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

Den of Geek takes a look back at Rare's Perfect Dark, a shooting game like no other.

The Rare Replay collection has done something quite fantastic: re-introduced thousands of fans to the wonders of the developer’s epic video game library. After years of less-than-stellar Kinnect games (glad that’s over), Rare can once again display why it’s one of the best developers in video game history. 

And what better way to do that than packaging all of your major hits (except GoldenEye 007 because of rights) in one collection. Included in the box are amazing titles such as Banjo-Kazooie, Battletoads, and Viva Piñata!. Yet there is one title we’d put above them all, a game that’s done more for the shooter genre than often credited for. 

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.

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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.

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 Catalyst 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.

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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.

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.

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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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