Microsoft acquired Rare a couple of years ago. Some thought that the fruits of the Rare purchase would be found in the Xbox games Grabbed by the Ghoulies and Conker: Live and Reloaded. Both of those games were critical and commercial disappointments. Now Microsoft is hedging their bets on Rare with the Xbox 360 games Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero. Does Rare bring the Xbox 360 the system seller that it needs or is it another disappointment from Rare?
Perfect Dark Zero puts you in the shoes of Joanna Dark, a member of Dark Bail Bonds. Dark Bail Bonds is a bounty-hunting operation started up by her father Jack Dark. Jack was a former Marine who left to lead this outfit. Along with Chandra, a hacker Jack discovered while he was with the Detroit police force, the three team up to take on jobs to pay the bills.
Early screenshots of PD0 were disappointing to gamers. They didn’t seem to offer much more detail than the original Xbox, other than widescreen support. However, a lot has changed since. The graphics in here rival those for Doom 3 for the PC, and I would venture to say that in widescreen high definition surpass them. While walking close to objects, the textures are smooth and detailed, never becoming blurry. Even crates look good.
At the beginning of each mission, the camera pans around Joanna until it goes “inside her head.” At this point you start the mission. While performing a dive you zoom out and actually see Joanna Dark perform the dive, then zoom back inside her head. This can be disorienting at first, but you get used to it eventually. Other actions, like moving down a zip line, bring up a couple of windows, similar to a comic book, where you see Joanna move. These little touches really help you to identify with the character.
Moving throughout a level has a similar feel throughout it, but the environments themselves have a good amount of variety so that you don’t feel like you are going through the same area over and over again. The other characters you encounter have a nice variety to them. While you get similar characters across the same level, you won’t encounter them in later levels.
The display for the game is minimal, with your health only showing up when you are getting hit. Your weapon and number of rounds are in the corner of the screen. It adds to the feeling of being in the game instead of playing a game.
When first popping in the PD0 disk, you feel as if you are going to enter an experience similar to James Bond. The music has a sultry singer singing about the lonely life of a spy. It fits in perfectly with the intro sequence.
The voices of the main characters do take a little getting used to, but they do a good job of bringing the characters to life. The voice of Chandra is different from what I was expecting, but it works well. Enemies also chatter amongst each other, and you can hear their conversations if you get close enough and stay hidden, similar to No One Lives Forever. In combat they communicate with each other as well, asking for cover or indicating your position.
While there is background music, environments provide their own sound as well. Early in the game you are moving around a nightclub. At first you can hear the music thump, but it sounds muffled by the walls. Moving closer lets you hear the music but it still sounds muffled. Once inside, the earmuffs are taken off and the music sounds clear.
Anyone who has played Halo should feel comfortable with the comfortable the controls for PD0. The analog sticks control movement. Right trigger fires while left trigger aims or zooms in. Right button does a secondary fire while the left button dives. A performs an action in context, and B does a melee attack. X reloads and Y swaps weapons. On the D-pad, up goes to an unarmed mode, down drops your current weapon, and left or right switches to a gadget.
The controls are responsive. Occasionally you will be in sniper mode and you wish that the controls were a bit more precise, but they aren’t bad at all. Switching weapons does take a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it is second nature. Moving stealthily is a bit clumsy, but this isn’t Splinter Cell.
The action button is only available at certain locations. It allows you to do things like take cover, press buttons, and use a zip line. Sometimes it is hard to get into the right position to activate these hot points, but most of the time it’s easy to do.
From the beginning of the game, you are literally thrown into the action. The first mission looks like a regular mission, but you learn the ropes going through the level. Eventually it’s revealed that this was a training mission to get you ready for your next assignment.
As a part of Dark Bail Bonds, you often need to go in with guns blazing. You have no problems with artillery. Before going into a mission you are given a load out, but you can change that load out if you want. You are given four weapon slots. This doesn’t mean you can carry four weapons, as some weapons require two or even three slots. Because of this, your weapon choice is a key factor in the beginning of the mission. Since you can dual-wield single-slot weapons, you have to debate whether to take one of each kind of pistol and a shotgun, or if you take the same pistols along to dual-wield. You can pick up weapons from enemies as well.
A large number of weapons are available for your use. Five pistols are available, and each of them can be dual wielded. Heavy weapons include a Plasma Rifle and Rocket Launcher. Four sub-machine guns and four assault rifles are available throughout the game as well. A few close combat weapons, projectile weapons, and sniper rifles round out the firepower available to you throughout the game. This isn’t to mention the jetpac and hovercraft you control later.
While an impressive arsenal is available at your disposal, you get other tools to assist you in completing your mission objectives. While they basically unlock doors or spy on enemies, they have a little bit of a mini-game in them to successfully complete the objective. With the Locktopus, you move the left analog stick. The harder the gamepad vibrates and the faster the light turns to green, the quicker you have that location unlocked. This simple mini-game gives you more interaction than just putting on the device and having the door unlocked automatically for you.
The first thing you notice about PD0 is that it the pace is a bit slower than Halo 2. While the pace isn’t that drastic of a difference, it is noticeable at first. The pace really matches the game well though. PD0 does have its run and gun moments, but you are always aware of your surroundings and never want to rush into a situation.
During the game, you can go to an objective screen. Sometimes you can get disoriented as far as where to go next. Arrows do show up on the screen to help assist you to your next objective. This is helpful as the levels are large. In fact, often times new objectives show up during the mission. Sometimes these are primary objectives that are required to complete the level, while others are support objectives that help you complete the mission more easily. When you die in a level, you are given the option to restart at a checkpoint or start at the beginning. If you start at a checkpoint, your statistics for the level aren’t saved, so sometimes you will actually want to start at the beginning. While this might sound frustrating, it actually isn’t. The gameplay never feels old, even if there are some trial-and-error runs.
At first you might think that your health meter is similar to the Halo 2 shield. There are some slight differences though. After getting hit, your health meter goes down, but if you don’t get hit for a few seconds, it regenerates. However, as you get hit more, your max health goes down. This makes the end of your levels increasingly difficult and you’ll watch your health like a hawk.
PD0 is an unforgiving game, but it never gets frustrating. You do need to sneak around at times, and if you set off any alarms a swarm of enemies comes down on your position. The A.I. won’t blow your mind away, but they do work as a team and will take cover. Taking cover is one of the biggest advantages you have. When you take cover you see yourself taking cover and an aiming reticle to aim your shots.
PD0 has a ton of replay value. First of all is the co-op play. You can play two players split-screen, over system link, or through Xbox Live. The co-op play isn’t tacked on like on other games. Instead of having a Joanna clone playing side by side with you, one player assumes the role of Jack Dark or Chandra. In these missions, you play out scenes from the single player game, but the other person controls the character from the other perspective. While you end up together towards the end of the mission, it’s nice to have the support roles played out.
PD0 supports four people on the same Xbox 360. Multiplayer can be played over one Xbox 360, system link, or Xbox Live. There are four variants of DeathMatch and four variants of DarkOps. DarkOps is similar to Counter-Strike where you buy weapons and play the game in rounds. Some of the modes are easily recognizable, such as KillCount and Team KillCount, but the DarkOps missions have interesting twists to the gameplay that should keep players playing for a while. The ability to play with bots in the DeathMatch modes is included. PD0 should have longevity that most other launch titles are missing.