PERFECT DARK / Rare / Nintendo 64

                  This dood is in for a long, painful ride

Perfect Dark is, at least in the technical sense, a shade better than Goldeneye. And yet, if you ask most people who've played both which their favorite is, odds are they'll go with Goldeneye. Chalk it up to the pioneering qualities, the power of nostalgia and the Bond theme and music I suppose. But the point is, don't miss Perfect Dark just because you think it'll be a lesser version of Goldeneye. It's really quite a bit better in most aspects.

We leave the realm of James Bond to enter the futuristic world of Perfect Dark, which is a kind of odd blend of Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk with the X-Files and Art Bell stuff. The gameplay is pretty much Goldeneye, but with a lot of enhancements and new options, many of which seem to have been inspired by 1998's Metal Gear Solid, such as being able to lay down and crawl into vents and such, and stealth camo. We step into the shoes of Joanna Dark, a somewhat butch but passably cute rookie agent working for something called the Carrington Institute, which I guess is like the future's Universal Exports. Her first mission is to sneak into the headquarters of the monolithic Datadyne Corporation to rescue a Dr. Carroll, who has refused to cooperate in some nefarious scheme of Datadyne's and has summarily been kidnapped and scheduled for a forcible attitude adjustment. This ostensibly simple mission naturally leads to a chain of events that quickly become vastly more complicated and end up involving flying talking laptops, aliens, Area 51, The (Dale Gribbel style) Gubbermint, and suchforth.

Graphics are quite a bit improved from Goldeneye in terms of details in textures, structure of buildings and levels, and backgrounds. The game opens with a fly-through of a Blade Runner-esque city, which then seamlessly becomes the backdrop for the first level - complete with city lights and flying cars in the distance, as you land on the roof of Datadyne Corp. to begin the action. Not all the backgrounds are this detailed, but the levels have a more "real" feel to them than the environments of Goldeneye, and don't spam the same bland textures over and over again so much. Characters are still the somewhat stiff human models with flat bitmap faces, but they have a little more detailed animation now, such as reacting differently when being hit in various body parts, and even moving about with a limp when you shoot them in the leg. You can also shoot the guns out of their hands, which will cause them to panick and scramble after it.

There's about twenty solo missions and they are a bit more complex than those of Goldeneye. You've got some neat new gadgets to use, such as a remote-controlled floating camera (that eventually gets upgraded to dropping bombs as well), weapons that you can drop as impromptu turrets to auto-fire on enemies, even an x-ray heat-seeking gun. Bigger doods are also incorporated than the standard human enemies of Goldeneye, for example the second level features a helicopter hovering outside the Datadyne building, taking potshots at you every time you get near a window until you can locate some heavy weaponry to take it down with.

Completing solo missions opens them up to be played in two new modes - Co-Op and Counter Agent. Co-op allows two players to team up to take on a mission. Unfortunately, unlike later Free Radical games Timesplitters 2 and 3, you can't progress the story and unlock stuff in Co-Op, you just replay any mission you've completed on your own with your choice of characters attempting to complete all the objectives together. In Counter-Op, one human player takes control of Joanna while another controls all the enemies in the level; the second player has to use the enemies one-by-one to try to either bump off Joanna or indirectly make her fail her mission objectives (you can't race ahead and blow up vital stuff or kill people she needs to meet, but you can trick or nudge her into doing it herself.) The second player generally starts as the enemy closest to Jo's starting position, and when she kills him off, he'll swap over to the next closest one.

Multi-player is just as great as that of Goldeneye, but with new options. Most notable are the addition of "sims" - up to eight computer-controlled bots can join a multiplayer battle, and you can not only set the side they are on, but give them one of a number of distinct AI types. You can also edit the levels to place equipment in locations of your choosing.

Unfortunately, there's a small cost to both the robustness of the options and all this graphical detail - when you have four human players, a bunch of sims, a complex level and/or heavy weaponry that creates a lot of explosions, the game tends to get laggy, jumpy and slooow. Single player mode never has a problem, and multi-player with four players and just a couple of sims is fine under any conditions, but beyond that you start running the chance of getting into reduced frame rates. The game pushes both the N64 hardware and the Expansion Pak to the absolute limits and it shows sometimes.

Small price to pay, of course. Single player mode is fine, multi-player mode is also fine for the most part, and you'll quickly learn what settings are too excessive to manage - and there's plenty of possibilities without incurring any slowdown at all. The game has fantastic depth, great presentation, another great soundtrack by Graeme Norgate ... yeah, believe the hyperbole, this really is one of the best games ever. Easily a must-have for the N64 along with Goldeneye - just get 'em both and enjoy.

Links :

* In Perfect Dark

Videos :

* Gameplay Video