April 7, 2000 - Talk to most any Nintendo 64 owner and they're bound to tell you that Rare's GoldenEye 007 is the ultimate multiplayer game for the system. Delivering a solid balance of tight control, variety and options, no other first-person shooter for the console yet has been able to topple it. But that may be about to change. With the arrival of Perfect Dark, Rare has taken what it pioneered with GoldenEye to the next level, adding more variety, more options, and more control than ever before. Having just played PD's multiplayer mode extensively, it's still fresh in our minds. Following is our latest hands-on of sorts, complete with some interesting new gameplay details.
The sheer amount of customizable options in Perfect Dark's multiplayer mode is most impressive. Before each match, all players must individually select their preferences in detail (as seen in the image above). Choosing a character comes first. Beginners will have only a small cast of playable possibilities unlocked, but more will become accessible as they progress further along in the single-player adventure. Selecting a model entails much more than merely picking your favorite PD character though. You can actually mix and match if you so desire. So, if you'd like to play with Matt Casamassina's head on Joanna Dark's body, you can (and quite often, we did). Or, if you'd prefer to play as Elvis (the alien) with Shigeru Miyamoto's head, that's also entirely possible.
Once a character has been selected, it's time to set handicaps and personal level preferences. If you'd like all characters to always run fast, you can set that as an option, for example. It's here that you must also specify deathmatch limits if you'd like to use them -- i.e. the first person who gets 10 kills wins, or the match ends after 15 minutes, etc.
Additionally, you can specify what arena you'd like to play in (or have it selected randomly), and what weapons you'd prefer to use. Note that the game does not limit you to selecting sets of weapons like, for example, Pistols (though this is an option). You can just as easily handpick several different weapons from completely separate classes and mush them altogether into your own personal collection. All of this can be saved to Memory Pak, of course.
Finally, you can determine what class of computer-controlled bots (or Simulants, as they are called in the game), you'd like to play against or with. You can play four human players against four Simulants if you want. Or, if you'd rather, you can play as four different teams with a Simulant on each one. The list goes on and on. Each Simulant has its own style. For example, there are Vendetta Simulants that will chase exclusively after a player that first kills them for the entire match. And then there are Coward Simulants, who basically just run away when up-close fighting is involved, but don't mind sniping. Two of us selected to play against two different Simulants our first time around -- a Pacifist and a Coward. We weren't going to chance our luck.
The level of choice was GoldenEye's Temple (seen above in single-player mode, now fully retextured, boasting real-time lighting effects and with the ability to fall off ledges and through walls). It should have been no problem. Two humans versus two sissy Simulants -- we were bound to kick their butts good. And we did... but we definitely ran into a few hitches along the way. The funny thing about a Pacifist Simulant is that while he is strictly opposed to weapons (and will, in fact, gather all of them throughout the level in an attempt to keep them from players), he doesn't have any problems decking opponents upside the face when the time comes. Nor does he mind stealing their guns from them while they're still spinning around in a dizzy spell from a strong punch to the noggin. This happened to us... and happened... and happened again. By the time first match was over, we hated the damn Pacifist so much that we vowed revenge. We restarted and tried again. This time we would be prepared. One of us was armed with the FarSight -- a weapon that enables players the ability to actually see through walls and lock-in on enemies and send a pulse of energy right at them. One shot kills. The other player would stand guard and make sure that neither the Coward or Pacifist would try and ambush us. It sounds funny, but this really did happen.
Our strategy paid off for the first few minutes and we got our revenge. But it wasn't long before Mr. Pacifist happened by our hiding spot and decided to punch one of us in the face and steal our weapons. After you've been punched, your screen window changes drastically to a dizzy swirl of colors -- it's very hard to properly ascertain what's going on, let alone try and fight back. This spell generally lasts more than a minute and it's very annoying, though admittedly amusing at the same time. At any rate, by the time this match ended we were seriously afraid of encountering the stupid Pacifist. Let it be known that we will get that bastard yet.
A Lethal Weapon
Now we're playing four-player deathmatch with no Simulants. We're in a dark, cold arena and we're armed with what is quite possibly the worst selection of dizzying weapons possible, and at the same time the most satisfyingly hilarious deathmatch items available. We've got N-Bombs -- small grenades that explode as if they're tiny nukes, creating a big bubble that inflicts serious visual damage onto whoever happens to be encapsulated in the blast. Punched into a dizzy spell is nothing compared to these suckers -- you're screen goes black if you get nailed by one, and you'll be completely unable to see what you're doing for minutes on end if you're unlucky enough to live. To make matters worse, though, we've also equipped the arena with Combat Boosts that slow down everything to a Matrix "bullet dodge" scene-esque fluidity. You can see gun clips gliding through the air as they fall to the ground, bullet fire flashing before you, and so on -- you can even see blood splattering in slow-motion here. So, imagine if you will a world running in super slow-motion and with seriously acid-like dizzying visuals at the same time -- all, mind you, brought upon by two weapons.
It sounds like complete horror, but if you could listen to a recording of us playing it all, you'd only hear smack talk and laughing fits. "I've got a little N-Bomb here for someone," one of us would say and everyone else would moan. After being hit by an N-Bomb and totally unable to see, one of us might then say, "Well, since I'm blind anyway, would anybody like a little slow-motion?" and then execute the Combat Boost and then everything would suddenly slow to reflect the action. We played for more than an hour on this mode alone and barely managed five kills between the four of us -- but it was a lot of fun regardless.
Tell Me about the Framerate
Here's how it is -- Perfect Dark's two-player mode runs smoothly. If it's just one-on-one action, you don't have to worry about many hitches in fluidity. It's when you start to add more people and Simulants that the smoothness of everything takes a backseat to what's possible. With Four players and several Simulants gunning it out at once, you're going to be left with a very jumpy framerate, in other words. Similarly, the cooperative mode, which enables Joanna and her blonde companion to team up and take on the entire game together via split-screen mode (we'll talk about it more next week), suffers from a sometimes poor framerate. But the funny thing about it all is that because the pay off is so great and so much fun, we don't mind bearing a framerate that would otherwise turn us away from a game. Excellent arena level design and a brilliant selection of options here will remind you why you loved GoldenEye so much despite its sluggish framerate -- and this is coming from a group that admits we've got warped obsession with how smoothly our games run.
We'll have much more on PD's multiplayer modes next week. Stay tuned for that.