The Legacy of Perfect Dark

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Somewhere off in the far reaches of the galaxy, Joanna Dark sneaks her way through a heavily guarded alien base on a forgotten planet. Explosions periodically echo off of ice and canyon walls, while strange technologically advanced beacons fall dramatically to the ground. The monsters, Skedar, are felled one by one as the secret agent slips further and further into the heart of the compound. Laser blasts, seemingly from out of nowhere, explode in the rock wall behind her. She fires in response, the cloaked aliens screaming in agony. After what seems like an eternity of trekking, Joanna Dark lifts her rocket launcher high on her shoulder. She grimaces slightly as the largest and deadliest of the Skedar species paces back and forth in front of her, his impenetrable shield absorbing all of her ammunition.

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When Goldeneye came out on the Nintendo 64 in 1997, it was touted as the end-all, be-all of first person shooters. It defined the genre, both in single player campaigns and in multiplayer, which for the first time pitted up to four friends against each other in modes such as deathmatch and capture the flag. The varied weapon sets, dozens of unlockable characters, and the ingenuity of the game’s level design made Goldeneye the benchmark that all future first person shooters would be judged against. The scope of this game’s influence was so large, in fact, that it overshadowed Rare’s next, and best, game: Perfect Dark.

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Building on the success of Goldeneye, Perfect Dark achieved (and created) many things which today we take for granted. The game was released on May 22, 2000 in the United States and Canada, and a few weeks later in Europe. While Goldeneye was based on the James Bond movie of the same name, and as such had to adhere to the film’s areas and villains (except for The Man With the Golden Gun and Moonraker bonus levels), Perfect Dark was an entirely new IP, and Rare was free to do whatever they wanted with it. The resulting game utilized both the extra power of the new Nintendo 64 Expansion Pack and everything the team had learned through the Goldeneye creation process to create Perfect Dark, the quintessential first person shooter.

While the Expansion Pack was not required to play the full game, if the Nintendo 64 used was not equipped with one then only the Combat Simulator mode could be accessed. Combat Simulations varied from simple “Destroy 10 Enemies” and “Capture the Case” tasks to ridiculously overpowered ten-against-one matches. Each of these games includes simulants, which were simply computer-controlled multiplayer characters (now commonly referred to as ‘bots’). To my knowledge, this was the first FPS that offered the option to add computer controlled characters in multiplayer. Not stopping there, Rare also gave you the option, if you were playing teams, to give each of your team members specific commands such as “Attack [Player]” and “Defend”. This led to many late-night multiplayer battles where 4 friends, each with a bot or two, would have long, drawn-out multiplayer matches. Packing even more into the cartridge, Rare also allowed players to complete story missions in co-operative and counter-operative modes.

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Preempting Halo, Perfect Dark offered a large mix of human and alien weaponry, including unlockable Goldeneye weapons like the PPK and Klobb. In addition, each new weapon in Perfect Dark had a secondary fire functionality, essentially making every gun a double threat. Secondary functions included “Pistol Whip” with the Walther-like Falcon or “Magazine Discharge” from the speedy Cyclone gun. The two most overpowered secondary functions were the Farsight’s “Target Lock-On” which allows you to track your opponent through walls and the Laptop Gun’s “Sentry Turret”, which can be thrown or picked up on any surface. Both were deadly in multiplayer (as was the CMP’s “Target Lock-On” secondary function).

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Training missions for all of these weapons and special agent gadgets can be found at the Carrington Institute, which is the large office/base for all Daniel Carrington’s Secret Agents. The Institute can be accessed by simply pressing Back on the main menu screen, although many players were unaware of this feature until they did it accidentally. The Carrington Institute also serves as a level in the game’s story mode, although it is being attacked at the time by turncoat government forces.

The story of Perfect Dark is large and grandiose, and the perfect introduction to Joanna Dark both as an action star and a hero. Fresh out of her training, Joanna is sent on a simple extraction mission to rescue a not-so-simple scientist (pictured above). His research and a corresponding trip to fabled Area 52 link Joanna with the captured alien Elvis and a battle between Earth and the violent Skedar race. This adventure turns our green agent into a seasoned veteran, and brings Joanna Dark up to the same level of other female videogame leading ladies such as Samus and Laura Croft. Her design was chosen by game director Martin Hollis, who said a female lead was chosen because he believes there “should be more games centered on women.”

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Perfect Dark offered many firsts in the first person shooter genre. It was the first game to offer multiplayer profiles and achievements, being able to advance from a Level 20 combatant all the way to Level 1. It had significantly improved graphics than Goldeneye, thanks to the Expansion Pack. Weapons such as the Tranquilizer Gun and the N-Bomb could cause blurred, cloudy vision as well as damage, even after coming back from a multiplayer death. In addition, Perfect Dark had drivable vehicles, such as jet-bikes, a type of hovercraft futuristic motorcycle, and a multitude of gadgets including Night-Vision Goggles, small controllable robots CamSpy and DrugSpy, and an X-Ray Device that lets you see enemies through walls in eerie rainbow colors. For example, the secondary function of the RCP-120 (Named after Goldeneye’s RCP-90) is a Cloaking Device that runs on the rifle’s bullets.

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There are many more aspects of Perfect Dark worth noting. The game features multiple multiplayer modes and variations in addition to the large amount of specialty simulants and large maps. Notable levels are the G5 building, Skedar home world, and the large, multi-tiered car park. Three classic Golden Eye levels return as well, the Facility (renamed Felicity), the Complex (which featured better physics than its counterpart), and the Temple. In multiplayer, players may alter their character’s head and body to make a unique individual.

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Rare’s Perfect Dark may have been overshadowed by its counterpart, but that does not mean that it was any less important or genre-defining. Precedents set by Joanna Dark and her exploits have since come to be taken for granted. If it wasn’t for Joanna dual-wielding Cyclones on the bridge of Air Force One, Master Chief may have never had the idea to pick up a second Needler. While the series may have come off strong and since deteriorated (the abysmal Perfect Dark Zero for the Xbox 360 comes to mind), one cannot ignore the effect it had on the gaming industry. Rare’s recent job postings indicate they are supporting the next generation Microsoft Xbox system, and you cannot give up hope that one day we will see a Perfect Dark sequel worthy of the name.