When Microsoft bought RARE in 2002 for a huge amount of money, many people wondered whether MS had made the right move and the fact that RARE only released one original Xbox title only increased this skepticism. RARE is a company that is well known for taking an extremely long time to put a game together, but perhaps this is about to pay off for Microsoft as they have not one, but two launch 360 games. The main title is Perfect Dark Zero, a sequel to what many still regard as the finest N64 game Perfect Dark. RARE have done a fairly good job with the game but there is still room for improvement and it doesn't live up to the hype.
Right from the outset it is clear RARE was going for a Bond-esque game with a shadowy Joanna featured in the backdrop of the introduction. Is RARE bitter they still can't make 007 games? Perhaps. The storyline is also extremely Bond like, featuring a crazy person with lots of money and a huge corporation trying to take over the world. However despite this, the storyline in PDZ has been done well. There are enough twists and turns to prevent it from becoming too lame and predictable but, by the end, you will be wanting it to end, despite the short length.
The first person perspective has been retained, but there are some points where a third person perspective is used, such as when using vehicles. Really, all you have to do in this game is gain keys, reach certain areas and defeat boss characters scattered throughout the levels. The game even helps you with this by providing arrows to each waypoint if you hang around and get stuck for too long. This works quite well but for those who want a tougher challenge it can be turned off. Be warned though, you will find yourself running around in many circles due to the complex level design with it turned off. The flipside is, it makes the game extremely linear, and even with it off, this doesn't change all that much.
RARE have tried to innovate a little however by providing some small mini games to play when completing mundane tasks such as setting explosives or opening locked doors. Basically it works a little like Splinter Cell; you tap the analogue sticks until you feel a lock breaking or, with the bombs, you line up blocks to reach between two detonation points on the bomb. This adds to the tension sometimes, especially when you are surrounded by enemies.
The enemies are a bit disappointing in PDZ and seem happy to just stand there while shooting and getting shot. They do scream out things to each other such as 'she is reloading' but other than that the difficulty comes from the sheer numbers and firepower, rather than their AI. The developers have included a number of vehicles to use in the game, but these are few and far between. Basically you will use things such as a hovercraft and mini mech warrior but it would have been nice to use the other vehicles featured such as trucks, armored personnel carriers, jets plus a rather nice looking motorbike.
Continuing the Bond theme, most of the levels are set in somewhat real world locations. It's not unusual to visit a nightclub in Hong Kong in games, but to look around and see the world famous cityscape beaming at you really adds to the atmosphere. RARE has left no detail out but the level design still disappoints. It's much too linear, there is usually only one way to do something. The only variety in PDZ is caused by a lack of ammunition.
One of the biggest problems we have with the game is the length. It is split over twelve missions but most are fairly short and easy to get through. As well as this, RARE has aided gamers by giving Joanna health which restores automatically, if she is not shot for a period of time. We finished the game in around six hours of gametime and while there is XboxLive options available and co-operative mode, it just doesn't add up to a game worthy of the premium price being asked for 360 games right now.
One area of the game which really stuns though is the graphics. RARE have put a massive effort into the visuals and those with HDTV's are really going to appreciate just how powerful this new Xbox is. I was picking my jaw off the floor after a few minutes, and really if you've been disappointed by 360's graphics, Perfect Dark Zero will change all that. There is also a huge level of detail in terms of the games mechanics with full reloading animations on offer, blurred vision after being hit heavily and highly detailed characters, although Joanna could probably use lips which don't look like they have had botox.
Perfect Dark Zero was the big game for the 360's launch and while it's probably as good as the original Halo, it still doesn't stack up which shows just how much gaming standards have changed in the five years since the Xbox was released. RARE has done a decent job but there are better 360 games out there. Once the game drops a bit in price, then it is an almost must play.