels collected together into missions. Each level requires the player to complete a certain number of objectives, ranging from disguising oneself to hacking computers, collecting objects, and defeating enemies, among others. Players can carry an unlimited number of weapons and almost all of the weapons have two firing modes. The levels in Perfect Dark have no checkpoints, meaning that if Joanna is killed or fails an objective, the player has to start the level from the beginning. Every level can be played on three difficulty settings and several aspects, such as the enemies aggressiveness and the number of objectives that must be completed, among others, can vary in function of the chosen difficulty. Two players can also play the campaign co-operatively or through a "counter-operative" mode, in which one player controls the protagonist, while the other controls enemies throughout the level, attempting to stop the first player from completing objectives.
The game also features a multiplayer mode, called Combat Simulator, where various players can compete against each other in different types of deathmatch and objective-based games. Aspects of each game can be highly customized. Features such as the weapons available, the winning condition, and team management can be changed to match player preference. Computer controlled bots, called Simulants, can also be added to the game and each of them can be individually customised, including their appearance, difficulty, and behavior. Players can also issue orders to the Simulants on their respective team; for example, Guard tells a Simulant to stay in its current location and guard that area. The player can explore the Carrington Institute, which serves as the game's training ground, and take part in different training activities. The most substantial of these activities is the shooting range, which allows the player to test all the weapons of the game against moving targets.
The Xbox Live Arcade version of the game offers several improvements over the original Nintendo 64 game. The most remarkable change is that any of the multiplayer modes, including co-operative and counter-operative, can now be played in either splitscreen or through the Xbox Live online service. Combat Simulator matches are still capped at 12 entities, but the game can now comprise eight players online simultaneously, an improvement to the original's cap of four players and eight Simulants. Players can also play against more than eight Simulants as long as there are enough slots available in a match; for example, a single player can play against 11 Simulants; such a feature was not possible in the original game. Unlike the original game, all the multiplayer content is unlocked from the beginning, and weapons from the game's predecessor, which were originally only available in the missions, are now available to use in multiplayer. The game features an online leaderboard system and players can earn achievements and in-game crowns by accomplishing certain tasks. The game also includes two new control set-ups, entitled "Spartan" and "Duty Calls", which are based on the popular first-person shooter franchises Halo and Call of Duty respectively.
Perfect Dark is set in the year 2023 against the backdrop of an interstellar war between two races: the Maians, who resemble the stereotypical grey aliens, and the Skedar, reptile-like extraterrestrials who can disguise themselves as humans, bearing similarities to Nordic aliens. On Earth the megacorporation dataDyne has developed in secret Dr. Caroll, the world's first sentient AI computer. Feeling that dataDyne has betrayed ethical and moral standards, Dr. Caroll contacts the Carrington Institute, an espionage agency founded by Daniel Carrington, with the hope of revealing dataDyne's sinister dealings. He is recovered by Joanna Dark, the Institute's top agent, but is later recaptured by dataDyne at Carrington's private villa. Joanna is then sent to Chicago to once again recover Dr. Caroll and uncover dataDyne's plan. She learns that dataDyne and their conspirators plan to kidnap the President of the United States in order to get access to a deep sea vessel which will allow the conspirators to steal an alien megaweapon buried on the ocean floor.
Meanwhile Joanna is ordered to rescue a Maian survivor named Elvis from Area 51 who is key in stopping the conspiracy. She succeeds and the pair work together to rescue the president. She learns 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. Without permission from the president, dataDyne elect to hijack the deep sea vessel and take it to the ancient alien spacecraft. With the help of Elvis, Joanna follows where she finds a reprogrammed Dr. Caroll decoding the megaweapon. She replaces its current personality with a backup of the original, and the restored Dr. Carroll sets the weapon to self-destruct in order to protect Earth. In retaliation, the Skedar capture Joanna and take her to their homeworld. Elvis rescues her and she then kills the Skedar High Priest, leaving the Skedar in disarray. The game ends with Elvis and Joanna leaving the Skedar planet just prior to an orbital bombardment from the Maian navy.
Development and marketing
Perfect Dark was first teased to consumers in April 2009 via a screenshot of a Rare employee's Xbox 360 dashboard which showed an icon for the game. It was confirmed to be in development on June 2, 2009 via Xbox Live Director of Programming Larry Hryb's Twitter account. Porting of the game was handled by 4J Studios, the same studio that previously handled the Xbox Live Arcade ports of Rare's platform games Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie. Ken Lobb, creative director for Microsoft Game Studios, described its development in an interview with Worthplaying. He explained that they "took the original code, ported it to the Xbox 360 and included deep [Xbox Live] integration." As Xbox Live had to be "written from the scratch", the developers opted to completely rewrite the game engine rather than do a port through emulation. Therefore, despite the fact that the game plays exactly the same, the code and renderer is different.
Although the original level geometry was kept, the levels received new textures, characters and weapons were recreated, and skyboxes were rebuilt. Lobb explained, "things are large and blocky because that's what [Perfect Dark] looks like", meaning that the technical improvements (sharper textures and higher resolution) simply make the game look clearer. He also observed that, as character and weapon models were remodeled from their original low hundreds polygon count to polygons in the thousands, he was worried about them looking awkward in the low-poly geometry level design. According to Lobb, "it's one of the areas that I give a lot of credit to the developer on. It just looks right. They were smart about the way they up-resed the models so they still feel like they're kind of retro, but they're clean."
Developers decided to retain the free aim mode, as they wanted to be faithful to the original game. According to Rare's Producer Nick Ferguson, "We didn't change the fundamental behavior of the aiming system simply because that is not how Perfect Dark was played". He also observed that the idea of updating the controls was actually seen as a flaw in Perfect Dark Zero, which tried to "combine the original Perfect Dark system with aspects of Halo". The original diagonal running, which allows players to move faster than by running forwards or sideways alone, did not work the first time they implemented the analog stick, so it was manually rewritten as it was considered essential for speedruns and achieving some of the target times required to unlock cheats.
The game runs at 1080p and 60 frames per second. Additionally, although music and sound effects were kept from the original recording sessions, original master recordings have been used to update the soundtrack at much higher quality; the original recording size was 16 MB, while in the Xbox Live Arcade version it is over 250 MB. The game was developed over a course of approximately 11 months after the creation of a working prototype. It was released on March 17, 2010 as part of Microsoft's Xbox Live Block Party promotion. A title update was released in April 2010 which addressed bugs, added two control schemes, and expanded playlists. As a cross-promotion with the game Crackdown 2, users can unlock that game's protagonist, known simply as Agent 4, although a Crackdown 2 savegame is required on the Xbox 360 hard drive.
Perfect Dark received generally favorable reviews from critics. On the aggregate website GameRankings, the game holds an average score of 79%, while fellow at aggregate site Metacritic it holds average score of 79 out of 100. The game was downloaded over 150,000 times during its first week of release and grossed approximately $1.61 million at the end of the month. It has sold more than 285,000 units as of August 2010, and nearly 325,000 units at the end of 2010. As of year-end 2011, sales had increased to nearly 410,000 units.
GameZone reviewer Steven Hopper gave the game a rating of 8.5 out of 10, commenting "Perfect Dark isn't a huge overhaul like other remakes on XBLA, but is still a solid and engaging title. FPS fans who missed out on the original would do well to check out this groundbreaking title, and hardcore fans should experience the game with the technical improvements." IGN's Daemon Hatfield rated it a 9.0 out of 10 and said that while the "not-so-hot parts are the dialogue, voice acting, and some vague mission objectives that can be frustrating", the game "wasn't brought back for the uninitiated -- this is for the fans, and they will be very, very happy."
The game's multiplayer over Live was generally well received. IGN praised the selection of weapons, the satisfying gunplay, and leaderboards, which allows players to compare their performance with their friends. 1UP.com's Scott Sharkey enjoyed the multiplayer as well and said that it was "a great way to re-enjoy a game you already love". GameSpot's Tom Mc Shea observed that online play can periodically suffer from a good amount of lag, but praised the amount of content and features. The game's original Counter-Operative mode was very well received. Christian Donlan of Eurogamer remarked that it "still feels ahead of its time even now."
Some reviewers also criticized the game for its confusing level layouts, and felt they have not held up very well over the years. Christian Donlan stated: "Perfect Dark 's not afraid to throw dead ends at you seemingly for the hell of it, or repeat textures so much in its huge maps that you can get a little dizzy." Similarly, Tom Mc Shea noted that the campaign was "oddly paced", and that "locked doors, unused rooms, and dead ends... can be disheartening to stumble around in a circle until you finally happen upon the correct door you just couldn't locate." Nevertheless he also admitted that "it's a lot of fun to replay them to try for high scores and figure out the many unique objectives." Critics also judged the game's controls. Eurogamer observed that the aim assist on easy difficulties is "almost comically powerful." Game Revolution commented, on the other hand, that although the game's reticle is "a little floaty, everything is balanced to both modernize the gameplay and keep a lot of the feel that makes Perfect Dark an old-school experience." At the end of the month, IGN named it Xbox Live Arcade Game of the Month for March 2010.
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- 4J Studios, Rare. "Perfect Dark". Level/area: Grimshaw's office - Background.
Soon after in 1650 AD the Maians encountered another lifeform - the Skedar - who were bent on fighting and soon an all-out war began between them.
- 4J Studios, Rare. "Perfect Dark". Level/area: Grimshaw's office - Background.
[Cassandra] agreed to assist [the Skedar] in exchange for advanced technology, and so dataDyne began construction of an artificial intelligence to help in the recovery operation.
- 4J Studios, Rare. "Perfect Dark". Level/area: G5 Building: Reconnaissance.
Mr Blonde: The President turned down your request for the loan of the Pelagic II? Could it be you underestimated your influence over him? / Trent: No! Perhaps I underestimated his resolve. We have a contingency plan ready to go, and we will move as soon as the Presidential entourage arrives at the air base. All I need from the President is a tissue sample.
- 4J Studios, Rare. "Perfect Dark". Level/area: Grimshaw's office - Background.
This extra work for Cassandra and Trent gave the Skedar another excuse to grant them more rewards, although little did Cassandra know that the Skedar intended to double-cross them all and test the Cetan weapon on Earth before wiping out the Maians.
- 4J Studios, Rare. "Perfect Dark". Level/area: Deep Sea: Nullify Threat.
Dr. Caroll: When the program has run, I will have control of a vastly powerful weapon. It can not be allowed to exist. So I must destroy the Cetan and, unfortunately, myself along with it. I’m sorry, Joanna… there is no other way, and no time to discuss this. Go now - avoid the Skedar and you will have time to escape. It has been an honour to work with you. Goodbye, Joanna Dark.
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