"Perfect Dark" was the ideal spiritual sequel to "Goldeneye" for the Nintendo 64. It had more weapons, more levels and more multiplayer options to become the best console shooter of its day. Once developed for the Gamecube and then the original Xbox, the prequel "Perfect Dark Zero" finally debuts alongside the 360. Was it worth the overly long wait?
Games like "Call of Duty 2" and "Halo 2" control so responsively that looking and aiming feel like an extension of your mind. Not so in "Perfect Dark Zero." For the first several hours, you'll fight with the sluggish feel of aiming. Turning the sensitivity up to its highest level only masks the problem. In twitch firefights, it still reacts too slowly, and when trying to line up headshots or any pinpoint action, it's too erratic without going into "aiming mode," which also is not a solution for intense battles.
Unfortunately the entire single and multiplayer experience is colored by the controls. It also doesn't help that the first nine missions (zero through eight) are pretty lame with a lot of boring backtracking, uninteresting and sometimes confusing level design and a disjointed and poorly presented story.
Missions nine through 13 take a complete 180-degree turn. The scope of the battles increases greatly. The geometry, architecture and objectives become noticeably more sophisticated. Still, the better of the missions don't do anything we haven't seen in superior shooters.
However, the weapons are awesome. Every gun features a secondary and sometimes tertiary function, increasing the usability of even the seemingly weaker weapons. Each weapon "feels" great and gives a great sense of power depending on the function. New items like a mystical sword and psychosis gun are welcome, but don't trump the tried and true PD originals.
You'll obtain a gaggle of gadgets to aid your progress. The locktopus is a lock-picking device that can get through doors quietly. If that's not your style, you have a demo kit at your disposal to blow through walls. The gadgets can be suited to your style of play, but don't expect to have any brainy challenges with what to use and when.
There are plenty of ledges and small obstacles which you normally would be able to jump over. Instead, a context-sensitive button will appear on screen, prompting a scripted solution. Also, instead of implementing a jump function, Joanna gets to roll. The mechanic works well for the most part and does seem to get you out of trouble when you're low on health.
You can find cover behind walls, crates and other obstructions along the way a la Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell series. You are able to pop out for split seconds at a time to get a few rounds off then automatically retreat behind cover. Using this feature liberally is a necessity if you are to eke the majority of enjoyment out of "Zero's" level design.
If you decide to make "Zero" your hero, Xbox Live is where the bulk of your time will be spent. While online play is virtually lag-free, playing for kills must be taken with a grain of salt since the controls don't offer the amount of precision to be taken seriously. Capture the Flag tends to be the best "Deathmatch" mode, but with only six maps to choose from - three worth playing at all - even that can get old fairly fast due to lack of variety.
Most of the game consists of levels that look as if they were developed on the original Xbox, then sent through a "shiny" filter to make it pass as a next-generation offering. But some death animations, especially in multiplayer, look wonky, taking the player right out of the universe. Many times a dying enemy will look like it's suspended by an invisible rope right at the torso while shaking violently or doing a bad impression of slow-motion bullet time.
The music is great. The techno-rock with a dash of British brat fits the themes to a tee, and the sound effects whiz and bang well, especially during explosions.
There are potentially redemptive qualities in "Perfect Dark Zero," but all are thwarted by suspect aiming controls. What results is a campaign only worth playing through once with a buddy and a multiplayer component that falls short of expectations, stranding great weapons and gadgets in a super-average void.