A first-person shooter for the Nintendo 64 console, produced by Rareware and based on the Goldeneye 007 engine and design. Many gamers consider PD[1]the best console FPS ever, perhaps even better in gameplay design than Bungie's Halo for the PortBox.

Perfect Dark or Perfect Revenue Stream?

Nintendo has designed several newer Nintendo 64 games such as Perfect Dark, Mario Golf, and Mario Tennis to be extremely expen$ive to own. In order to unlock key features of the games, you must own a Game Boy Color handheld console, both the N64 and GBC versions of the game1, several years of back issues of Nintendo Power, and the N64 game Pokemon Stadium (which includes a Transfer Pak used to copy information between N64 and GBC cartridges).

1 According to asterphage, it's possible to earn Perfect Dark's secrets using only the N64 version, but it takes ungodly skill, akin to beating Contra and Super Mario Brothers The Lost Levels on one life, without warping, or beating Ninja Gaiden without looking at the screen (it's been done).

Parts list

This parts list has been revised on July 1, 2002, to reflect the price cuts on Nintendo equipment now that the Nintendo GameCube has been released.

  • $260 Television set (at least 25" for 4 player simultaneous. Playing a split-screen game on your college 13" is no fun at all.)
  • $_20 Used copy of Perfect Dark for N64
  • $_15 Used copy of Perfect Dark for Game Boy Color.
  • $100 Nintendo 64 console with bundled Pokemon Stadium. You'll need Stadium's GB cartridge adapter to import earned items from PD for GBC, and this is the cheapest way to get Stadium.
  • $_70 Game Boy Advance (TЯU sells GBC and GBA at the same price, so you might as well go for a GBA and be able to play Tetanus On Drugs)
  • $_30 Memory Expansion Pak (otherwise you just get 2 player deathmatch)
  • $_90 3 extra controllers
  • $_20 1-year subscription to Nintendo Power magazine (to download NP Exclusive codes from nintendo.com)

Total: $605 (formerly $810).

Skinning?

My original price figure included a Game Boy Camera for the face-skinning feature. I was told that Rare removed it at the last minute for two reasons: 1. it would look bad in a game released soon after the Columbine tragedy, and 2. when PD went gold, skinning was still too unreliable for public consumption. Servo5678 reports that a player can use a GameShark device to see the menus for the skinning, but then it crashes once the game starts. However, malcster claims that a reviewer at some N64 magazine played a beta and the skinning worked fine.

It's been years since Columbine and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Will Perfect Dark 2 on the Xbox include skinning, based on digital cameras that conform to some standard for image acquisition?

$

questions? comments? /msg me

[1] Here, PD refers to Perfect Dark, not to the public domain, which no longer exists thanks to Di$ney.

Another incarnation of Perfect Dark also appeared on the Game Boy Color, although the style of the gameplay was altogether different. For the GBC, Rare favoured a much more stealth-based approach. PDGB forms a prequel to its Nintendo 64 brother, as you guide Joanna Dark through her training and then out to her earliest missions. Owners of both games can use the GB Pak to unlock some of the best cheats in the N64 version: at first, I thought this was a gimmick to guarantee sales of the weaker Game Boy game, but fortunately that more than holds its own.

Graphically, Perfect Dark puts the majority of GBC games to shame, demonstrating what can be achieved with a little ambition from the developers. There are occasional glitches, with bits of scenery being rendered in the wrong order, but for the most part it is mighty purdy. Many of the set pieces have static, pre-rendered backgrounds, and those in particular give the now-aged GBC a chance to show off its graphical skills. The quality of animation on Joanna and the guards is top notch, being both smooth and convincing. All the graphical elements adopt a realistic style which is frequently difficult to capture with such low resolution, but the artists behind Perfect Dark succeed admirrably.

Audio too is top notch, especially considering the poor reproduction quality permitted by the Game Boy. Gun shots and the grunts of dying guards are reasonably authentic, and PDGB is perhaps unique among Game Boy games in featuring sampled speech. The quality is inevitably quite low, but coupled with the text script, it is certainly intelligible. How much this actually adds to the game is debateable; personally, I found it to be a case of "because we can" on Rare's part.

However, the gameplay itself is where Perfect Dark can really excel. The top-down perspective is perfect for the stealth-driven missions, where avoiding detection via crafty headshots and appropriate use of cover is your only chance for survival. In this sense, the game feels much more like a simplified Metal Gear Solid than it's action-packed N64 counterpart. Some of the cover available does feel a little contrived, for example the guards are unable to spot you on the other side of a desk or a bed, but at least it keeps the mechanics of the game pure.

The multiplayer element, in my brief experience of it, was not as compelling as the main game. In the interests of stealth, the default speed is a silent walk, while running requires a tricky double tap. This clearly counts against fluidity of motion in multiplayer, where sneaking up on the single opponent is of little value. The variety of multiplayer modes, not all of which I have yet unlocked, was, however, appealing, and multiplayer may hold some lasting value for evenly matched opponents.

Finally, the issue of the length of the game. Quite simply, I have been astounded. There is an epic series of solo player missions, built on a perfectly judged difficulty curve: the missions get progressively harder and longer in just the right proportions to keep you challenged but never frustrated. On top of that, there are a number of bonus challenges that you can, and will, revisit later, both boss matches and arcade-style challenges. In short, it's both huge and addictive.

To conclude, Perfect Dark is quite simply one of the finest games on the Game Boy. That a game for such a format can be so aesthetically pleasing and yet so vast, so carefully balanced and yet so eminenently playable, is nothing short of a miracle, and is as indisputable a testament to the talents of Rare as can be found. My advice to anyone with suitable hardware is Buy This Game Now. Just do it. It's superb.

Perfect Dark

  • Platform: Nintendo 64
  • Developer: Rareware
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Alternate versions:
    • NTSC version (United States)
    • PAL version (Europe and Australia): For the PAL version there were two important differences. Firstly, the Farsight weapon appeared to have infinite zoom range while the NTSC Farsight was limited. Secondly, all the elevators in the PAL game moved roughly 17% slower than NTSC elevators.
    • Japanese version: the Japanese version of Perfect Dark had an altered model for the main character, giving her facial features a more oriental feel.
  • Release date:
  • Ratings:
    • ELSPA (UK): 18
    • ESRB (USA): M (Mature)
  • Peripheral support:
    • Memory Pak
    • Expansion Pak (note: an Expansion Pak is required to unlock 70% of the game, including the solo missions)
    • Rumble Pak
    • Transfer Pak

History

After creating the revolutionary and astoundingly popular GoldenEye 007 for the N64, it was obvious that Rareware had to make a sequel. The company had lost the James Bond licence to Electronic Arts (hence the dire Tomorrow Never Dies on Playstation), so it was decided to create a wholly original game. Perfect Dark was the title. It spent an agonising three years in development, repeatedly (in classic Rareware fashion) having its release date pushed back and back while a trickle of tantalising new screenshots were released. Unfortunately, the amazing reception of GoldenEye (at the time, the Nintendo 64's killer app and the best FPS on the market) meant that expectations were far, far too high for its spiritual successor. Perfect Dark fell victim to its own hype, and through being evolutionary upon the GoldenEye formula rather than revolutionary, had no chance of living up to its reputation. But don't let that put you off. Where GoldenEye was phenomenal, Perfect Dark was merely brilliant.

Storyline

The game ostensibly takes place in 2023, where hovercars, cloaking devices and laser guns are commonplace. You play the game from the eyes of one Joanna Dark, codenamed Perfect Dark after getting perfect scores in all her training missions at the Carrington Institute (the good guys). (Fun fact: Jo is supposed to be 23, making her date of birth somewhere in 2000, the year the game was released.) The first mission is also supposed to be Joanna's first, and takes you into a skyscraper belonging to dataDyne Corporation (the bad guys) and extracting a scientist called Dr. Carrol. He turns out to be a sapient AI embodied in a floating computer kinda thing. It all gets sillier from there - the plot involves flying saucers, bad aliens called Skedar which disguise themselves as tall, sinister blond men, the real truth behind Area 51, a plot to clone the President, and a million-year-old weapon of mass destruction lying dormant on the Pacific floor. The sci-fi plot is probably the game's worst failing. However, it does make for a lot of entertaining levels and set-pieces.

Technology

Graphically speaking the game excels. Real-time lighting effects abound in new, larger, more detailed levels. You can spend hours shooting out the lights plunging the level into pitch blackness, then wander around using night vision goggles. Also included in the game for the first time are lengthy plot-developing cut-scenes generated using the game engine. These add up to just under half an hour in total length, a great feat for an N64 cartridge of relatively limited capacity when compared with its CD-based, FMV-heavy Playstation contemporaries. Where the visuals excel the audio effects are even better. Over the inevitable MIDI-esque N64 music, guards respond to your actions with over a hundred different verbal responses, ranging from "Hey, you!" through "Yeah, baby!" to "I was just doing my job!". The cut-scenes are also graced with full speech - it's amazing how such a large amount of audio was crammed into the N64 cart.

Most important to GoldenEye's attraction was the ridiculously simplistic yet horribly addictive four-player multiplayer mode. For Perfect Dark, Rare expanded upon the feature set offered by GoldenEye to allow many more arenas (including three slightly reworked favourites from the original game), fully customisable weapons sets, and most importantly, bots. Up to eight "simulants" can be entered into a multiplayer match.

Unfortunately, the game occasionally tries to do too much. Though intended to run at a constant 30fps, scenes with multiple enemies and explosions onscreen can drop as low as 10fps or even lower. Simulant behaviour is also horribly predictable - rarely more complex than grabbing a good weapon and then coming to shoot you. The voice acting - done entirely by Rareware employees - is also dire, and many people feel that the bewilderingly large array of customisations available in the multiplayer mode somehow dilute the "purity" that GoldenEye had. Despite this, Perfect Dark improves upon GoldenEye in almost every single area thanks to advancing understanding of the N64 hardware and the extra memory afforded by the Expansion Pak. At the time of its release, Perfect Dark represented the peak technological achievement on the N64, and has only been equalled or surpassed since on that format by The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, and Conker's Bad Fur Day.

Gameplay

Perfect Dark follows the GoldenEye formula of an objective-based shoot-most-things-up with a medium stealth emphasis. In a given level you are presented with up to five objectives, mainly consisting of throwing bugs, activating computers, shooting security cameras, hitting buttons, collecting suitcases, knocking out guards, protecting scientists, rescuing hostages, planting explosives, and reaching the exit. Objectives are on the whole very varied and interesting and made full use of the large array of gadgets available in the game, including an x-ray scanner and an extremely cool miniature remote-controlled camera thing called a CamSpy, which can take pictures and (sometimes) fire stun darts, or explode. Perfect Dark includes many more action set-pieces than GoldenEye. There are numerous race-against-the-clock moments, such as escaping from various bomb-laden areas, finding and neutralising hackers before they finish stealing vital information, or getting the President to the Air Force One escape capsule before it crashes.

Difficulty settings take the same form pioneered in GoldenEye - three settings, Agent (easy), Special Agent (medium), and Perfect Agent (hard). These take much more meaning than the traditional "tougher enemies, less armour" sense presented in other games. Enemies are more likely to shoot you accurately (meaning an area one could simply run through on Agent becomes a deathtrap on PA), and drop less ammunition when killed. Most importantly, the higher the difficulty setting, the more objectives need to be completed. This means that a one-minute mission on Agent requires lengthy detours into otherwise unvisited (and useless) parts of the level on Special or Perfect Agent. Effectively, the changes in difficulty create three almost completely different games, making for 63 different missions as opposed to 21.

The solo missions are highly enjoyable up to a point. That point is the Attack Ship mission, where the human enemies were suddenly replaced with dumb, unsatisfactory aliens and you are partnered with a suicidal NPC "grey" named Elvis. But this is the penultimate of the game's 17 regular missions (there are four "bonus" levels), and on the whole the solo game is easily as entertaining as its predecessor's.

In multiplayer (dubbed the "Combat Simulator"; "multiplayer" is something of a misnomer since it is possible to play alone against bots, or even wander around empty arenas) is where Perfect Dark shines. Many different play modes, avatars, new arenas, customisable bot and weapons sets, the ever-present LTK option and vast array of intricate options promise - and deliver - a game for every occasion. To this day the Combat Simulator remains one of the most enduring features of the game.

Competition

Since the game was released there has been extremely hot competition online to get the best scores and times possible in every aspect of the game. Most prominently, the competition to get the fastest solo mission times has remained extremely hard-fought for many years. After finishing all the regular challenges in the game, playing for speed times provides a surprisingly large amount of replay value. The epic story of the Perfect Dark Elite is another node in itself, but in the meantime, the world records for all aspects of Perfect Dark (and GoldenEye) can be found at http://www.the-elite.net.

Controversy

Perfect Dark has caused a great deal of controversy in its time, and the most obvious source of this is the face-mapping feature. It was hoped during development that it would be possible to use the Game Boy Camera in conjunction with the Transfer Pak to take a picture of your face, edit it within the game, then use it as the head for your character while fighting in the Combat Simulator. Unfortunately it was decided that there would be far too much scope for kids shooting their friends in the game and being spurred on to do so in real life. The feature was simply erased from the final game. Many people are hopeful that it may still exist in the code, merely hidden, and that one day a GameShark code might unlock it, or even reinsert it manually, but Rare themselves have gone on record saying that though odd remnants and references may still be buried in the game, face-mapping itself is gone forever.

Next came the PBCs. Some background information: in GoldenEye there was a publicly-released, complicated "Push-Button Code" which could be entered to unlock new multiplayer characters. After this code was released, GameShark hacker Greystar achieved world fame by reverse-engineering it and discovering a whole slew of other codes. These could be entered to unlock all the normal levels and features in the game, without the effort usually required (i.e. actually playing the game and earning them, like you were meant to).

When the follow-up was released, an incredibly large number of people started asking Rare over and over again whether there were PBCs in Perfect Dark as well. The response was a resounding "no". To quote Rare's regular fanmail-answering column, "Scribes":

There. Are. No. Push. But. Ton. Codes. For. Per. Fect. Dark.

Despite this, many people refuse to believe the story and maintain that the codes will be found one day.

Finally there is the relentless, undying "Which is better? Perfect Dark or GoldenEye?" debate. The question is asked endlessly on classic gaming forums, and opinion over the following pages of dross usually falls almost exactly fifty-fifty. In favour of GoldenEye is the fact that it single-handedly revolutionised the first-person shooter genre, its elegant simplicity and arguably superior gameplay. In favour of Perfect Dark are advanced graphics, a bucketload of new features and arguably superior gameplay. I'm not about to state my views here. Suffice it to say that there is no consensus, and it will probably be at least five years before we can look back over this era of gaming with confidence and say, "Yes, that game was definitely better".

UPDATE: It's now 2007. GoldenEye is winning by a small but definite margin.

The sequel

Rumours about Perfect Dark's sequel, variously titled Perfect Dark 2, After Dark and finally Perfect Dark Zero, were floating around since the day Perfect Dark was released. Originally appearing on Nintendo's GameCube release list at Spaceworld in 2000, and intended to be a GameCube launch title - the GameCube launched in the USA on November 18, 2001 - information about it was incredibly scarce from then onwards. It was on November 18, 2005 that PDZ was finally released... on the Xbox 360, Rareware having been purchased from Nintendo by Microsoft in the meantime.

This write-up complies with the E2 FAQ: Video Games standards.


It would also appear (to my great surprise) that Perfect Dark is the title of a song by Finnish rock band Suburban Tribe. It doesn't appear to have anything to do with the game apart from the (coincidental?) title, but it's definitely worth a listen.

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