There have been few games released on the Nintendo 64 - scratch that, any platform - that have had the pure addictive and polished quality that Rare's James Bond based first-person-shooter, GoldenEye, contained. Years beyond its initial release, GoldenEye has continued to sell in massive numbers, and is still considered one of the best multiplayer titles ever. It was then unfortunate to hear that Nintendo and Rare would not be able to collaborate on another James Bond title; Electronic Arts had nabbed the rights to the current James Bond film, as well as a few future ones. Because of this, Rare has been forced to create its own sequel to GoldenEye, under the name of Perfect Dark. Since Perfect Dark's announcement, the anticipated title has been delayed for what seems to be more times than one can comprehend, but it's finally here, and has it been ever worth the wait.
Just because Mr. Bond isn't involved this time around doesn't mean that Rare couldn't continue with the espionage action that had worked so well for them. And with that, Joanna Dark has been created. There are extraterrestrials running amongst the stars, and some of them want to make contact with us. Daniel Carringon, the one running the show at the Carringon Institute, suspects just this, and from what he has heard concerning the DataDyne corporation, this might not be all such a good thing. Receiving some of the highest scores in the history of the Carrington Institute is Agent Joanna Dark, now given the code-name Perfect Dark. It will be up to her and Carrington to discover the sinister plot behind DataDyne and the otherworldly aliens - and perhaps save the world in the process.
The design of Perfect Dark lends itself to more ambitious environments and surroundings, and this required Rare to take more steps than simply tweaking the GoldenEye engine. Instead, Perfect Dark requires the 4MB Expansion Pak in order to access all the game's cool features. Without the 4MB Expansion Pak it's possible to mess around with a few, select variables, but these variables do not include the killer single player mode, or the ability to have up to four players playing each other simultaneously. Unfortunate for those who don't own the Expansion Pak, but this will likely give more than a few the incentive to throw out the $20 bucks needed for it. Beyond the addition of the Expansion Pak, Perfect Dark does not look all that different from GoldenEye when it comes to graphics. There are some changes here and there, the frame rate (in some instances) has been bumped up a bit and it looks all together much nicer, but the first time you play the game it doesn't seem to have a "Wow!" punch to it.
Even with the Expansion Pak, however, Rare has seemingly had some problems ironing out the frame rate in the game. During most of the single player campaign there are rarely major problems when it comes to frame rate; it will only occur when there are a particularly large number of enemies who are surrounding Joanna. As soon as some of the multiplayer modes are messed with, though, this is where the limitations of the Nintendo 64 hardware becomes most apparent. The two-player specific modes like Co-Operative and Counter Operative are prone to having a severe amount of slowdown and frame rate loss - especially in areas that take place outdoors. The start of the first level of the game is nigh unplayable with a split screen, but once things move into the confines of walls it usually balances out.
Another point where frame rate loss is common is when the amount of simulants is messed with. Simulants are basically computer controlled AI opponents. Even with four players on-screen simultaneously, Perfect Dark allows for the player to add in up to eight other simulants into the mix, which can translate into a truly hectic game. Unfortunately, as tweaked as the Perfect Dark engine, it simply falls apart in situations such as that. The frame rate sinks to unplayable levels, and makes one sit frustrated by the fact that there is so much that Rare could do with a new piece of hardware that could handle their creative abilities to their fullest. As a whole, though, I was impressed with how well the frame rate sustained itself during the game, and as long as the person playing doesn't push the game's options to their extremes, a nice balance between gameplay variables and frame rate can be reached.
The first time that I popped Perfect Dark into my Nintendo 64 I have to admit that I was a bit overwhelmed with what I could do in the game. Aside from the deep, engrossing and awesome single player mode, Rare has packed this cart as full as it possibly can with features. Rare has done much to innovate in the way of gameplay modes, and a perfect example of this is the Counter Operative mode. One person takes control of Joanna like any other mission, while the other player has the fun of controlling all the normal enemies in the level. The thing is: the normal enemies under control still have all the low amounts of health that they do normally, but there are tons of them that can be used. And when it comes to the multiplayer, there is just too much to talk about. You can edit the sets of weapons used during the match, save a character so that stats will be accumulated over time, a whole couple pages of cheats (they have to earned through the game, though), time limits, individual/team scores, simulant AI levels and ever so much more. Rare even went as far as to allow the player to save their game setups for use in future multiplayer matches.
After speaking about all this, the single player mode has still gone unmentioned. GoldenEye was a fantastic game in single and multiplayer, and Perfect Dark is even better. The plot starts off with only looking into the DataDyne corporation in order to take something back, and expands into the player having to assassinate a clone of the US President, team up with an extraterrestrial named Elvis and dive deep into the sea to take out a band of evil aliens who are hell bent on destruction. From the start it's possible to choose between the three different difficulties available in the game, and each of them provides a unique experience. The higher the difficulty, the more objectives that have to be completed. And the more objectives that are completed, the more options that are opened up in the game. It gives a distinct incentive to continue playing past the point of completion one time around that most FPSs don't have.
There is so much more to talk about concerning Perfect Dark, but I'd rather not ramble on and give this one statement: even if you are a hardcore PC first-person-shooter gamer, give Perfect Dark a try. It's probably one of the best FPSs to be released in quite a while, and provides a great balance of a single and multiplayer experience. There are some nasty frame rate problems at times, which is mostly the factor that keep this from an A grade, but don't let that stop you from picking up Rare's latest.