Last May, I included Perfect Dark in Part III of my list of classic Nintendo games that haven't been remade, but should be. Less than a month later at E3, Microsoft announced Perfect Dark for the Xbox Live Arcade. At the time it sounded like the game would just be a port of the N64 game running in 1080p with online multiplayer, but a few months later Rare released screenshots showing new high resolution textures replacing the originals. On March 17th, Microsoft Game Studios released their version of the N64 classic, ported by 4J Studios.
As I had said I would in my previous post on this topic, I bought this on day one. The first thing I noticed was, aside from the higher resolution, and the replacement of old RareWare and Nintendo logos with new Rare and Microsoft ones, was that the opening was basically identical as the original's. Same sound, same presentation, and the 4J logo very cleverly replaces the N64 logo before becoming the background for the title… but you aren't reading this to find out about the logos, are you?
I started playing the game right away, and was amazed at how crisp and clear the graphics were — Perfect Dark looks as good as you remember it looking, and better than it actually looked — but what really caught my attention was how detailed the faces were. While most of the graphical updates are simply brand new hi-res textures to replace the originals, character models were completely rebuilt with higher polygon counts. Even Jo's hand and gun in first-person are remodeled. You can actually make out the details on the faces, and features such as lips and eyes are well defined. This unfortunately makes cinemas a little annoying because, like the original, the faces are all static and there is no lip sync.
screenshots from teamxbox.com
Surprisingly, the game controls well using dual-analog, although I still prefer my C-buttons for strafing. AI is exactly the same as it was in 2000, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Enemies are smart enough to chase you, take cover behind walls, surrender or go kung-fu and fisticuffs when disarmed, and investigate curious sounds and objects; but they're not so smart that you can't still toy with them and set up fairly obvious ambushes. In fact, aside from the graphics and controller itself, nearly everything in the XBLA release is identical to the N64 original.
The biggest change is in the Combat Simulator, PD's multiplayer mode. While all the features of the original are still here (and unlocked from the get-go), the obvious new addition is online matchmaking. Thus far, most of the matches have been pretty even (with me in the usual bottom half of the standings), though there is always the typical unfair match with some FPS expert/cheater. Hopefully matchmaking will smooth out over time, as more people participate and player levels start to balance out. Unfortunately, the only options for online matchmaking are 4 player and 8 player matches, and there is no option for Simulants, meaning you can't set up a humans versus Sims match for random people. This would be a nice feature to add. The most fun we had at my house was humans vs. Sims, with a random Perfect Sim thrown in to keep things interesting. Still, local mulitplayer is exactly the same as it was 10 years ago, Sims and all, only clearer and smoother.
My biggest gripes are what they did not include. I was really hoping they would restore the face-mapping feature that was planned for the original release, but removed due to post-Columbine pressure (Rare claims "technical issues," but I stand by my previous statement). The pieces of cheese hidden throughout the levels, originally meant as an alternate method for unlocking cheats, still do nothing. The N64 version of Perfect Dark (as well as GoldenEye 007) allowed you to change the aspect ratio of the game from a standard 4:3 (1.33:1), all the way to an anamorphic 23:9 (2.55:1, similar to CinemaScope's aspect ratio) on widescreen TVs. The XBLA version only allows full-screen mode, in either 4:3 or 16:9 depending on your system settings.
Overall, the biggest change is the framerate. After years of stuttering single-player, choppy deathmatches, and unplayable co-op, we can finally see Perfect Dark the way it was meant to be seen. This is what Perfect Dark might have looked and played like had Rare held the game over to the GameCube. If you were ever a fan of the original, or even of GoldenEye, and are looking for a solid, old-school FPS on the 360, I'd say you can't go wrong with this. The fact that it's only $10 (800 MP) gives you even less reason not to buy it.
Yea: feels and sounds just like the original; looks a lot better than the original; great classic FPS; nearly unlimited multiplayer options
Nay: short campaign; not much new aside from online multiplayer; needs more GoldenEye multiplayer maps (DLC maybe?)