|Sometimes owning a Nintendo 64
is kind of a drag, especially if you're not a Pokemaniac or don't go for those cute games
like Mario Party. But why would you own a Nintendo 64 if you weren't into huggable
characters? I know, I know, you loved Goldeneye. But until now Goldeneye was pretty much
the only game that really showed off what a serious gaming machine the Nintendo 64 can be.
I'm not much of a fan of FPS (first person shooters) on the computer, but Goldeneye on the
Nintendo 64 was pure entertainment. After four long years of being on top Goldeneye has
finally been usurped by Rare's new FPS masterpiece, Perfect Dark, and I'm not kidding when
I say masterpiece. If you liked Goldeneye you'll die for Perfect Dark. No other game on
the Nintendo 64 packs in as much stuff. Perfect Dark is a truly great single player
adventure, but it's also one of coolest multi-player games ever. Nintendo 64 owners
rejoice, your machine finally has some meat to chew on. Perfect Dark is tough without any
cuteness, and all I can say is, "Finally!"
Perfect Dark is a first person shooter taken to the next level, but it draws a lot from Goldeneye, including its engine. Some weapons, arenas, and plotlines will seem very familiar to Goldeneye veterans. But Rare is using these throwbacks more as homages than as short cuts. The AI has gotten a lot smarter since Goldeneye, and the graphics are much better. I'm starting to feel bad about all this talk about Goldeneye in my Perfect Dark review, but I know that everybody wants to know how Perfect Dark stands up against its predecessor. Well, it's the same concept: youre a female agent (this time working for the Carrington Institute) with a British accent. The solo missions are in the Goldeneye vein, but with a little more flair. Perfect Dark's multi-player modes put Goldeneye's to shame: it has more guns, more levels, more customization, more games, more players, and lots more action. That said, let's forget Goldeneye and move on to the next generation, Perfect Dark.
In the solo missions you play Joanna Dark, Carrington Institute's Perfect Agent. While the first missions are pretty standard, you get to use some cool devices including a remote spy camera, x-ray and night vision goggles, and cloaking devices. But in the later missions the story really gets going. I don't want to give it away, but I'll give you some hints; you'll be going to Area 51 and also flying in Air Force One. The solo missions can be played on three difficulty settings (plus a fourth after you complete the hardest setting). As the difficulty increases ammo gets harder to find, the enemies get tougher, and new mission objectives are added. Rare claims that Perfect Dark is nearly unbeatable and that less than 5% of the people who buy that game will ever be able to finish it all. I really don't doubt it; getting through the game on the easiest setting was pretty difficult for me (but I'm not the best gamer in the world) and passing the harder settings is going to take a lot more practice.
One of the things that makes Perfect Dark so cool is the way it's able to change from a single player game into a multi-player game and then back again. After a solo mission has been opened you can play it alone or in two different multi-player modes. In the cooperative mode you and a buddy (controlled by an actual buddy or the computer) can try to clear the mission together, or you can work against one another in the counteroperative mode. One player gets to be Joanna and the other is all of the bad guys, and when one baddie is killed the player is spawned as the enemy closest to Joanna. So really the missions are far from being exclusively solo. With all their options and difficulty settings, the missions become a highly replayable part of the game, and they also compose a unique multi-player mode.
The combat simulator (traditionally multi-player mode) is the most tweakable part of the game. In the combat simulator there are challenges, preset games, and an advanced game setup function, each allowing for a different level of "tuning." The challenges are a unique and very cool part of Perfect Dark. They are preset multi-player scenarios, but also much more. In order to unlock all of the combat arenas and weapons you have to beat all of the challenges at least once. The challenges can be played with one to four players on your team. Some challenges are out and out battles against simulants (enemy characters) with certain weapons turned on, while others are more goal-oriented like king of the hill and capture the case matches. There are a total of 30 challenges. You start with a few open, but more become available by beating them. These challenges are tough stuff; they take patience, skill, and sometimes a friend or two can help you out a lot.
Beating the challenges also opens up different scenarios and simulants in the combat simulator. Simulants are the non-player characters--the bots--in the combat simulator (it's all just simulated, so you don't have to have a moral crisis over shooting the sims up), and their AI is remarkably good, but you get to pick their difficulty, so don't worry about being outgunned. There are a number of specialty sims that become available after beating challenges. VengeSim is one of my favorites; if you shoot her she'll keep coming back to seek revenge until someone else kills her. But there are lots of others: TurtleSim, PeaceSim, FeudSim, KazeSim, and more. The combat simulator can be played alone, too, and you can even have simulants on your team. They can take commands like guard or hunt or just run around on their own.
Making, saving, and editing your own scenarios is easy, and I like to alternate super hard challenges with my own homemade easy scenario. That way I don't feel so bad losing 25 to zip against expert sims after I've been able to vent some steam on eight semi-helpless normal sims. Creating, saving, and changing characters is super easy too, and as you play you rise through the ranks from a 20th level trainee to a 1st level agent. Right now I'm at level 13, a Special Agent. Anytime your character is used in the combat simulator it will automatically update your stats, and there are tons of different stats to check out including accuracy, awards received, times killed, kills made, distance travelled, and much more. It's really handy to load a new character, which is great when you have more friends than controllers in the rotation. Its also nice because everyone can use a different control scheme and still easily revert to a different one for another player.
The graphics on Perfect Dark are truly incredible for the Nintendo 64. The outdoor levels aren't plagued by the usual Nintendo 64 draw-in and fog problems. All of the characters have real faces and move pretty realistically. The levels are unique and often quite large. The most spectacular graphics are for the specialty visions: the x-ray, night, and spy camera views. There are also a lot of cinematics for a Nintendo cart, and they're very high quality. The control is pretty standard for a first person shooter, but there are lots of different control configurations including two controller setups. Most of the guns auto aim to some extent, and this works really well for the first difficulty levels, but eventually hardly does any good at all against tougher opponents, making the levels much more difficult.
Like I've said before, the AI on Perfect Dark is spectacular. Not only are the simulants badass killing machines, but they have different personalities. They are what drives Perfect Dark, what makes it a unique game, and what makes it a really hard game. But all of the extras make Perfect Dark a game you have to keep playing. With so many modes and game types it's hard to get bored. Perfect Dark also has one of the largest collections of cheats. There are so many cheats they had to put a whole cheat menu in the game. Beating almost every level will open a new cheat, and some cheats require you to beat a level at a certain difficulty level in a finite amount of time. The cheats range from weapons to different types of game play (slow-motion and fast combat to name a couple).
One of the only downs about Perfect Dark is that without a memory expansion pack for your Nintendo 64 it won't be much of a game. The packaging says that it's about 35% playable without the pack, but that's the 35 least interesting percents. Without the pack you'll also experience more slowdown and toned down graphics. So I highly suggest breaking down and getting the damn thing if you haven't already. Its more of a glitch than a real problem, but if you get drugged or punched in the combat simulator you see in a blurry "drugged vision." It's a pretty cool effect, except that it doesn't go away after you've died and respawned. You resume life still suffering from blurred vision. And youll notice that when youve got four players and a half-dozen sims in the same place, gunning each other down, things slow down a little bit. It doesnt happen often, and I look at it as evidence that Perfect Dark is seriously straining the capabilities of the Nintendo 64. Really those are my only complaints.
Perfect Dark is the perfect summer game for almost any Nintendo 64 owner. It's fast paced action will keep you and your friends amused and out of the sun all summer long. And I do mean ALL summer long, it's a truly massive and difficult game. At the first GamesFirst! BBQ of the summer everyone was playing Perfect Dark- it was the first game to dislodge the almost permanent fixture in the Nintendo 64, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Finally, something for Nintendo 64 owners to get excited about that doesn't have a -mon suffix.