Perfect Dark Zero (Xbox 360)

Before Xboxers could dual-wield SMGs and go on a team-killing frenzy or snipe out Nazis in the European Theater, there was Perfect Dark, a First Person Shooter for the N64 that changed the genre forever. With a single player mode with objective-based missions and a compelling storyline and a multiplayer mode that featured bots with selectable AI personalities and levels which supported more than two teams at a time. In those days, Perfect Dark was synonymous with “replay value.” And now, years later, after Halo and Halo 2 have used the Xbox to leave its mark on the video game community, Perfect Dark Zero has arrived on Xbox 360 to reset the bar for not only the FPS genre, but for Xbox 360 games themselves.


Perfect Dark Zero’s storyline serves as a prequel to the N64 title. In PDZ, Joanna Dark is a bounty hunter working alongside her father and friend Chandra, who together make up the Dark Bail Bonds Trio. The game begins with Joanna’s first mission, which quickly escalates, dropping father and daughter in the midst of the on-going international war between dataDyne and the Carrington Institute (for those who didn’t play the original, the Carrington Institute are the good guys). This will take you across the world, fighting in locales ranging from urban Hong Kong to the jungles of Africa (sans men in gorilla suits), sometimes fighting for every inch of ground.

Although technically a First Person Shooter, Perfect Dark Zero integrates a variety of unusual elements into its gameplay, building upon its reputation for innovation. In addition to the first person perspective, PDZ also offers what is known as “the cover system”. The cover system allows you to switch to a third-person view whenever you’re near an object you could take cover in, like the corner of a wall via Solid Snake or behind a stack of crates (kudos for PDZ for keeping the crate alive). Firing your weapon doesn’t ruin this system; firing your weapon brings Joanna up from the cover until you stop firing, after which she will automatically bring herself back behind cover. This new feature allows for more interesting gun battles, and adds a degree of stealth and strategy that most games in the genre don’t allow.

Another new feature is the roll, which consequently eliminates the presence of the jump button (to many a Halo fan’s dismay.) Instead of jumping to avoid enemy fire, you can Joanna out of harm’s way with a simple press of the left shoulder button (and a little direction with the help of your left analog stick. While many FPS fans disagree with this feature, it should be noted that these are the same trolls who spend entire multiplayer sessions trying to use the jump button to access parts of a level not meant for player’s eyes. This not only ruins online gaming, but wastes the time of the developers who have to jerk-proof their levels.

In true international spy fashion, PDZ’s gameplay relies heavily on the use of gadgets. Each level begins with the selection of gadgets, which include the locktopus, the data thief, and the demolition kit (for the record, the locktopus is the greatest gadget name ever). The locktopus picks locks, the data thief hacks into machinery, and the demolition kit blows things up. Each gadget allows you to use a different route through the level. This not only gives each player the opportunity to develop their own style, but it enhances the replay value of the game, as players have the chance to play the campaign mode over and over, using the gadgets to go through the levels a different way than the time before. The single play mode of an FPS is constantly subject to low replay value, and PDZ solves this by giving you the chance to figure out the levels for yourself.

The weaponry of Perfect Dark Zero is awesome; it’s not just good, it inspires awe. From the generic pistol to the laptop gun, the weapons range to fit your every need. The alternate firing options of each gun are especially noteworthy; the shockwave gives you x-ray vision, the laptop gun can be thrown to the ground and used as a sentry gun, and the P9P can be equipped with a silencer for when it absolutely must be killed in complete silence. The array of weapons usable in the game not only adds to the replay value of the campaign mode, but it lessens the likelihood of multiplayer matches where everyone is using the exact same weapon.

The level designs in PDZ are hit and miss; some levels will blow your mind, while others will make you want to blow yourself away. With the gorgeous visuals, copious amounts of well-placed enemies and sweeping landscapes one gets the occasional “Library Level” from Halo, which is more a lot like a computer simulation of a blindfolded three-legged sack race through the bowels of Hell. Though the possibility that the frustration was all part of the designer’s master plan can never be ruled out. The toast of the game’s level design are the final two levels of the campaign mode, which places Joanna right in the middle of a battle royal. Hordes of friendly bots and enemies come at you from all sides, and Joanna has to fight her way out, tooth and nail. All this and not a nanosecond of lag.

Onto the multiplayer, the real issue concerning Perfect Dark Zero. Perfect Dark Zero has, simply put, the best multiplayer experience available on the Xbox 360. The campaign mode is in fact twice as fun when done as a co-op. PDZ even goes a step further and, eliminating the need for split-screen and enabling players to play co-op over Xbox Live. The co-op mode has an immense replay value, as the game’s difficulty seems to increase when you bring a friend into the game. You have to stick together or you’ll be killed. Other than co-op, there are two other multiplayer modes; Deathmatch and Dark Ops. Deathmatch consists of the usual FPS gametypes; deathmatch (killcount), team deathmatch, territories, and capture the flag. Capture the flag is itself a treat; with glitch-free levels, a wide array of weapons, and with programmable bots (we’ll get to those later), PDZ’s capture the flag mode is how capture the flag was meant to be done.

For those who prefer more objective-type games, PDZ has Dark Ops. Dark Ops (easily the feature with the most replay value) has four different modes; eradication, sabotage, onslaught, and infection. Though it seems limited in variety, these four modes will provide you with all the action you will ever need, and no matter how much you play the same mode over and over, it’s never the same. Unlike most FPS games where you acquire your weapons throughout the level, in Dark Ops you select your weapons, armor, and gadgets before the levels even begin (no more sniper hording!). After that, you go into the Dark Ops match and may the best team win.

Eradication is a straight up team deathmatch. The team with anyone left alive at the end of it remains the winner. This seems tedious, but with everyone given only one life, games go by quick, leaving you with the urge to play again.

Onslaught turns up the heat with its offense/defense dynamic. In Onslaught, one teams plays offense, and is given an unlimited number of lives and the choice of one stock weapon (selected by the host). The defending team is given an easily defendable position, the ability to carry weapons like the rocket launcher and sniper rifle, and only one life. This balanced and forceful gameplay offers hours of multiplayer fun, and is my personal favorite of all the Dark Ops modes.

Infection comes from the popular Halo 2 user-made game Zombies. Two players start out as “infected”, appearing as zombies and only able to carry one stock weapon. The rest of the players are able to select their weaponry, and have to either stick together to fight back the infected or scatter and force the infected players to search them out. When a non-infected player is killed, they become infected. The game ends when one player is left uninfected. The game selects two players to start out as the “zombies” for the next game, and gameplay continues. This mode has a high replay value and makes for good practice for those unfamiliar with controls or levels.

Sabotage splits the teams on offense and defense, giving each side the ability to purchase weapons and only one life. Once teams have been situated, the offense has to destroy the defense’s equipment. It’s a decent gametype, if you ignore the fact that you’re blowing up barrels and crates, which aren’t as much fun as say…a power plant or a large cannon. If a player is given only one life in a game, they should have the chance to set off a large explosion.

Now to what made PDZ’s predecessor so famous; bots. The bots are numerous and have programmable difficulties, ranging from easy to Dark Agent (all of which coincide with difficulty levels in the single player mode). Easy-set bots are pushovers, and killing them is akin to assisted suicide. Dark Agent bots, however, are strategy-minded, conniving entities. If you watch a group of Dark Agent bots, you’ll notice them taking formation, and deploying nasty tactics such as vehicle rushes and ambushes. They provide an excellent friend and a formidable enemy on the battlefield, and easily make up for a shortage of real players.

Yes, there are vehicles. And unlike most FPS games where everyone is left fighting for a pre-existing vehicle, PDZ allows you to spawn your own vehicle at the vehicle spawning stations. The vehicles available are the jetpac (a one-man flying machine straight out of the James Bond series) and the hovercraft, PDZ’s version of Halo’s warthog. The vehicles control smoothly and are compatible with any game type (especially capture the flag) and although lend an advantage, aren’t so overwhelming that it will cause games to end in frustration and name-calling.

The multiplayer on Xbox live is mind-blowing. There are a multitude of game types, many of which have never been explored on an Xbox Live-compatible FPS. Exploring the various ways to play online will give you hours of gameplay, and once you get comfortable with them, there’s no telling how much of your life you will spend playing this game. Of all Live titles, PDZ has the most complete gameplay available, and despite being an FPS itself, is among the most innovative games to come out on Live.


Beautiful. Not a word often associated with video games, but PDZ’s graphics are beautiful. The levels have been painstakingly detailed, with the exception of a couple character models and a texture or two you’ll be too busy killing people to really notice. The backgrounds and environments are the epitome of what the video game community classifies as “next-generation”. The framerate never bogs down, no matter what’s going on on-screen. Weapon views are fluid and it’s visible that the game has done it’s physics homework; shooting an enemy’s armor breaks it off into little pieces, bouncing about the space realistically as you finish the job. The menus have a high-tech feel and are very impressive to look at it. Every aspect of this game’s presentation has been carefully executed, much like you will be if you take too long to admire them.


PDZ offers the sound of vibrant gunfire over a soundtrack of well-produced techno/electronic music. Fans of the genre will want to run out and buy the soundtrack. And while the ambience and weapon effects are pleasing, the voice acting isn’t. The game, much like any other element of sci-fi, features some excruciating voice acting, especially Joanna and Chandra. Imagine “The Matrix” as if it was done as your high school play. If you think you can stomach that, then you’re good to go. If not, then you might want to have the “mute” button on your remote handy.

Replay Value

As it has been painstakingly mentioned in the review, PDZ has among the highest replay values of any video game…ever. You’ll want to do the campaign mode over and over. The multiplayer mode will make even Halo 2 blush. The Live experience, on top of being innovative for the FPS genre, is among the best of any Live game available. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you’ll want to invest in this game.

Bottom Line:

The Xbox had Halo, and now the Xbox 360 has Perfect Dark Zero. A multiplayer fan’s wet dream and the best replay value on the market. It is the game that Xbox Live was made for.

Related Links:

Official Website for Perfect Dark Zero

-Jimi Robertson