The game features a single-player mode consisting of seventeen missions in which the player assumes the role of special agent Joanna Dark, an operative for the fictional Carrington Institute, as she attempts to foil a conspiracy by rival corporation dataDyne. It also includes a range of multiplayer options, including co-operative and "counter-operative" modes in addition to traditional deathmatch settings. Technically, it is one of the most advanced games developed for the N64, with optional high-resolution graphics and Dolby Surround Sound.
In September 2000, a separate game starring agent Joanna Dark, also titled Perfect Dark, was released for the Game Boy Color. Although set in the same universe, it follows a separate storyline. With the use of the Transfer Pak, the Game Boy game allows certain features within the Nintendo 64 version to be unlocked. Perfect Dark Zero, a prequel to Perfect Dark also developed by Rare, was a launch title for the Xbox 360 in 2005. Perfect Dark: Initial Vector, a novel by Greg Rucka, was published later that year. A second novel, Perfect Dark: Second Front, followed in 2007.
On Earth, there is an on-going rivalry between two factions. The Carrington Institute, founded by Daniel Carrington, is officially an R&D centre but secretly operates an espionage group in league with the Maians. dataDyne, on the other hand, is a sinister defense contractor with a clandestine link to the Skedar. The player is cast as Joanna Dark, a new recruit to the Carrington Institute whose impeccable scores in training have earned her the codename "Perfect Dark". The game begins with her mission to investigate suspicious reports from a dataDyne insider. In the process, she uncovers a conspiracy between dataDyne and the Skedar: the Skedar plan to steal an alien "megaweapon" from a crashed spacecraft on the Earth's ocean floor and use it to annihilate the Maians. When the President of the United States refuses to loan dataDyne the research vessel they need to retrieve the megaweapon, they plot to kill him and replace him with a dataDyne-grown clone. Unbeknownst to dataDyne, the Skedar also intend to test-fire the megaweapon on the Earth, destroying it in the process.
With the help of other Carrington agents and a Maian nicknamed Elvis, Joanna prevents the conspiracy by causing the weapon to self-destruct. The Skedar launch a retaliatory strike on the Carrington Institute, capturing Joanna. Elvis rescues her from a Skedar assault ship. Joanna then helps the Maians launch a counter-attack, destroying the Skedar's "Battle Shrine" and eliminating their High Priest, thereby issuing Skedar morale a crippling blow.
The weapons of Perfect Dark include handguns, rifles, submachine guns, a shotgun, rocket launchers, combat knives, grenade launchers, various explosives, and several fictitious extraterrestrial weapons. Almost all of the weapons in the game have two modes of fire: a primary mode in which the weapon is used in a typical fashion, and a secondary mode which tends to use the weapon in a more unconventional manner, such as pistol-whipping or proximity detonation. Players can carry an unlimited number of weapons, and certain guns can be used in duplicate, one in each hand. Unlike in GoldenEye 007, where the guns were simply dipped below vision during reloading, Perfect Dark's weapons all feature unique and visible reload sequences.
The player can explore the Carrington Institute and take part in a number of tutorials and training activities. The most substantial of these activities is the firing range, in which the player's proficiency with each of the game's weapons is tested against specific targets. Completing these trials unlocks so-called "Classic Weapons", which are taken from GoldenEye 007.the classic weapons are basically the same as in goldenye007 for instance the goldeneye klobb is called the klo1313 and is almost identical code.
In Perfect Dark's solo missions, the player controls Joanna through a series of levels collected together into missions. In each level, the player must complete certain objectives and then exit the stage. The requirements are varied, with many levels requiring the recovery and use of numerous high-tech gadgets. If Joanna is killed or fails an objective, the player must start the level again.
There are three distinct difficulty levels in the single-player game: Agent, Special Agent and Perfect Agent. There are a number of differences between the difficulty levels, including the objectives that must be completed, the amount of ammunition available, and enemy accuracy and damage. On higher difficulties, the optional "auto-aiming", in which the game corrects slight aiming errors automatically, becomes less effective and bonus items such as protective shields are absent. Once the game has been completed on one difficulty level, the levels can be tackled in any order on the other difficulties (apart from the final mission of the main story arc, which can only be played at a given difficulty after all other missions have been beaten on that difficulty). If all the levels are completed on Perfect Agent difficulty, an additional setting becomes available; titled Perfect Dark, this mode allows the player to customise various aspects of enemies, such as their health, their aiming accuracy and the damage they inflict.
Four bonus missions may be unlocked by the player. One, "The Duel", is a holographic training simulation against three opponents, and is unlocked by completing all of the entry-level weapon challenges in the firing range. The other three bonus missions are unlocked by completing the game on each of the three standard difficulties, and allow the player to control other characters — Elvis, Mr Blonde and a Maian warrior — in scenarios parallel to the main narrative. The gameplay is essentially unchanged, with objectives to accomplish and enemies to battle, but these characters do have some special characteristics, such as Mr Blonde's cloaking device.
Additionally, the player can unlock cheats by beating the levels within certain time limits. Some cheats, such as "All Weapons", can alternatively be unlocked by using the Perfect Dark Game Boy Color game and Transfer Pak. The cheats range from "Perfect Darkness", which makes the level pitch dark but gives the player a pair of night vision goggles, to more traditional extras such as Infinite Ammo.
The game includes a co-operative mode in which two players, or one player and up to three computer-controlled players, tackle the missions together. If two humans play, the game uses a split screen display, with the option to split horizontally or vertically. Only one human player is required to survive the mission, although all the objectives must still be completed. Finally, there is a "Counter Op" mode, in which one player plays the missions as Joanna while the other takes over the role of an enemy — including their weaponry and low health — and attempts to stop her. The Counter Op player takes control of another enemy if they are killed, and cannot cause the mission to fail directly by, for example, killing Joanna's allies before she meets them.
The solo player areas feature numerous easter eggs and strange objects, areas and glitches to fuel the exploration efforts and wild speculation of many gamers. Rare staff have admitted that some of the oddities in the game were put there "for a laugh", and that the constant barrage of questioning emails they got were sometimes "a free source of amusement". Perhaps the most famous curiosity is the piece of cheese hidden on every level. These were intended to be collectable items, although the purpose of collecting them has never been revealed. This idea was scrapped, but the cheese remained.
Players enter the game unarmed and with a certain amount of health. Weapons and ammunition are scattered around the level in preset positions. Once a player is killed, they are regenerated elsewhere in the level, once again unarmed. The overall objective of the game is determined by the scenario being played, of which there are six:
Aspects of each game can be customised, such as the chosen arena, the weapons available, and the winning conditions. Players can be grouped into teams or compete individually. In a team game, the players can optionally be shown coloured according to their team. Each game can be customised to a greater degree than was possible in GoldenEye 007's widely acclaimed multiplayer mode. For example, the earlier game only allowed players to specify a pre-set class of weapons, such as "Automatics", but in Perfect Dark, players can individually select the weapons to be included and where each should be located. Shields may be placed in any of the weapon slots or omitted entirely; GoldenEye 007's body armour was fixed in one position for each level.
Computer controlled bots, called "Simulants", can be included in the multiplayer game. The appearance, team affiliation, skill level and playing characteristics of each Simulant can be individually customised. For example, the VengeSim always pursues the player that killed it last, the FistSim will not fire guns but will attack with punches and thrown weapons, while the PeaceSim does not fight at all but merely tries to disarm the other players. Simulants can perform super-human feats on the highest difficulty settings, such as moving faster than the player can. During team matches, a human player can issue specific orders to the Simulants on their team, such as "Defend the Base".
The Combat Simulator includes thirty "Challenges", pre-set games against Simulants which may be tackled by one or more players. The Challenges cover a variety of game types, weapon arrangements and level setups. As a player completes them, additional features — including new weapons, player models and bot difficulties — are unlocked in the Combat Simulator. A complete list of features unlockable through this mode is available; see Combat Simulator Challenge Earnings. ..
At the end of the match, the overall results are shown, alongside information about the individual players' performance. Color-coded "medals" are awarded to the winners in several categories: Accuracy, Head Shots, KillMaster (for achieving the most kills) and Survivor (for suffering the fewest deaths). The game also acknowledges, often humorously, other aspects of performance by awarding messages such as "Best Protected" (for people who frequently use body armour) and "Mostly Harmless" (for particularly ineffective players).
Players can keep track of their performance by creating and saving multiplayer profiles. Each profile contains a ranking, ranging from "Beginner: 21" to "Perfect: 1", which is determined based on the accumulation of certain statistics such as number of kills, time played and ammunition used. The number of medals earned is also counted. (See Combat Simulator milestones) A player achieving the rank of "Perfect: 1" is given the message "Username: Entropic Decay, Password: Zero-Tau." Rare had originally intended these details to allow access to password-protected parts of the official Perfect Dark website, but these sections were never implemented.
Multiplayer profiles also allow players to customise their in-game appearance by selecting the head and body of any of the game's character models (excluding the Skedar), as well as several which do not appear in the single-player mode. A feature called "Perfect Head", which appeared in previews of the game but was not included in the final product, was intended to take player customisation further. This feature allowed the player to place a photograph of their choice onto their in-game character's face, via a Game Boy Camera combined with the Nintendo 64 Transfer Pak. The images taken would be uploaded to the cartridge and manipulated with a simple image editing program to adjust color and skin tone (as the Game Boy Camera was black and white) and add facial features such as facial hair. This texture could then be saved to either the cartridge or a Controller Pak and then loaded onto a player's character in multiplayer, thus creating a virtual representation of the player. Officially Rare said the feature was dropped due to "technical issues", but it is likely the real reason for the feature's removal was due to "sensitive issues" surrounding the ability to attack images of real people. While Rare stated the feature was completely removed from the game code, hackers using a GameShark eventually found text references to the feature such as the menu and related messages, however no code other than this remains.
Martin Hollis, the director of GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, described the development of the game in an interview with Retro Gamer magazine. He explained that Rare rejected the prospect of working on the GoldenEye sequel Tomorrow Never Dies "without hesitation", as the development team felt they had spent too much time immersed in the James Bond universe. The decision to make the central character a woman was part of Hollis' belief that there "should be more games centred on women". To this end, the team created Joanna Dark, influenced by a number of other fictional heroines: Kim Kimberly from Level 9 Computing's text adventure Snowball, the seductive spy Agent X-27 in the 1930s film Dishonored, the eponymous femme fatale of the film Nikita, and FBI agent Dana Scully from television series The X-Files. The name "Joanna Dark" was taken from the French pronunciation of Joan of Arc as "Jeanne d'Arc".
Ghost in the Shell was a major influence on the character, setting and plot. The name of the in-game company "dataDyne" was inspired by Yoyodyne from The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. Another significant influence on the game's locations was the work of author Philip K. Dick. Hollis explained that he and designer David Doak "picked a range of locations we thought would be impressive and architectural, on the model of GoldenEye but sci-fi dystopias.… The settings came first; the plot was then constructed by Dave to sew them together". The word "Dark" was chosen for its association with the game's bleak focus on killing. Hollis has noted the similarities to Criterion Software's naming of Black: "Game developers just like black, nihilism, dystopian futures, the number zero, infinity, spheres, perfection—all that kind of stuff." The "double slash" symbol in the game's logo was inspired by the Japanese dakuten mark.
At one time Nintendo of Japan considered releasing the game there under the title . "Perfect Dark" does not translate well into Japanese, and the title "Aka to Kuro" was considered sufficiently edgy. However, it was eventually released as , a transliteration of the Western title.
Originally Hollis hoped that the difference between light and dark would be a significant feature of the gameplay, and the title was intended to reflect this focus. A torch was implemented by Steve Ellis (responsible for much of the multiplayer mode in GoldenEye), but it was not included in the final game due to the limitations of the N64 hardware (see Game engine section). Hollis remarked that such aims were overambitious: "Even today, you can see game developers struggle to make light and dark foundational from a gameplay perspective. I suspect it will take a few years before significant and pervasive gameplay innovation occurs here." Although not all these intended features were realised, the game does contain more advanced lighting than GoldenEye; lights can be shot out, gunfire illuminates rooms, and the player can use infra-red and night vision goggles.
Martin Hollis was involved with Perfect Dark for the first fourteen months of its three-year development, during which progress was slow. David Doak left at the end of 1998, and Steve Ellis soon after, to form Free Radical Design. What followed by those remaining on the project was a comprehensive re-design of the game (the story and characters being the main items kept intact). Hollis stated that he was impressed by the comprehensive range of multiplayer options, saying "what a vast array of features I never planned". Doak, however, remarked, "GoldenEye pretty much exhausted the performance of the machine. It was hard to push it further. Perfect Dark had some good ideas but was dog slow."
The engine includes a number of graphical enhancements, the most conspicuous of which is the option to play in hi-res 640 x 480 graphics. The Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak is needed to access the solo player levels and most of the multiplayer features, although a limited subset of the Combat Simulator options are available without the device (around 35% of the game is playable without an Expansion Pak, as estimated on the game's box and Instruction Booklet). The lighting system was improved so that gunfire and explosions illuminate areas dynamically, and lights can be shot out to create darkened areas. Further progressions from GoldenEye include weapon-specific reloading animations, and more elaborate gore effects which allow gunshots to project enemies' blood onto nearby walls and objects. Another graphical novelty is the "dizziness" effect; if a player is punched, poisoned by a throwing knife or shot with the Tranquilizer gun, their nausea is represented through a motion blurred view. The degree of blurring increases with dizziness, and a badly stunned player may have difficulty seeing anything at all. Both NTSC and PAL N64 systems run the game in full screen, without the "letterboxing" seen in many PAL releases, and there is a 16:9 option for use on widescreen televisions.
The disadvantage of such detailed graphics is that the frame rate inevitably suffers in some areas; this was one of the main criticisms levelled at the game by reviewers (see Critical reaction). The same limitation was present in GoldenEye, but the other graphical enhancements in Perfect Dark serve to exacerbate the problem. In multiplayer, the game must render the scene separately for each player, although at reduced resolution. Nevertheless the frame rate issues arise again, particularly if a large number of Simulants are involved.
Perfect Dark's engine offered audio features that had not been available on the N64 before; for example, it was one of the few games to offer Dolby Surround Sound. Some of the game's audio data was compressed into MP3 format in order to fit into the relatively small storage space afforded by a cartridge, though the music was sequenced. There is full voice-acting for all the dialogue, and the guards can be heard having conversations amongst themselves about the events of the level.
The artificial intelligence of the guards includes the ability to call for help and sound nearby alarms. The guards can be alerted by nearby gunfire, and the various weapons in the game have distinct volumes; for example, guards are less likely to be alerted by silenced pistols than high-powered rifles. Additionally, they are able to throw grenades and, if the player disarms them, draw a secondary weapon. One criticism raised of GoldenEye 007's guards was their weakness at very close range, since their weapons appear to shoot straight through the player. This is resolved in Perfect Dark, whose guards can deliver kicks at close range, inflicting damage and causing dizziness. In GoldenEye, the guards could not see through glass — a feature included deliberately so that the player could spy on foes through windows. This aspect is retained in Perfect Dark, although enemies can now see and shoot over railings. In the later stages of the game, the player encounters Skedar enemies still in reptilian form, and while the Skedar weapons and characteristics are different, their AI is qualitatively the same.
The multiplayer Simulants are considered more advanced, and have the majority of the faculties of a human player. They have the ability to complete multiplayer objectives, such as capturing the briefcase, but they are not able to use some of the weapons, such as remote mines. Simulants make no attempt to avoid simple traps such as proximity mines or sentry guns, even on the highest skill setting.
There are a number of bugs in the game engine. For example, in the first level, a flaw in the collision detection makes it possible to pass through a supposedly solid wall, allowing the level to be completed in just six seconds. Also, as with many older FPSs, players can use a technique called straferunning (or "speed-strafing") to exploit a bug in the engine whereby moving diagonally allows the player to move faster than by running forwards or sideways alone. This technique is almost essential to achieving some of the target times required to unlock cheats.
The first release of the game came on May 22, 2000 in North America. Nintendo arranged a number of publicity stunts to promote the release, including hiring model Michele Merkin to do in-store promotions as a real life Joanna Dark. Total sales for the game reached 1.3 million copies in the United States. The European release followed on 30 June, and finally the game was released in Japan on 21 October. The Japanese launch was a success, with the sale of 35,000 copies in the first week, and 77,000 in total. Worldwide, Perfect Dark sold 2.5 million copies.
|Edge||9 of 10|
|Gaming Age||Grade A-|
|Game Critics||9.0 of 10|
|Game Revolution||Grade A-|
|GameSpot||9.9 of 10|
|IGN||9.8 of 10|
|Game Rankings||95 of 100 (based on 45 reviews)|
|Metacritic||97% (based on 30 reviews)|
|Rotten Tomatoes||Fresh Rating of 100%|
|Bafta Awards||Interactive Entertainment|
Moving Images Award, 2000
|Golden Satellite Awards||Best Interactive Product, 2001|
Upon release, Perfect Dark received very strong reviews from magazines and websites alike. IGN opined that the game "features amazing graphics, … and the most well-rounded multiplayer mode ever to grace Nintendo 64", saying that their "only gripe with the game is its sometimes sluggish framerate". GameSpot concluded "there's finally a game that has eclipsed GoldenEye 007". Gaming Age described it as "probably one of the best FPSs to be released in quite a while", but concedes that "there are some nasty frame rate problems at times". GameCritics.com criticised the "weak characters and an unoriginal storyline", but nevertheless judged the "extraordinary amount of high-quality multiplayer modes and features" meant that "the game is still a blast". GameRevolution.com again criticised the game's technical shortcomings, noting the "occasional slowdown and … a few polygonal glitches", but overall concluded "Perfect Dark shines out as one of the best N64 games". It was also rated the 100th best game made on a Nintendo System in Nintendo Power's Top 200 Games list.
The overall positive reaction from critics can be gauged by the results of review compilation sites; for example, Gamerankings.com makes it the fourth most highly rated game on the Nintendo 64, and claims that the game "improves upon the awesome multi-player mode that made it's [sic] predecessor GoldenEye a smash hit." Metacritic describes the game as meeting with "Universal Acclaim" and Rotten Tomatoes considers the game "Fresh".
Rare was also recognized for its work on the game, as the company was awarded the Bafta Interactive Entertainment Moving Images Award for 2000 and the Golden Satellite Award for Best Interactive Product in 2001.
Perfect Dark was the last major first-person shooter game for the Nintendo 64, which was already nearing the end of its lifespan; Nintendo unveiled their new console, the GameCube, at SpaceWorld 2000. The game was also the last appearance of the GoldenEye 007/Perfect Dark engine. 20 months before Perfect Dark was released, some of the development team left Rare to form Free Radical Design. This company went on to develop the PlayStation 2 game TimeSplitters, another first-person shooter based around a completely new engine. TimeSplitters and its sequels bear many gameplay and presentational similarities to GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, including a similar manual aiming system, missions with structured objectives, cheat options unlockable through quick level completions, and the earning of multiplayer awards.
Perfect Dark has been featured in many "Best Game of All Time" lists. It placed 15th on IGN's Readers Choice Top 100 Games of All Time list in 2006, and 28th in Edge magazine's all-time Top 100. In May 2007, it was the fifth best rated game on Metacritic, with an overall score of 97%. Also, it was eighth on Gamespot's highest rated games of all time section, although it should be noted that it is not a "Greatest Game" list, but rather the highest rated games on that website. They gave Perfect Dark a rating of 9.9 out of a possible 10.0, with its reviewer Joe Fielder saying," As a single-player or multiplayer FPS experience, Perfect Dark is unparalleled on the console systems.
Meanwhile Rare began development of a prequel titled Perfect Dark Zero for the Nintendo GameCube, but was purchased from Nintendo by Microsoft in 2002. Soon after, it was announced that Perfect Dark Zero would in fact be an Xbox title. Later it was decided instead to release it for the Xbox 360, and it became a launch title for that system. This game retains Perfect Dark's first-person perspective and mission objective system, although other features were not carried over. Joanna Dark remains the lead character. The game's multiplayer mode allows many more computer players, thanks to the more advanced Xbox 360 hardware, and can also be played online, which was not possible with the Nintendo 64. In some quarters the game has been criticised for not having advanced enough from Perfect Dark; IGN complained "the enemies behave much like they did on the N64".
Perfect Dark worldwide sales were not as great as its predecessor's eight million and Joanna Dark did not attain the same status in pop culture as other video game heroines such as Tomb Raider's Lara Croft. However, the game's universe continues to be developed with the release of the novel Perfect Dark: Initial Vector, a Rare-sanctioned paperback by Greg Rucka. The novel is set in the time between Perfect Dark Zero and Perfect Dark, and portrays Joanna Dark as an ex-bounty hunter drawn in to the Carrington Institute's battle with dataDyne through her own vendetta against the weapons corporation. Rucka stated, "If you’ve played the first game, you’re going to get a huge treat, because a lot of stuff that happens in Perfect Dark we set up in the novel." He also revealed that at least two more books are planned and, asked if he intends to write them himself, replied "I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that I’ve got the room on my schedule.