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ups: Good single player experience is even better in co-op, robust multiplayer games, the return of Perfect Dark!
downs: Some annoying performance issues, unconvincing damage system, spotty A.I.

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Perfect Dark Zero Review
game: Perfect Dark Zero
four star
posted by: Jeremy Kauffman
publisher: Microsoft
developer: Rare
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ESRB rating: M (Mature)
date posted: 09:15 AM Wed Nov 23rd, 2005
last revision: 09:10 AM Wed Nov 23rd, 2005

Click to read.Nostalgia and d?j? vu are funny concepts as they apply to the video game industry. Some games deliver such a sublime experience that they become benchmarks in our lives. As each generation of video game systems takes us farther away from those games, we long for our Asteroids, our Pitfalls, our Super Mario Bros., our Goldeneyes, and someday even our Gran Turismos and Halos. I know that every time I pick up a new Tony Hawk game, I am really just trying to relive Tony Hawk\'s Pro Skater 3.

Alas, we can\'t go back, at least not for long. Yes, that Atari Flashback package seems cool, but it will only take you a couple of games of Yars Revenge to remember why you moved on in the first place. That\'s where d?j? vu rears its ugly head, that dull familiarity and monotony--been there, done that. However, if a game can manage to capture the feeling we had when we played those games all those years ago while living up to contemporary gaming expectations, well, that game is golden.

Enter Perfect Dark Zero, the prequel that skipped an entire generation of game systems to be launched with the Xbox 360. It must do the near-impossible: satisfy the very disparate and difficult requirements of both providing an experience that prompts nostalgia for what is widely considered to be the best console FPS of its era, and push the genre into the next generation of gaming. A tall order indeed.

PDZ tells the story of a younger Joanna Dark. Not yet the loner we have come to know, she is still earning her chops as part of an elite mercenary team. Leading that team is her father, Jack Dark. What unfolds is a conspiracy between Shadow Corporations that threatens the entire planet. It is a befitting beginning to the story of the future\'s most perfect agent.

The story mode can be played by a single player or by two players cooperatively. As much fun as the single player experience surely is, the co-op mode is brilliantly executed. Rather than presenting the usual two player tag-along, PDZ weaves separate short term goals that each player must accomplish separately into each mission. For instance, there is a mission in which one player, as Joanna, must make it to several key sniper positions in order to protect the other player as he or she, controlling Jack, struggles to make it to the switch that will allow them both to take on the villain. In doing so, each player will traverse different areas and crisscross paths, all while looking out for one another. This kind of truly cooperative gameplay should be the goal of any game that claims to have a co-op mode, instead of the split-screen afterthought we are often presented with. The best part: you can play locally, by system link, or online with Xbox Live.

PDZ contains a robust array of multiplayer games, accommodating split-screen, system link, and online play. Up to 32 (online) human and computer-controlled opponents can compete in the usual array of games, such as Deathmatch (in this case called Killcount), Team Killcount, Capture the Flag, and Territorial Gains (i.e. King of the Hill). In addition to those games are the slower and more strategic Dark Ops games of Eradication, Onslaught, Infection, and Sabotage. Dark Ops games are played in rounds. Players earn cash and may purchase weapons between rounds. Eradication is a team game where the last team with members standing wins. Onslaught is a team game where one team defends a base from the other. Infection is a free-for-all in which uninfected players earn points by staying alive. Once killed, players become infected and must kill all the uninfected players to earn points. Sabotage is a team game in which the teams try to cause as much damage to the other team\'s property as possible.

Multiplayer maps are varied in style and terrain. Unique to PDZ, each map may be sized as to the wishes of the players. You can choose a smaller, more manageable map, set it to the maximum size to accommodate larger groups, or set it to random. As you can imagine, a large group in a down-sized map leads to a chaotic frag-fest, whereas a small group in an expansive map leads to long periods of solitude. At the largest scale, some maps are truly daunting. But in a genius move, PDZ includes a function where players can bring the entire map up on their screen, and set waypoints where they would like to go. Those locations are then marked on the radar, and the game provides subtle directional arrows so that you won\'t get lost, even when you respawn.

There is a long list of weapons, made longer by the fact that, true to PD style, most have secondary features. Primary/secondary features range from the obvious (an M-16 with a grenade launcher, an AK-47 with a bayonet), to the inspired (a machine gun that folds into an independent sentry gun, a pistol with magnetic rounds that can shoot around corners), to the bizarre (Uzi\'s that can be left as proximity bombs, a non-silenced Magnum that can fire a silent decoy round with a delayed detonation). There are useful gadgets like thermal scopes, lock-pick devices, and data-thieves. I particularly liked the use of the sound scope to lock onto enemies from afar and gather information. There are also vehicles. The hovercraft is best used with two players-one to drive and one to man the turret. The Jetpac is a particularly fun vehicle that is fitted both with rockets to fly and mechanical legs to walk.

The graphics range from truly next-gen to truly not. For the most part, the character designs and animations could have easily been rendered on the previous system. It is the incredible level of detail in the landscape, and the overall polish that take it to the next level. This is one of those games where with each step you take toward an object, the more intricacies you will discover. I would catch myself at one moment gazing off into a lush and active night sky, and the next staring forever at a brick that was two inches from my face. Those that are playing this game without High Definition Televisions are truly missing out, as the increased fidelity that is the standard for the Xbox 360 brings an amazing amount of detail to your surroundings.

The audio effects make good use of 5.1 digital surround sound. More than once I was saved when I heard the crunching footsteps of my opponent approaching in the snow behind me. The soundtrack is a decent mix of techno that you can take or leave, as the Xbox 360 allows you to customize the soundtrack of any game.

There are very few problems in the game structure or presentation, other than a few annoying characters, and the ridiculous burst into pixels scene that accompanies each player\'s death. (What were they thinking?) The glaring problems lie in the gameplay itself. Human beings in this game are unbelievably durable. Everyone in PDZ can take a barrage of bullets with little effect, making headshots an absolute necessity. It is easy to see why, once you consider your character\'s health meter. There are actually two meters: one that decreases when you are hit, the other that marks where your health will refill to if you escape from any further damage. Sometimes, if you are only hit, i.e. shot, once you can regain all of your health as if nothing happened. The opponent A.I. takes advantage of this in bizarrely uneven ways. Most enemies fire blindly and hit very little. Then you fall victim to an unseen headshot at random. The load times are atrocious. And there are quite a few instances of undue frustration, as when you are thrown into a boss battle with a tremendously inadequate weapon set. The outcome of these battles is based more on tolerance than skill. Then there are those choice moments when a door won\'t let you through until you have killed every last mechanical spider, or whatever, in the room two hallways down.

All of this doesn\'t ruin the fun, however. PDZ is the kind of game that I will gladly play through on each difficulty level in co-op mode. The multiplayer games are great fun. But does it both satisfy our desire for nostalgia and earn its place as a next generation title? Yes and no. If anything, I would say that PDZ acts as a solid bridge between what the series once was and what it eventually will be. The overall look and performance are a bit old school with a next-gen polish and the benefit of HD fidelity. And, in the end, it is never boring. Perfect Dark Zero is a thoroughly entertaining game that shouldn\'t be missed.

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