By Matt Carey
Nostalgia is a strange thing. When you sit having a quiet moment and you think back on things you have seen, read, felt, participated in and played, some will fill you with a warm fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. They will make your toes curl, your eyes close and a wry smile spread slowly across your face as you remember what it was that gave you so much pleasure.
In truth, nostalgia gives you a warm fuzzy feeling, but reality smacks you in the face, reminding you that things weren’t as great as you seem to remember. Leave the past where it is. I attempted to re-visit my youth by collecting Transformers again, the toys of my childhood. Nostalgia drove me to do it, and reality made me realize I’m a man in my 30’s with wife, mortgage and job, with no room for shape-changing plastic items. I had moved on.
A good, hefty chunk of the Xbox Live Arcade peddles nostalgia, and the latest instalment that takes us back to better days is the new, shiny, spangly version of Perfect Dark, the old N64 classic shooter. PD was the spiritual follow up to Rare’s Goldeneye, the first person shooter based on the movie of the same name. The game went on to become regarded as one of the greatest of all time, so the sequel had to be of a high calibre.
And it was. Taking the formula set down by Goldeneye and improving further, PD went on to become a commercial and critical success and, whilst not quite generating the same level of admiration as its predecessor, it is still seen as a benchmark title, and modern great.
So, its arrival on the Arcade is a big thing then. As you would expect, the visuals have been given the video game equivalent of Botox – they look a lot nicer than the original, but there is something really odd about them. It gleams and shines and doesn’t suffer from some of those horrendous smudgy, foggy graphical effects that the N64 did oh so badly, meaning, therefore, that it is quite nice to look at. The character models though are no different than the originals; weird and blocky with odd shaped hands are the order of the day here. It’s akin to taking a Morris Marina and covering it with gold. It looks nice, but it’s still a Morris Marina.
Now, there may be a selection of people out there that didn’t experience Perfect Dark the first time around, so let’s have a little recap. Joanna Dark is a special agent for the Carrington Institute, a secret service type organisation. She attempts, through the course of the game, to stop a conspiracy led by rival company dataDyne. Along the way, guns are shot, puzzles are solved, gadgets are used, and aliens are encountered. Set in the first person, like so many shooters are, it is nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but rarely is it executed this well, even today.
Thankfully, the game is exactly as we remember it in so many ways. The sound is as great as it ever was, complete with the “Why. Me?” question from the enemies as bullet rents flesh asunder. The huge wealth of different options is still intact too. So, instead of plodding on with the story, you can wander around the Institute itself, testing your skills and accuracy at the firing range, and attempt to unlock weapons from Goldeneye. The story itself also has multi-player options offering co-op and counter co-op modes for you to team up with mates locally or online with. The multiplayer doesn’t end their either, with death match, capture the briefcase et al, offering more online goodness, with ridiculous amounts of customisation available, and a couple of Goldeneye maps to boot.
Perfect Dark is still a dream to play, offering a quick pace constantly. What has amazed me is not how well it translates to the now common, 2 stick controllers that are de rigueur these days, but how on earth we managed with that God-awful N64 contraption. Truly, the Xbox pad brings the game to life in new ways that I wasn’t expecting.
And now the bad. Back in 1999/2000 when we were enjoying this for the first time, the voice acting was still appalling and the humour was just, well, a bad joke. This hasn’t changed. In fact, it all feels far more hackneyed than ever before as the past 10 years or so has seen video game acting, storytelling and comedy improve on a monthly basis.
The character models are a let-down as well I’m afraid. I know that this is a port rather than a remake, but no mouth movement, blocky hands, and nodding heads to indicate talking just aren’t up to standards any more. I guess that isn’t the most important thing in the world, but it really does detract from the experience when playing solo.
And finally, the online experience can be a little jumpy with the occasional bit of freezing going on. But then, we can see that in some £40 titles too.
By today’s standards, people new to the franchise will be a little disappointed. Enough so that they may not even stick with it and wonder why they spent their hard earned money. But this isn’t for the newcomers. It’s for the fans. And, by and large, the fans will not be disappointed. What this game does show anyone though, is just how far this genre of game has come in 10 years. However, whilst the likes of Modern Warfare 2 stand high on the pinnacle of the FPS tree, Perfect Dark sowed the seeds that the tree came from. In fact, I would still rather play this than a multitude of pretenders that have seen the light of day over the years.
So, as Perfect Dark proves, once in a while nostalgia doesn’t lie to you. Once in a while something you remember fondly has stood the test of time and is well worth revisiting.