Perfect Dark Was Ahead of Its Time Then and Still Is Now

Feature Daniel Hill 4/1/2014 at 8:43AM
Perfect Dark

Move out of the way Titanfall. Perfect Dark is still a better shooter than you.

In the past decade, video game publishers have made a lot of big promises, hyping major blockbusters to stratospheric heights, then delivering very grounded products.

Head over to Titanfall’s website and you will see how they’re touting that the game “...blurs the lines between traditional online shooters and single-player campaign,” even though games have been doing this for years. Anyone who has played their fair share of single-player campaigns would see that “campaign” as a joke if it were played offline. It's free-running mechanics aren't enough to hold it up.

You will see over at the Call of Duty: Ghosts website that it’s an “extraordinary step forward for one of the largest entertainment franchises of all-time.” Lol. Let's hope Sledgehammer does a better job with the "step forward."

If you try to buy Killzone: Shadowfall through the Sony Entertainment Network, you will see that they call the OWL a “game-changer,” when really, it’s more of a gimmick.

Perfect Dark

Everything is hyped, nothing is delivered, but that didn’t used to be the case. In 1998, a little shooter, Rare’s follow-up to GoldenEye 007, was hyped as the future best shooter of the century when it was announced at E3. The game was called Perfect Dark. When it came out in 2000, it was revolutionary, and it’s still creatively outpacing today’s shooter games.

Perfect Dark rocked the world back at the turn of the century. While it didn’t have the initial impact of GoldenEye --it lacked the recognizable branding of a James Bond movie, eventhough it took quite a few notes from 007’s adventures -- it did show that the formula established by the greatest Bond game could be applied to just about any shooter game and work…spectacularly.

First of all, like GoldenEye, the missions weren’t just mazes for you to run through and shoot the hell out of everything. You were hacking computers, saving hostages, diving deep down into the ocean and gathering intelligence on ancient alien races from a downed spaceship. Most importantly, the difficulty was meaningful. Raising the difficulty meant more objectives to each mission, opening up new areas and adding context to rooms that were previously…just rooms.

You know what it means to increase the difficulty in today’s shooters? Take the same objectives and the same linear levels, but throw in enemies that, while probably incapable of putting on velcro shoes without help, can now shoot you in the head through a two-inch hole located conveniently in that wall you’re hiding behind. It’s like it was on normal, but likely to bring on a conniption that will induce a brain aneurysm.

Goldeneye

Perfect Dark ran even further with the multiplayer formula that cemented GoldenEye into the first-person shooter canon. Additions included “simulants,” computer controlled baddies that occupied the multiplayer maps when you didn’t have friends sitting next to you on the couch. If you wanted to play co-op, you could grab some bots and use them as allies, as well. Who the hell was doing that? No one. That’s who.

What first-person shooters are letting you play through the single-player campaign in co-op, but with one player taking on the role of the enemies, trying to shoot down the lone protagonist? Seeing as how many developers are still focusing on improving everything about shooters but the enemy A.I. (play one level in Call of Duty or Battlefield), this feature could honestly benefit just about any shooter. It would reinvigorate the otherwise linear levels, and would almost channel Dark Souls, with players deviously sneaking their way into your campaign and sniping you, sending you back to the last checkpoint.

Perfect Dark also allowed you to shoot weapons out of your enemies hands or disarm them with the secondary function of the melee attack, so having actual humans in your game was be that much scarier. Seeing Faith do this in Mirror’s Edge 2 would be pretty much the best.

Outside of the missions, there was an entire pre-mission headquarters to explore. There was a firing range that helped you master the game’s many firearms, unlocking classic Bond weaponry as you completed more challenges. There was even a virtual reality room with even more shit to do. It's obvious: gamers got more bang for their buck when they bought a game in 2000.

Perfect Dark night vision

What first-person shooters give you an entire headquarters to explore, where you can kick it at the shooting range or VR room? Features similar to these have become the norm in sandbox games such as Grand Theft Auto V, with its shooting range that allowed you to level up your gun handling. But these features haven't returned to irst-person shooters, unless you count the training level from Call of Duty 4.

If we ever see another game featuring Tom Clancy’s Team Rainbow or the Ghosts, a headquarters to bop around in between missions would be not only interesting, but contextual; interesting in that we might finally see more character-building from a tactical shooter, a genre famously devoid of that, and contextual in that it just makes sense. You could unlock more weapons as you master different classes of them. The original Ghost Recon even allowed you to recruit specialists. Why not give us a headquarters to train them in?

Today, not everything about Perfect Dark has held up. Playing through the game again for this article, I found the controls to be…less than exemplary. Shooting enemies is a practice in patience if you don’t have the auto-aim turned on. The mission-by-mission structure is a little rigid compared to the flowing narratives gamers are treated to today. All of that stuff I listed above, though? Most of it is nowhere to be found in today’s shooters.

Perfect Dark also featured weapons like we’d never seen: assault rifles that turned into land mines, laptops that turned into assault rifles and then into assault rifle turrets. There was genuine creativity dripping from every single weapon as you fired copious amounts of burning hot lead into every sad sap you came across.

Perfect Dark

While Ratchet and Clank and Resistance: Fall of Man have brought us some of the most creative weaponry in recent memory, and Timesplitters, and even *gasp* Call of Duty brought us their own version of simulants, most of this stuff is nowhere to be seen.

Perfect Dark was more than a game – it was an experience. Today, an “experience” means flashier cut scenes from developers that are so far up Michael Bay’s and Infinity Ward’s ass that, pretty soon, those two giants will be pooping out of their mouths like that one South Park episode. It’s all flash and no substance.

Perfect Dark, a pinnacle of the first-person shooter genre, brought fresh ideas to the table back in 2000 that have had great shelf life, thanks to the fact that no one has ever bothered to take them off the damn shelf and revitalize them. It would be nice to see some developers think outside the box like Rare did 14 years ago.

What do you think? Did I go a little overboard with my praise? Or did I point out a problem with today's shooters? Let me know in the comments below!

You can find more of my coverage of the first-person shooter genre here.

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Perfect Dark is one of the best games of its generation, and certainly an amazing FPS. Never saw that plot twist coming. It was amazing. Rare scored again in the making of this gem as a follow up to GoldenEye, which will also always be one of the best FPS games.

I like this article and I agree with some of the points you stated about first person shooter games today. I don't really play them anymore since they are all multiplayer deathmatch variants of the same old formula. I did like the part where you talked about a headquarters feature. I've been playing alot of XCOM lately, but if it was a FPS where you actually could move around the base in order to interact with the other functions and had a smooth transition from missions to headquarters(in-between missions) then I wouldn't mind playing a FPS like that. As long as it was done right, unlike Mass Effect 1 where in-between missions you could explore your ship with almost nothing to do but talk to your squadmates (they practically said nothing new until after major plot missions).

I still play this game.

Sadly, I never played Perfect Dark, but agree with your assertion that most of the new FPS games over hyped and homogeneous. Goldeneye, Timesplitters, Halflife, and Borderlands are ones that immediately stand out in my mind as truly memorable experiences.

You forgot to mention how on a 100MHz system with 8 megs of RAM (since it required the expansion pak) you could shoot out any light source you came across and cause enemies to look for you in the dark.

There was a fun glitch - stick a poison knife into a dead enemy, and the respawned sick!

I love this post

In this article: allow us to pretend for 1200 words that PC shooters have never existed.

If you look over some of my other work, you'll see that I mostly focus on console shooters. The two don't really exist on the same playing field, so I don't factor them into my equation.

Thank you!

My god I never knew you could do that. For all these years I've been playing the same! I'm gonna try this out next time I play it.

Like I said, they promise way more than they deliver. The funny thing about Borderlands, the only current game in that list, is that it isn't even a pure shooter. It's a hybrid RPG. I think shooters are going to head this direction more and more in the future.

As do I!

Yeah I think it adds not just a layer to the mythos of a game, but the depth of game play, as well. It adds context to the story and gives the developer plenty of chances to toy around with smaller ideas.

Agreed.

Perfect Dark came out May 2000 not 1998, Hard to read and follow your article if you couldn't get a basic fact right.

1998 was the year Rare announced the game at E3. That's what Daniel meant, and we make reference to the 2000 release date later on in the article, if you want to give the article another shot :) Thanks for reading!

Yes, we really wanted to focus on the console shooter in this article, and make a great effort not to blur the lines between PC and console FPS. We're not sure they're the same market. Can you make a case for why PC shooters should be included, though?

Truth, Perfect Dark, BEST DARK!

1) Blah blah blah, there was training levels in MW2 and 3 had 2 target gallery modes as well, blah blah bots were included in CoD Black Ops 1 onwards.

2) I'd like to point out that a lot of people rant and rave saying Goldeneye was the best multiplayer fps game ever, but Perfect Dark was vastly superior in everything. It suggests that these same people haven't played PD64.

3) I'm not even surprised the author would have missed little things since it's tailored to people who probably don't own it.

This is the only game I have maxed out my stats 3 times with 3 different copies.

I do too but my 64's power supply is fried and resets every 15 minutes.