When Goldeneye: 007 came out, it took the gaming community by storm. It offered up an unbeatable combination of a tight graphics engine, an expansive and endearing one player story mode, and an amazingly gripping, adrenaline-fueled multiplayer game. In the years following Goldeneye’s release (many of those years, Goldeneye reigned as the #1 best-selling game) developers tried their best to topple the FPS king. We saw console optimized conversions of PC games, the burgeoning Turok series, Medal of Honor, and even a new James Bond game that was almost insulting to watch. Goldeneye had become the Fidel Castro of console based First Person Shooters by outlasting every one of its challengers.
It finally happened though. The once unreachable title that Goldeneye had gobbled up year after year has been passed. Not to Acclaim, not to GT Interactive, and certainty not to Black Ops (c’mon was Tomorrow Never Dies supposed to be a joke?)……oh no, the only developer with the experience necessary for bringing down the Goldeneye King-Kong was its own creator: RARE. The game is, of course, Perfect Dark.
I didn’t even bother unwrapping the game before I started licking it uncontrollably. Wait. Let me reword that. The hype around this game has been brewing to an immensity that, for most games, comes to a distinct and disappointing halt before public criticism wipes it off the face of the earth (then, six years later, these same games go for about a grand apiece on ebay). The constant delays and tweaking that went into the final release of Perfect Dark made people suspicious, even resentful. After it ’99 release was pushed back, no one even seemed to care about the game itself, they were just waiting to see if the game was going to be a colossal flop or not. However, after spending a strange and wonderful night with this dubious gem, I can accurately report that Perfect Dark is easily the best game to have ever been made for the N64.
Zelda, Banjo, Donkey Kong Jet Force Gemini, Mario, James get your sorry asses outta my house. I got a new girlfriend and her name is Joanna Dark. I have never felt this overwhelming sense of contentment from a game before. Perhaps this is the complete lack of sleep talking, but I don’t even see much purpose in leaving my apartment anymore. Sure, I might need food every now and again, toilet paper too, but think of the amount of money I could save by never doing laundry again. I could lock three of my closest friends (yes, game reviewers have friends) in my home and we could do nothing, but play Perfect Dark. It would be like the next Jonestown. If any of my buddies tried to escape, I’d just feed them a cyanide/Kool-Aid cocktail. The living room would be our chapel and the N64 controllers would be our rosaries. It’s religiously addictive and magically delicious.
What can you say about a game that exudes such quality? Perfect Dark is a masterpiece from beginning to end. When I first sat down with it, I was expecting something good, but something this good was unfathomable. There are no words that can perfectly convey the feeling that overcomes you when you play a game that smashes the expectations you have formed and the barriers that have been laid down by a predecessor. Pure gaming nirvana is the closest that I can come.
In the past, the N64 has had trouble with mixing sharp, crisp, and clear graphics with fast gameplay. Turok 2 had some of the best visuals of its time, but constant slowdown during heated situations earned it little more than criticism. This is not the case with Perfect Dark, however. When it comes to both the architecture and the individual character models, the refined and upgraded Goldeneye engine delivers a solid (though occasionally stuttering) framerate, richly detailed textures, shiny special effects, and expansive, multi-leveled, multi-faceted environments filled with a myriad assortment of deliciously sour-tempered and tactically responsive enemies to kill.
It's one thing to have pretty things to look at in a game, but it's highly important, for the sake of consistency, to have the gameplay compliment the visuals. Perfect Dark has done this admirably. The single player missions are a blast to play, finish, and master. The opening and dramatic cinema has our protagonist dropping out of a helicopter (that looks like a leftover vehicle from G-Police) onto the roof of an ominous looking corporate building replete with dancing spotlights and security guards. From there, she travels down into the office space and shoots lots of things, whether they deserve it or not.
The multi-player game is a rush. Not only can you battle it out in well-designed deathmatch arenas with four people, but you can also add up to four more opponents that are controlled by the computer. The artificial intelligence for these deathmatch “bots” can only be described with one word: evil. These guys don’t take no goddamn guff and it shows. They’re released into close quarters with you and your teammates (if you decided to play a team game rather than all out war) and immediately barrel towards you without remorse, guns blazing, and when you feebly attempt to strike back the malicious little bastard rolls out of the way and returns fire with interest. While the new arenas are admirably constructed and arranged, RARE has kept a handful of the arenas from Goldeneye for good measure.
The music is a nice mix of electronica that helps to create a disturbingly uncomfortable atmosphere that keeps you on your toes. While I don’t necessarily enjoy this kind of music when it comes to casual listening or games or whatever, I have to break down and admit that it fits the game. The music takes a seat to the audio, however. Perfect Dark has some of the best and juiciest sound effects of any game of its kind whether it’s on N64 or not…which is quite an achievement when you consider the awfully substandard audio chip that it’s stuck with.
Perfect Dark is the closest thing to perfection that the N64 (or any other game system for that matter) has. It blows away any game its class and outclasses everything else. The only thing that hasn’t been said yet, is that if you even remotely like videogames, you have no excuse not to own this game.
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