Hello all! Last week, I wrote about one of the best adventure games ever made. At least, I think so, because there’s something really genuine about it.
This week brings us to a prequel to a beloved N64 shooter. This one wasn’t quite as successful, but I still think it’s cool.
Perfect Dark Zero is the Xbox 360 exclusive prequel to (checks notes) Perfect Dark on N64. Developed by Rare, just like the first one, you play as Joanna Dark some time before she becomes Agent Joanna Dark, here seen as a bounty hunter along with her father. Through some entertaining if typical cyberpunk shenanigans, Joanna joins the Carrington Institute in order to combat dataDyne, the enemies of the first game.
Nothing terrifically surprising happens in the story or gameplay, though both are handled well. Zero is a standard first-person-shooter, though it doesn’t play that much like its predecessor. Zero has you rolling and taking cover, much like...well, most modern shooters. Taking cover is especially jarring if you’re used to more old-school shooters; the camera switches to third person when you attach to a wall, like Rainbow Six Vegas or the last two Deus Ex games. Personally, I like that, but it took me a bit of time to get used to when I first played Zero.
The first time I played it was around 2008, I think, long after it released. I didn’t have a 360 until 2007, so I had catching up to do. Like I imagine a lot of you did, I bought Zero because it said Perfect Dark. I loved the original; that game was my life for months when I got it. My brother and I spent all day and night playing every mode, every map...I mean, somewhere around my home is the Game Boy Color Perfect Dark game and the two paperback novels, so safe to say I’m a fan. I searched every Gamestop looking for the neat Collector’s Edition.
So I popped the game in and played, way back when, and found that my N64 obsession had changed. Like, a lot. I mean, it said Perfect Dark right there, I’m playing as Joanna Dark (though she isn’t British here?)...and yet the game is so different. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. I’d eventually conclude that Zero was simply more modernized in the wake of games like Halo and Call of Duty. Kind of, anyway. That’s simultaneously good and bad in the case of a sequel (or prequel) like this; on the one hand, you have a fresh, new game, but then again, it doesn’t feel like the same game anymore.
But then you wonder—should it feel like the same thing? Need every sequel merely be an at most incremental update from the original? I don’t think so; franchises would and do get stale if each game features only minor changes. Things are ultimately better off if a series gets a shake up every once in a while; games like Splinter Cell Conviction and the Devil May Cry reboot come to mind. Both of those took major sweeping changes to their respective series while still retaining the spirit, and succeeded because of it. To a point, that’s what Perfect Dark Zero did; it’s so mechanically separate from the original, yet it at least aesthetically feels like the same series. That’s a big part of why I like it.
On the other hand...I feel like Zero gets a bad rap specifically because of two things: one, it’s called Perfect Dark, and two, it’s developed by Rare. Those two aspects, together, sent expectations for this game impossibly lofty. Rare is kind of just around these days (we’re all still waiting for Sea of Thieves), but this is the company that created Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye, Banjo-Kazooie...anything with their name on it (at the time) carried a ton of weight. Perfect Dark is, of course, no exception. And so I think a part of the lukewarm feelings toward Zero have to do with a combination of those impossible expectations and the simple fact that the game is “merely” pretty good.
I say “pretty good,” meaning it’s like a solid if somewhat unremarkable title—like an 8 or so. It’s fun. It’s got style. It’s mechanically sound. A bit underwhelming, but a good time. It took me a while to come around to that personal verdict, because I, too, had those same expectations. “Basically every Rare game is great, right?” But once I cast those preconceptions aside and played through Perfect Dark Zero, and judged it on its own merits, suddenly I was like, “Hey, this game is pretty great.” That’s really what Perfect Dark Zero taught me—that you can’t go into a game with preconceived notions regarding its quality. Simply deciding you like/dislike a game based on a trailer, genre, setting, developer...that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I mean, there’s no way to try out every game you want to, considering time and money, but that’s why we have reviews, no? To give you an opinion of the game when it comes out. I mean, to me, that’s a better alternative to “This game will automatically be legendary, because Rare.” Because when it’s not legendary, and is simply a good game, somehow that’s not enough.
The point here is to not at all lower your expectations (at all. Please continue to get hyped for things), but rather, judge a game by its own merits, independent of the developer or production troubles or whatever. Just because Perfect Dark Zero said “Developed by Rare” on the box didn’t mean it was a masterpiece, but that didn’t mean it was bad, either. I also wish there was more Perfect Dark, because I just realized this game is eleven years old. Damn.
Thanks always for reading! I have a Twitter and I like talking to people, so follow me!
Next week, I’ll check out another shooter, a spinoff of a popular real-time-strategy series. This one actually released, too.