Product: Perfect Dark Zero
Company: Microsoft
Authour: Peter "Ruined" Calderwood
Date: January 21st, 2006
SYNOPSIS
A secret war has begun between shadowy corporations bent on world domination. Joanna Dark and her father Jack are brought up in the fight for the future of the planet. A routine bounty hunting mission rips open a global conspiracy that will change Joanna's destiny -- forever.

Players must guide Joanna Dark on her journey to become the perfect agent. Featuring a compelling and captivating story, Perfect Dark: Zero plunges players into a world of corporate espionage and conspiracy. The title merges the excitement and intrigue of its predecessor with revolutionary game design, cutting-edge online play, and amazing graphics to deliver an experience that defines next-generation gaming and entertainment.

Sounds good eh? We know Kameo was a homerun for Rare, is PDZ a Zero or Hero? Does it live up as the prequel to N64's classic Perfect Dark? Find out below!

GRAPHICS: B
Score reflects graphics viewed at 1080i resolution
Scoring Perfect Dark Zero on graphics was a very difficult task. First of all, the art style of this game is very unique - the almost cyberpunk theme that pervades the surroundings and characters you will find in this game definitely draws the player into the game. To further that immersion, Rare went ahead and added some incredible shader and framebuffer effects that haven't even been seen on the most advanced PC games yet. Wall textures that might otherwise have been so-so come to life with displacement mapping; look at the wall, and the bricks actually appear to jut out... Almost as if brick is individually rendered. The same goes for the floor, with tiles looking just as 3D as tiles in real life. Add in full screen motion blur to simulate the effect of motion blur we naturally see when moving and you have an eerily realistic sense of immersion within the game world. Unfortunately, the player is sometimes drawn out of this world by stuttering cut scenes despite fluid gameplay. Also, the graphic simplicity of some of the player and enemy models you encounter in the game can draw you out of the immersive environment. Finally, Anti-Aliasing does not appear to be enabled in the game - though the full screen motion blur effect makes this less noticable than it normally would be. While it is clear Rare wanted this game to look very unique, it is also clear that a good part of this game was not developed for next-generation hardware. This is true, as PDZ has been in development for 5 years. Rare did a fine job of polishing and enhancing what otherwise would have been simplistic graphics, and hence earning enough points in my book to still be in the "Good" range compared to other next-generation games. While it's not a show-off title like Project Gotham Racing 3 or Kameo, it contains enough eye-candy to keep your next-generation fix in check.

SOUND: A
Score reflects sound played back in 5.1 Surround
Sound effects are excellent and music is spectacular. I really enjoyed the soundtrack of Perfect Dark Zero while playing. Positional audio works well.

CONTROL: A
Perfect Dark Zero's control scheme is near perfect. The Right trigger is Primary Fire (punch/knockout from behind in unarmed mode), Right Bumper is Secondary Fire (and also disarm enemies weapon when in unarmed mode), Holding Right Bumper while pressing Left Trigger is Tertiary Fire, Left Trigger is Aim/Zoom (or Fire if you are Dual Wielding), Left Bumper is dive/roll, A is action/cover (context sensitive), B is melee attack, X is reload, Y is change weapon/pickup weapon, dpad up is unarmed mode, dpad left/right selects a gadget, and dpad down drops weapon. Left thumbstick moves, clicking left thumbstick crouches, right thumbstick looks. It really feels spot on throughout the game.

SINGLE PLAYER GAMEPLAY: A
Perfect Dark 1. Goldeneye. Games that many consider classics - games that Rare has managed to evolve to the next-generation with Perfect Dark Zero. That's right, you can throw away your copy of Timesplitters, because the real objective-based, stealth-centered FPS just walked in.

Each level of Perfect Dark Zero begins with a mission briefing. This gives you an idea of where you are to go and what your goal is in each mission. Once you start the mission, directions are given to you via voice and uploaded text. Most of the objectives given can be completed in multiple ways. For instance, in one level you are faced with a hallway full of sentry guns. You can choose to either brave the hallway, taking them out with your weaponry... or you can try to sneak by the guns so that they don't detect your motion... or finally you can attempt to find the panel controlling the guns to take them offline. Any one of these methods can lead you to victory, and nearly the entire game can be played in this fashion. A word to the wise, though: while you can attempt to run n' gun your way through levels, it makes completing the levels much more difficult and sometimes even impossible (especially on harder difficulties). Being stealthy and smart can generally lead to a more positive outcome in missions. If you die in the middle of a mission, you have the option to restore back to the halfway checkpoint. Unfortunately if you do this, your statistics are not recorded for the game, essentially making your first life one you cannot lose if you want to get an online ranking for the levels you complete. Once you complete a mission, your progress is autosaved and you can automatically come back to replay the mission at any time. Like an old school arcade game, much of the joy in Perfect Dark Zero comes from beating your old score on a level by completing it more cleanly during future trips. Mastering levels therefore becomes not only a skill, but an art. If you get stuck in a level for a few minutes, blue arrows appear on the ground to guide you in the proper direction - though this can be disabled (or enabled all the time).

Enemy AI runs the gamut in this game. On the easiest skill level, the enemies are pushovers; in fact I'd say that if you are playing on "Agent" difficulty, you aren't even playing the game the way you should be and probably are having a lot less fun, too. On the hardest skill level, enemies hunt you down and kill you. The in-between Secret Agent skill level offers a smart but beatable enemy. I believe this fits well with the game. If you are within visible or audible distance from the enemy, they will call out to other nearby enemies when you reload so that they can charge you or focus fire. If you are behind cover, sometimes enemies will shout out to their buddies that they spotted you - then they try to rush you without getting in your line of fire.

Objects on the map can be interacted with - crates smashed, windows shot out, file cabinets opened. The game uses the Havok physics engine to provide realistic looking movement to objects when they are struck or destroyed.

Equipment is plentiful and cool in this game; instead of the standard FPS fare, Rare delivers a host of innovative and interesting weaponry. Some of the fun stuff includes a pistol with a sniper-scope and detachable silencer; a laptop gun which can be folded into a stationary gun turret; a gun with x-ray vision, and more. You can even dual wield some of the smaller guns. I don't want to ruin it because part of the fun is finding the new weapons. When you go into unarmed mode, you can disarm enemies or quietly knock them out from behind and while moving faster than when a weapon is equipped. Gadgets are also a plenty, and again many creative gadgets are stuffed within the game. One gadget can pick locks by gently position the left thumbstick over the random sweet spot for each part of the lock, while the controller vibrates and the gadget glows brighter green the closer you get for each stage of the lock.

The levels are very varied in theme and location, but this works as the plot revolves around you being a secret agent bounty hunter - meaning you need to explore lots of exotic locales! The game has a cohesive plot that moves along well, eventually peaking in some of the most intense levels found in any FPS game.

I guess the best part of Perfect Dark Zero is that, unlike many FPS games, I thoroughly enjoy playing and replaying every level to bump up my score or try it on a harder difficulty level. No real stage of Perfect Dark Zero is boring or filler, because each stage is its own standalone mission. This is not to be confused with the Timesplitters series, which has standalone missions shoelaced together with a ridiculous plot - no, Perfect Dark Zero's plot is cohesive, and though each mission is very different they do not at any point feel disjointed from one another.

Bottom line, the single player rocks. This game will be a classic for some time to come.

MULTIPLAYER GAMEPLAY & XBOX LIVE FEATURES: A
Difficulty to earn XBOX Live Achievement Points: Hard
Perfect Dark Zero features the best XBOX Live multiplayer gameplay of all the XBOX Live launch titles. Two modes of play are available containing numerous subtypes.

The first mode is Deathmatch - consisting of regular old Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Territory Battles. Perfect Dark Zero lets you play with bots in all of these levels, and lag is nowhere to be found even with lots of people. These modes are relatively self-explanatory so I will not go over them. Vehicles are available in some levels, including jetpacks and hovercrafts. Game speed is a bit slower than Quake 4, perhaps on par with Halo 2.

The next mode is Dark Ops. Some of the subtypes for this mode include Eradication, Onslaught, Infection, and Sabotage. This is the mode you will be spending the most time on and the mode PDZ does best.

Eradication is last-man-standing, and you only get one life - no respawning! When you start off in Eradication, you get money to buy weaponry and equipment much like Counter-Strike. Have your teammates buy the right blend of gear to overtake your opponent. The team that wins is the team that still has players alive when the other team is dead.

Onslaught has two sides: offense and defense. Offense can only pick from more simple weaponry, assigned by the party leader - and each player can only have one weapon. Defense can have a wider, more advanced load of weaponry to repel the Offense with. Defensive players have only one life each (use the revive kit!), while Offensive players have unlimited lives. The defense starts out in a fortified location, making the Offense's job a tough one. Will the Defense hold out, or be overtaken by the Offense? An awesome multiplayer mode.

Infection is the next mode and pretty neat. One team is uninfected, the other team is infected. The infected team are skeletons with unlimited lives and a basic weapon, the uninfected team is normal with one life and more advanced weapon possibilities. If you are uninfected and get killed, you become an infected skeleton. The last player to remain uninfected is the winner, and the last two players to remain standing start out infected the next round, ensuring everyone gets a fair turn.

Last, there is Sabotage. In this level, both teams buy their gear, and the Offense must destroy objects on the map the Defense is trying to protect. This is pretty fun, but if you are going to be playing Offense and Defense you are probably wanting to stick with Onslaught.

As far as Achievements, most of Perfect Dark Zero's achievements are multiplayer-based, some of them very long term goals. One of the hardest ones to attain is participating in 1,000 Deathmatch games. Not impossible, but definitely a long term goal! Some of the others center around kill counts in online play and completing single player modes on hardest difficulties.

Did I mention there is a cooperative play mode available for both online XBOX Live play and offline play? There is, and its one of the best coop modes I've ever seen implemented in an FPS game to date!

LIMITED EDITION BONUS CONTENT
PDZ is available in a $50 regular edition and $60 limited edition with bonus disc and tin case. The bonus disc comes with making-of movies, concept art, XBOX Live avatars, and a dashboard theme. The tin case has has a swing out tray like most 2-disc DVD movies so that both discs are housed on seperate hubs unlike the inferior disc-stacked Halo 2 LE case. The XBOX Live extras and theme offered with PDZ:LE can be bought on Live marketplace for about $4 worth of points. That being the case, the $10 extra for the LE is not worth it, although it does have a snazzy case. If you really like this game, getting the LE might be cool just for the case and collectible aspect of it.

GLITCHES
I have discovered one glitch with Perfect Dark Zero. It appears that the XBOX 360 dashboard may occasionally fail to load when Perfect Dark Zero is ejected from the console, instead a black screen just showing up. Restarting the console remedies this problem, which has occured for me twice so far - both times when ejecting the game during the the menu screen displayed after a mission that allows you to restart the mission.

OVERALL: A
Rare has scored another winner in Perfect Dark Zero and again have proven that they still have the touch both in action/adventure (Kameo) and FPS games (PDZ). This game stands apart from the pack as an excellent objective-based FPS game with an outstanding multiplayer component. Graphics are definitely next-gen yet not the best, but if you truly believe that gameplay is more important than graphics, this game needs to be on your shelf. PDZ offers the overall best combination of offline and online play out of all the XBOX 360 launch titles. If you are buying just one launch game, buy this one for the most gameplay value. You will want to master the single player levels, dominate the multiplayer games, and come out on top as the Perfect Agent. You can be that Perfect Agent, but only in Perfect Dark Zero on XBOX 360!

Links to buy:
http://www.gamestop.com/product.asp?product%5Fid=200118
http://www.gamestop.com/product.asp?product%5Fid=200133

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