On a rainy Saturday in July 2000, I unwrapped the new N64 game ‘Perfect Dark’. I’m not sure if it was actually raining, but I live in Britain, so there is a good chance it was. That small grey cartridge would prove to be one of the most important things of the next twenty one years.
For you see dear reader, back then several Nintendo magazines I’d read cover to cover each month were suddenly dedicating multiple pages to this new game I had never heard of. The previous Christmas, I had gotten my kiddy hands on ‘Goldeneye 007’ and to this day, I am an obsessive fan of the entire James Bond film franchise from 1962 to now. I read near the top it was a product of the same company who gave us ‘Goldeneye’. Looking back now, though ‘Goldeneye’ has become a bit less fresh in the 24 years since release, it is only a small degree and it is simply madness that for most of those responsible for that astounding landmark in gaming, it was the first game they had ever made.
So a sequel to it must be great. Name me one bad sequel...
OK, there are a few … thousand. But thankfully, my 12 year old self hadn’t figured that one out yet. Besides, its a spiritual sequel, not a game adaptation of the actual one, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’.
Electronic Arts ‘gifted’ that to us on the PlayStation and while I’d never describe it as bad as ET on the Atari, that turd is best left a curiosity. I’m a massive James Bond fan, Brosnan is my Bond and even I avoid that like the plague. Also at the time, everything Rare made on the Nintendo 64 was a slice of fried gold.
So back to ‘Perfect Dark’. I spent hours bathed in the CRT Light that game gave to my huge bedroom tv (12 inches!) . I was told at the time I was too young for shows like ‘X Files’ and ‘Twin Peaks’ (looking back on those shows now, I wasn't too young horror wise, but I’d never have fully understood them). ‘Perfect Dark’ was something of a substitute for them (I would not be surprised at all if the developers were big fans).
As I said, I’d spend hours getting perfect (pun intended) accuracy against both the evil Datadyne enemies and on the game’s shooting range. Even modes such as Counter Operative mode (where one player is Joanna Dark, the heroine and one plays as a guard in the same level) were addictive as hell to play with my friends when we were supposed to be studying for School exams instead.
Even the game’s architecture was a thing of beauty. The level of detail on both the Nintendo 64 version and its 2010 port is nothing short of astounding and I can not begin to guess the man hours that went into this in locals such as a Villa, Chicago, a futuristic Area 51 and a realistic alien world.
I’d run the levels and just explore these tiny artwork’s every nook and cranny, finding hidden wedges of cheese and heretofore unseen details, such as the hidden strip club in the game’s fifth level.
One I explored the hell out of was Air Force One, many moons later, I would do a Master’s Degree in United States History and Politics, there is next to no chance the two were not connected...
Once the game was remastered in 2010 by 4J Studios (responsible for the impressive remasters of Rare’s own seminal platformers, ‘Banjo Kazooie’ and ‘Banjo Tooie’) it was no time until it was on my hard drive and still is to this very day. I love it, one thing I must note is Perfect Dark depicted the un named President of the United States as African American, the in game menu describes him as America’s first. Of course, the remake by 4J came out two years after Barack Obama was elected. That line is completely absent this time around. For my money, a welcome omission.
In case the previous 694 words haven’t clued you in, I’m completely obsessed with the game and now its 21 years after release and my love hasn’t abated, it’s fair to say that game is here to stay with me. I looked for a sequel, but while one (in fact two, not even including the non cannon Game Boy Color spin off) were in the works, not only was the Nintendo 64 nearing the end of its lifespan (the GameCube was out the next year), but unbeknownst to me, Rare was soon going to be bought up by competitor, Microsoft.
Also most of those directly responsible for the game were soon to break away and form ‘Free Radical’ and start the ‘Time Splitters’ franchise in very short order for the big 3 consoles at the time. Whatever the reason, the ‘Perfect Dark’ universe, while off to a flying start, was apparently a dearth of further content. At least for now.
For the next few years, the lore was added to. But by mainly innocuous novels and comics that had at best, little to do with the franchise. Then a new game appeared! It was to be a launch title for the Xbox 360. I was interested in the title and console, so I fast included it as a part of my pack in games with my console pre order (HMV had a very good offer of the console and 4 games that even i could easily afford - pour some out for this much missed bastion of the high street).
Well it’s not completely gone, but the branch near my old house in York is, I miss it.
Anyway back to ‘Perfect Dark Zero’. I enjoyed it. But it felt like playing ‘Goldeneye’ now. It was revolutionary at the time, but the FPS genre on consoles had come leaps and bounds by that time (this was when ‘Call of Duty’ was at the height of it’s strangle hold on popularity and the first ‘Modern Warfare’ game was in more homes than toilets were).
Overall, it felt very much a throwback with no room for the growth in subsequent years. This once titan of the gaming landscape laid dormant once again. This time, it looked like it was going to be a permanent one.
A mere 14 years later, I have played countless hundreds of games since. Suddenly, I read that ‘The Initiative’ (a name which would not be out of place in ‘Perfect Dark’s’ own lore) are developing a reboot game. I initially thought at the end of the year or start of next, but if the current global situation has taught me anything, its to not lean too heavily on dates.
But they are a solid name in game development, and the fact is it is extremely likely that as soon as I can, like with very special games such as ‘Red Dead Redemption’ or ‘Grand Theft Auto’, it will take me no time to decide whether or not to just lay down whatever the number of duckets they ask for a pre order.
I’d encourage you to give the games a go, even if only the original (and 4J’s remaster) are S Tier and the rest can be varying shades of regrettable, its just that they are being tasked with eclipsing something the size of Starkiller Base. It is akin to how ‘Godfather Part III’ is solid enough, but gets a bad rap because it has been tasked with coming after two absolute behemoths of cinema. Little else than perfection would be deemed as acceptable.
Pun very intended then too.
Call me too optimistic, but I think with this re boot, that might be exactly what we are in store for. Microsoft post Xbox Series X launch are doing well (just look at the huge Bethesda acquisition), if they can catch the lightening in a bottle of the Nintendo 64 original, or even a fraction of it, were nearing calling ‘ball game’. That’d be a huge win for Mike Ro’ Soft. I assume that is the name of the guy who runs things.
Hope to see you playing too.