Developed By: Rare
Published By: Microsoft
Release Date: November 18, 2005
ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood, Language, and Violence
For: Xbox 360
Perfect Dark Zero (PDZ) is the second game in the series from developer Rare. The first one (simply titled "Perfect Dark") was released for the Nintendo 64 and instantly became one of the FPS classics on the system. Arguably the only other FPS that bested it was Goldeneye, which was also developed by Rare. Perfect Dark featured a ton of weapons and gadgets, along with an enormous multiplayer aspect. PDZ (set three years earlier) tries to reach the same level of design and polish and never quite makes it, although it does come close at times. You are Joanna Dark, a super-spy who looks like the lead singer in an all girl punk/rock band. Looks can be deceiving as she is one deadly punk rocker. You start off in a smartly designed tutorial level that quickly advances the story all the while teaching you the controls and how the gadgets and weapons work. It\'s very effective and gives the game a good boost straight from the get-go.
The first thing you\'ll notice is that the graphics are greatly improved over the original. Although the original looked great on the N64 (even needing the expansion pack), we have gone two generations from that, and PDZ proves it. The normal mapping, lighting, and especially weapon designs all scream next-gen. Oddly, most of the enemy guards end up looking like really old men with wrinkly faces, possibly in the effort of setting normal mapping to facial designs. One of the more interesting graphical achievements is the way armor flies off your opponents while you are shooting at them. Their helmets, chest protectors, and everything else flies off their bodies and onto the ground, which makes the game play even more head-shot centric than Halo as one shot to the head removes the helmet and another delivers a death blow in most cases. Another interesting addition you\'ll notice is the use of cover throughout the game. If you walk up close to a wall or barrier there will be a notification saying that you can press "A" to cover. The camera swings back to a third-person view and you see the front of your character while you peek and shoot around the corner. This is something that\'s usually implemented in stealth games, but is extremely useful here considering the level of fire that is often headed your way. Of course, being under such heavy fire can only mean one thing: You have to fire back. That shouldn\'t be a problem considering the vast amount of weaponry at your disposal. You are armed with everything from pistols (return of the Falcon and MagSec!) to SMGs and assault rifles and more. Even a laptop acts as a turret when thrown to create an opening or reinforce a clean getaway.
The guns are all uniquely designed and satisfyingly loud. Although there is a huge arsenal of deadly weapons, there are some missions where you are unable to use them for short periods while doing some recon, or just trying to infiltrate a building without setting off any alarms (and yes, the all-seeing camera makes it\'s grand return). Although these missions are a tad frustrating in some places, it never becomes a chore to replay them due to the well-designed levels. Unfortunately, along with those well designed levels comes brain-dead AI. All of the guards have around the same IQ as a cheese slice. They will stand still and shoot at you, run straight at you, or run off cliffs (especially the bots in multiplayer matches). This is no Far Cry; the AI baddies appear in vast numbers just as cardboard shooting gallery targets that shoot back. They do occasionally take cover and do a smart thing or two, but for the most part these guys have little to no will to live. The single player campaign is long enough with fourteen well-designed missions and four difficulty levels (with added objectives in each). Although that will last you a fair amount of time, the multiplayer is where it\'s at.
The game includes local, system link, and Xbox Live play. There are tons of modes to choose from including the standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, infection, capture the flag, and many more. Infection is my personal favorite with a few people starting off "infected" (in the form of skeletons) and they must "infect" the rest of the people by killing them before the time runs out. It gets insane when you see 16 skeletons running towards you with intent to kill. As I mentioned before the bots are even worse than the single player campaign, so the Xbox Live area is a much better choice for multiplayer. The game also includes an online or offline co-op mode, which has you go through the entire campaign with a friend. It is also really fun as some missions have you providing covering fire for your friend or helping them escape from intense situations. The multiplayer feature also includes jet packs and hovercraft, as do some levels in the campaign. The sound is the epitome of a mixed bag. The score is excellent and the gunfire sounds are loud and crisp, but the game really fails with the voice acting. The voices are so forced and cheesy that it really takes away from the storyline (which isn\'t so hot to begin with). It\'s really hard to care about these characters when they sound like the voices were thrown in at the last second. The script might have something to do with it also as the one-liners and attempts at humor fall flat and take away from the experience. Thankfully the score never sinks to that level and even stands out in some places, especially during the second level in the nightclub, which seems awkward at first but really suites the mood and adds to the atmosphere of that level.
The ESRB rating of Mature for this game is appropriate as this game does include giant sprays of blood, smatterings of foul language, and an extreme level of violence. The game evolves around the killing of "bad guys" in every possible way. From constant headshots to rocket and sniper kills, this game is violent. The characters carry a sort of "cartoonish" look to them, and the violence compliments it with being over the top and explosive. Unlike the cartoonish characters, the advanced physics engine makes the death animations seem all too real. The characters react realistically to where they are shot and crumple with extreme realism. Unlike the original Perfect Dark, the bullets can\'t be set to look like paintball, but the blood can fortunately be turned off, which is a major plus. Playing through the single campaign once, and again with a friend over Xbox Live I was able to pick up most of the foul language spoken, but due to the noise of the Xbox headset there may be even more. That being said there is at least one "S" word, tons of b****, a**, and d*** and a few uses of God\'s name (possible interjected with d*** on a few occasions). The language is used mainly during the cutscenes and mission briefings, but is still occasionally used during game play. Of course during Xbox Live play people use the "F" word in any way possible, even when it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Overall the ESRB rating of Language was accurate. One thing the ESRB didn\'t think was necessary for the rating was "suggestive themes", which usually implies little clothing. There is a character named "Mai Hem" that wears a tiny bikini-type top and her pants are slung way low (as are Joanna Dark\'s on occasion). Although it could have been worth, it\'s still worth noting. The game doesn\'t deal with occult themes, and the enemies that you are killing are part of an "evil corporation." Although that\'s true, it\'s still disturbing to run through hundreds of guards just to reach the leader of this corporation. Aside from some minor shortcomings, PDZ mainly lives up to the hype. For being a launch game it sidesteps some of the major shortcomings that launch titles usually suffer. That being said, Perfect Dark still remains superior in the story line department, but PDZ ups the ante on graphics and of course the inclusion of online play. If anything, this title builds up hopes for the greatness that later FPS games will achieve on the 360. Feel free to leave a comment!
Game Play: 16/20 Graphics: 8/10 Sound: 7/10 Stability: 5/5 Controls/Interface: 5/5 Violence: 2/10 Language: 4/10 Sexual Content: 9/10 Occult/Supernatural: 10/10 Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 8/10