Saturday, January 7, 2012

Perfect Dark: Flawed Color

I'm a big fan of Perfect Dark, a fact found in the couple of hundred hours I put into the game on the N64, because it just does a lot of stuff that I like. It has a near-future science fiction setting, a strong female lead, objective-based level design, a bunch of crazy weapons, and some great multiplayer maps. Sadly, I am not here to illuminate the game I love, or even the embarrassing prequel everyone tries to forget that is Perfect Dark Zero, but the embarrassing prequel that most people have had the good sense to forget, Perfect Dark for the Game Boy Color. Also developed by Rare, though presumably by a different internal team, and released a couple of months after the original game in 2000, it is a game that offers very little justification for its own existence.

Going in, I wasn't really optimistic, but after the pleasant surprise of James Bond 007, and knowing about the quality of Metal Gear Solid (also known as Metal Gear: Ghost Babel), I at least had a little bit of hope. This was a foolish hope because there just isn't much of anything worthwhile in this version of Perfect Dark. The first thing one might notice about the game is the oversized cart and the requirement for AAA battery to power. . . something. I wasn't expecting something completely crazy like the light sensor in Boktai, but it was still disappointing to find out that it is a simple rumble pack. It isn't put to any particularly good use, and it's not very powerful, so it's kind of the opposite of the greatness found in Drill Dozer's cart.

Things start out on a high note with some quality music that, though it is coming from the Game Boy Color sound chip, feels like proper Perfect Dark music, with a distinct energetic composition. Any hopes for a quality sound track were quickly dashed as starting the game switched to a story sequence with horribly garbled voice samples played over text, and the music never came back. Yeah, throughout all of the actual play of the game, there is no music, just silence interrupted by gunfire and the garbled samples of guards screaming in their death throes.

The only thing I can be really complimentary on is the game's sprite work. They are big and surprisingly well animated, and pleasant to look at, but this actually causes many of the game's problems. The large sprites take up most of the screen, so it is impossible for the player to get a good sense of the surroundings. It wouldn't be such a big deal if it were a simple overhead run-and-gun game, but with an emphasis on stealth, and an early mission that requires stealth, it makes it a huge pain. I can't even count the number of times I tried to slowly move through an area, attempting to be stealthy, only to be spotted by a soldier just as they appeared on the edge of the screen.

I suppose I should detail how the game is actually played. Most of it is controlled from an overhead perspective, with pressing a direction causing Joanna to move in that direction and double tapping a direction making her run. The Select button loots dead guards, Start opens a menu to select weapons and items, B uses an item, and A fires a weapon in the direction Joanna is facing. One weird thing about the game's stealth is that guards are immediately alerted by the player running, but not by gunfire. I guess the guns could be silenced, but they don't appear to be. Taking enemies unaware is really useful because a close attack on an unaware guard kills them instantly.

While this is how the majority of game controls, there are also mini games forced upon the player, to break up the monotonous levels I guess. Entering doorways sometimes unexpectedly enters a shooting gallery mode. During this the directions will move a cursor, and the player needs to hit A to shoot the targets that pop up and B to reload. It is just really boring, and reeks of laziness on the developers part. Even more lazy are the door unlock sequences, which is just a simple color sequence matching game. I don't know who designed this security system, but it seems decidedly insecure compared to even a simple number keypad.

That's what I get for having hope. Perfect Dark is a perfect example of a crappy cash-in portable title based on a popular console game. For a long time I assumed that Perfect Dark Zero was Rare's way of saying that they just didn't really care about the franchise. If I had played this, maybe I would have known that they put all their love into the original title and just cashed out. I can easily say that I just don't like this Perfect Dark and that is it is a horrible mess. Years have passed since I last played Zero, back when it launched, so maybe I misjudged it. Maybe it isn't as bad as I recall, and I just hated it for not being what I wanted, but that's a topic for another day.

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