Got Rare Replay for my Xbox One recently as there's a whole number of games in there that I've always wanted to play, some of them genuinely improved ports of N64 classics. The first game I finished was Perfect Dark which is actually the X360 version which has some seriously improved graphics and controls over the original version. Like its predecessor GoldenEye It's to this day praised by many, keeps popping up on lists of the N64's best games and as an example of an early console FPS that doesn't suck. Well, it does.
I understand the nostalgia of the people who first played the game on the N64, just like I myself have a soft spot for Turrican and some other Amiga classics which, looking at them objectively, aren't all that great. But let's put it out there: it's a very mediocre game. The big accomplishment was to work around the limitations of early consoles and make an FPS that appears to be similar to the classics on the PC available at the time even though in many ways it's not. Sure, it was brilliant to create an auto aiming system to even out the clunkiness of the N64 controller that also looks great, with the gun swinging around automatically and a crosshair following targets. However, it removed almost any need to aim and made combat almost entirely about maneuvering. Bottom line: it wasn't satisfying to me because I didn't feel in control. The fact that aiming wasn't really part of the challenge removed a pretty important aspect of shooters and contributed to all fights being the same, regardless of enemy type. Just wiggle a bit around with the left stick to avoid attacks and the auto aiming will do the rest. It was like this in the first level, it was like this in the final one. As a counter-example I'll mention Medal of Honor on the PSX which is a lot less elegant than Perfect Dark but far more satisfying to me. They evened out the digital controls of the original PSX controller with ridiculously long pain animations that gave you time to engage in an aim mode where you can target specific body parts. It was abstract and silly but it was fun to me. Maybe it took several seconds to deliver a headshot where with a mouse I could deliver those in a heartbeat but I did get that satisfaction of precise shooting. Incidentally, a bit like Medal of Honor, Perfect Dark does also have a mode where you can aim more precisely but in that mode that controls are so terrible that I used it only the several times it was pretty much required.
But okay, enough with the controls. The game utterly lacks style, the plot feels like it was written by an eight-year-old and its delivery is made even worse by absolutely dreadful voice acting. I just can't take it seriously and was also pretty put off by the sole idea of this young hottie slaughtering people like it's nothing. It's one thing to have something like that in an intentionally gritty and trashy title like BloodRayne, it's something entirely else in a game that's so oblivious to the ethical implications of the shit going down in it.
But that's still not the worst. The game's biggest problem is that it's not one of those highly abstract twitch shooters like Doom or Quake, it's one of those story-driven "realistic" shooters which means that the levels are supposed to look like real places, the player is supposed to do more than just kill bad guys and make it to the exit. There's a variety of objectives and a crapload of gimmicks that may sound cool on paper but only hurt the game and underline the limitations of the platform. For starters, the levels. Doom did not have much diversity in its wall textures. What it did have was distinct level geometry that was recognisable and offered tons of unique challenges. Perfect Dark has neither. The levels are hugely samey corridors and boxy rooms that you just can't tell apart. Not only are these "realistic" surroundings pretty lousy arenas for the gunfights, they are a nightmare to navigate because everything looks the friggin' same. And now add objectives to these terrible levels. For starters, there's stuff that you have to interact with somehow. The objective list provides only a minimal amount of hints as to what you have to do and when you stumble upon the stuff you have to interact with there's almost never any feedback on that. Once or twice in the game the "cleverly named" Joanna Dark will say something when you're close to the objective but most of the time you have to guess what you have to do. A trivial objective like "disable the xyz system" can be anything in this game. One time you're supposed to push A when facing a specific computer that looks like dozens of other computers, in one case you have to blow a computer up with a wall mine in yet another you have to shoot multiple alien consoles which look like a cosmetic part of the environment. And if you don't figure that out soon enough you will walk all the way to the end of the level where you will hit a dead end. Then you will experience the joy of backtracking through the identically looking rooms and corridors until you find that one thing that may or may not be interactive, if you're particularly lucky you have to first select an item from your inventory that has no right to be there as you didn't have it in the previous mission and there was no feedback of it being added to your inventory. Oh yeah, and several times you have to guess what the level designers wanted you to do under pressure, as there's the occasional time limit. And of course usually there's no logical connection between objectives and unlocked access to later portions of the level (for instance disabling the anti-air defenses of a military base will open up a gate in a warehouse in a totally different corner of the level).
Oh yeah, and there's 32 weapons in the game which can be put into two categories: practically identical projectile weapons, all of which are in practice almost identically useful, and gimmicky shit that is either useless or so rare that you won't get to make much use of it anyway.
Bottom line: it's a pretty terrible game and it's ridiculous that it keeps popping up on "top 10" lists and whatnot of any kind, sometimes alongside masterpieces like Half-Life. What Perfect Dark wants to be is No One Lives Forever while it doesn't even get close to many forgettable shooters like Devastation or Chaser, it actually commits all sorts of design atrocities that even some old and awful low budget shooters have managed to avoid.
Now, a disclaimer: I've finished the game on Agent difficulty which appeared like the default difficulty mode at first. As it turns out, it's not. Agent is actually a clearly dumbed down version of the higher difficulty levels. Not only was it ridiculously easy (I've died one time and that was by falling into a pit) but objectives were removed. Sometimes cutscenes will mention something you don't even have to do or you have to do things in an even less obvious way and you will often stumble upon things that have no relevance to that particular difficulty, only confusing you even more. On one hand it deserves praise that the game changes a lot on the different difficulty levels, on the other, the game as a whole gets even worse by how half-assedly the easy mode was designed. After finishing it I actually replayed the early levels on Special Agent difficulty, where the game actually becomes a lot more difficult and interesting, genuinely better, even, but then again: guessing what to do and running aimlessly through the levels was bad enough, if I had notoriously died while doing so I would have thrown the controller at the TV.
Oh yeah, to avoid any accusations of me just hating on N64 games or Rare: I've moved on to Banjo Kazooie and I'm absolutely loving it. I've already finished about two thirds, judging by the stats screens, and I can honestly say that it's one of the best 3D platform games I've ever played. I may actually be enjoying it more than Mario 64.
Post edited March 03, 2018 by F4LL0UT