Perfect Dark: A Personal History

Jumping Through Hoops

Perfect Dark came out for the Nintendo 64 in May of 2000. The $50 price tag was a bit steep for a high school student, but I’d heard good things about the game: mainly that the violence was as realistic as anything in Saving Private Ryan, which was pretty rare for a Nintendo game of any era. That was actually a pretty good word-of-mouth review for an extremely immature seventeen year old.

What teenager wouldn’t want this game?

It wasn’t until I got home from the store that I noticed the warning label on the front of the box: “EXPANSION PAK REQUIRED FOR MAXIMUM GAMEPLAY!”

what the fuuuuuuuuuuuu’?

This worried me a little, but how bad could a N64 game be without this expansion pak thingy? DOOM 64 was absolutely awesome on the same console. If Perfect Dark without an expansion pak was as good as DOOM 64, then that was $50 well spent, right?

I was wrong. So wrong.

The game only ran certain portions of the full game in an extremely tiny box surrounded by a giant black border. It was like trying to play Gameboy from a distance. Pretty pointless and pretty disappointing.

Still, I was reluctant to buy the pak. A few years earlier, I’d been scammed into buying Sega’s 32X nonsense. See, instead of making a new console, Sega made the 32X, which “enhanced” the Sega Genesis and its other console add-on, the Sega CD (which I didn’t get until much later, when a friend bought me a used one for my birthday). Then they turned around and made a brand new console a few months anyway.

The Angry Video Game Nerd reviews the Sega 32X… angrily.

Was Nintendo trying to pull the same crap? I assumed if I actually bought it, Nintendo would just turn around and release a brand new console, a “Nintendo CDX-RIP-OFF” or some such shit. But without the expansion pak, Perfect Dark was pretty much worthless and Toys ‘R’ Us was on the other side of town. So I borrowed the money from my parents and bit the bullet. When all was said and done, I was an underage plumbing apprentice who had a hundred bucks invested in all this nonsense, which, back then, felt more like five-hundred dollars.


As it turned out the expansion pak was completely worth it. In the years since, people have critiqued frame rate issues and such, but that just wasn’t something kids gave a shit about. Okay, so maybe the game wasn’t as realistic as anything in Saving Private Ryan, but for 2000’s standards, everything in and about the game was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The multiplayer was local versus and co-op (something video game programmers are criminally neglecting these days) and I’ve never seen more customization options in my life.

I dislike shields and health meters. My friends and I always thought one-shot kills were a lot more fun among the frantic NPCs, whose guns were a-blazin’. That wasn’t necessarily the way Perfect Dark was meant to be played, but you could play it that way. You could pretty much play it in any way you wanted. No game since has provided so much multiplayer fun in my experience because I felt ripped off by almost every shooter that came out afterwards. Shooters today are just too rigid.

So in 2000 and 2001, a friend and I were logging several hours a day on PD, neglecting our social lives, and becoming so undeniably nerdy that we videotaped our matches so that we could review and improve our tactics. The game was inexhaustible. If you ever got bored, you dreamed up and implemented a new custom scenario, not that you ever got bored much. During one marathon gaming binge that lasted all day and half the night, a blood vessel burst in my eyeball. Perfect Dark was taking over my life and my health was suffering.

Naturally, I couldn’t wait for the sequel.

Perfect Dark 2

We kept hearing rumors, but nothing concrete. Nintendo came out with their next console, the Gamecube, and everyone bought one because we were sure Perfect Dark 2 would show up on the console soon. It didn’t. We were disappointed to learn that Microsoft bought Rare (the company that made PD) or something like that, and it would be on their new console, the XBOX.

I was heartbroken. Almost every shooter I tried on Gamecube only reminded me that 97.2% of games would never quite reach the zenith that was Perfect Dark on Nintendo 64.

I broke down and finally bought an XBOX around the middle of its life cycle, praying the racing games would hold me over until Perfect Dark 2 released. Then I wanted to shoot myself when it was announced that the next Perfect Dark would be on Microsoft’s next next-gen console, the XBOX 360.

Naturally, I went out and bought one of those, too. Halo 3 and Gears of War are great and all, but… yeah.

Perfect Dark Zero

By the time they actually made the sequel, which was actually a prequel, most of the people who worked on the original game were long gone. What the new team came up with wasn’t a terrible game, but it wasn’t anywhere near Perfect. In comparison, it was a pale imitation having little in common with what made the first one so great. Sure, you assumed the same character, got to do a lot of the same things in the same style, but the multiplayer was geared for online play rather than local. Yet again, fans of the source material—many of whom preferred gaming on their couches—were screwed.

It was Perfectly clear by then: Perfect Dark was dead. And I was stuck with three consoles I probably could have lived without.

Perfect Dark Redeux

So how do you please fans of the source material? Re-release Perfect Dark in HD on a next-gen console with the original multiplayer intact. Last summer it was announced that Rare was going to do just that on XBOX 360. The game is currently slated for a Q1 release this year (which means anytime between now and April), and although I would like to say I’m not getting my hopes up, I am. I’m looking forward to wasting my time on a great game again.

It’s been far too long, Joanna.

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