Joanna Dark, super secret agent and Hot Topic patron extraordinaire, has reemerged on the Xbox 360 after nearly a decade of respite in one of the most underwhelming first-person shooters to have come out in some time.
Perfect Dark Zero is a deadly siren, gussied up to lull you into a sense of wonder and amazement at its olive oil-coated world with its blur effects, unintentionally humorous dialogue, and bright explosions, all of which distract you from its anticlimactic and disheveled interior. Hold on tight to your wallets whenever youíre next at your favorite gaming retailer, because itíll be calling with all the temptations a launch title can muster. I believe it was right after the beginning of the second level that I realized I wasnít having much fun tromping through Rareís new world. Not only was I not only having much fun, but my fun meter was reverting beyond its base and dipping into the negative. Luckily, it didnít stay too low for very long, but it never managed to get too high either.
In a story lost amongst seemingly fake accents and some of the worst dialogue this side of the original Resident Evil, you find yourself running around multiple locations that include a laboratory, a jungle, some night clubs and so on in search of revenge and in the hopes of stopping a hokey villain from becoming a demigod. Not that any of this matters anyway, because even if it was one of the most involved and fantastic stories in gaming, the game still wouldnít even be near the watermarks of the genre. Instead of refining the basics, Perfect Dark Zero goes for a barebones approach and tries to make up for its shortcomings by tossing in redundant actions and poorly-utilized features, skating along with the very minimum.
There are some sprinklings of attempted originality and advancement here and there. The humor might be there for some, but itíll most often fail to garner even a chuckle (accents made funny, see: Giants: Citizen Kabuto). The ability to seek cover behind objects, some of which are destructible, is a nice touch. While it fails to be as involved as the covering mechanics in kill.switch and is often ill-used - mainly due to the fact that you cannot slide against the wall when pressed against it or crouched behind it, which makes the horrible stealth portions all the more difficult - itís great fun to utilize in multiplayer and can come in handy every now and then during the campaign. The ability to choose from previously used weapons when going into a mission is nice, especially because the weapons look great and have a nice kick to them, but having to shoot someone half a dozen times (often more) tends to make your arsenal seem neutered. Reloading is an inconsistent pain because secondary functions reload automatically after use but primary functions reload only after the fire button has been released. There are also a handful of vehicles and zip lines, the latter showing the camera rotate around Joanna with multiple views, which are present for some dramatic flair and variety, and to be fair, they add a bit of a break to the monotony. There is also a pretty unique guiding system thatís there to assist you whenever you get stuck: arrows appear to lead you where you need to go whenever progress has stalled, covering the majority of the path on Agent and appearing sporadically in Secret Agent. I find the waypoint arrow system to be an easy way to disguise poor level design, but itís often useful even when design decisions are sound; I wouldnít mind seeing this implemented in other titles for easier difficulty levels, since it does keep the action steady, even if the lulls are the result of poor design.
Itís difficult to advise someone just how to start off Perfect Dark Zero. I started the game on the harder of the two difficult levels, Secret Agent, and found it to be a pretty aggravating time. All attempts to make a cohesive game world were thrown out the window as guys spawn without any attempts to distract from the fact that they just came from a dead end that had just been checked. The random path arrows helped in advancing, but I often found myself flustered at the bumbling AI of the enemies and the poor, lengthy checkpoint-only save system. Aside from some of the enemies looking ridiculous (one charming variety looked like an Uzi-toting, motorcycle helmet-clad 1950s IBM), they often appeared in droves in the strangest places; the aforementioned killer IBM employee liked to hang out with other like-minded folk on rooftops. The enemies would either be incredibly accurate, getting shots off with a submachine gun from a few rooftops away, to simply dense, jogging backwards while waiting for me to reload and doing little as I blew them away. I also suspect that the enemies all had some sort of Ninjitsu training as they are very adept at walking up to within a few inches of you without making any noise whatsoever. The core of the game actually felt like a really bad DOOM clone from the mid Ď90s that randomly dipped into the new millennia.
After being held up by a stealth-based mission in a game that has nothing to aid the player in acting stealthy, I dropped the difficulty to Agent and then proceeded to walk through the next four levels without dying. I mean, I literally took my time, using a Terminator-like methodical approach, walking without hiding and shooting everything in sight. The arrows basically held my hand to the exit and my AI teammates werenít nearly as bad in that I didnít have to put up with their suicidal tendencies: on Secret Agent, a guy once blew himself up, while on Agent I was the one planting the bombs. Whatís more, I was nearly impervious to enemy bullets, with one experiment culminating in me standing directly in front of a mounted machine gun and being shot only two times out of half a minute of being fired at. The superfluous miscellaneous actions required of you, such as hacking a lock through a mechanism that requires you to click on an appropriate section of a circle while sections blink, or linking lines together to plant a bomb, often make the harder difficulty all the more challenging since it gives the eighth or ninth round of reinforcements time to finish you off. A perk to the various difficulty levels, aside from the feeling of sweet revenge of ravaging a once-difficult section, is that they allow you to explore more of a level since areas are unlocked for navigation based on which difficulty was chosen, which gives fans a reason to play through each, though itíll do little for everyone else.
Rare was generous with multiplayer, though. Bots are supported for deathmatch (solo and team) and capture the flag, with deathmatch and DarkOps (a decent variation of Counter-Strike) and Co-Op available online, along with a number of options that include selecting and customizing weapon load. Multiplayer isnít too exciting, but it can be fun and is the packageís saving grace. The bot support helps when there are problems joining online games, and itís just an overall decent way to kill some time. The number of times it takes to kill someone is more so than an AI character in single player, which borders on amazing since youíre shooting people point-blank with a shotgun five and six times and still not dropping them though it does make matches, if thatís any consolation.
Perfect Dark Zero is often best when it plays like a third-person action title and worst when it attempts to be a contemporary first-person shooter. The ability to use cover and various ways to travel via multiple vehicles and zip lines and the like goes a ways towards modernization, but the core run-and-gun action feels so antiquated that it seems as though two titles were merged into one. The guns are actually great and fun to use, but they often feel underpowered; the levels are convoluted, but aided along by a guidance system with sections having multiple paths offer interesting and often preferred means of setting up hairy situations; the multiplayer is robust, but its simplicity limits its longevity. In all this give and take, thereís more giving than taking and at this point, thatís not acceptable, especially for a title of this pedigree.