Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that it’s five years ago: Perfect Dark is released to rave reviews, thanks to a combination of maximum ultraviolence and stealthy super-spy ninjaness. The frantic, nerve-jangling action and engaging story made you feel like a stealthy pimp every time a punk went down without knowing what hit him.
Unfortunately, that was then.
Perfect Dark Zero attempts to recapture some of that sneaky mystique found in the original, but rarely succeeds. Only on a very few occasions will you feel like an elite assassin; the rest of the time, you're a clumsy, blundering thug. An unexciting prequel story line drags players through PDZ, which is a shame considering that it covers the early relationship between Joanna and her father as well as her subsequent thirst for vengeance on the DataDyne corporation. Brain-dead voice acting matches the enemy A.I.; your hapless foes are about as smart as a swarm of angry bees, alternately running, shooting, or hiding for interminable lengths of time (y’know, if bees could shoot… or hide). Add a random, ear-splitting sound bug in the split-screen mode and you've got to wonder if this game was given enough time for testing.
It's not all bad news. The graphical quality is beyond compare, and this game takes full advantage of the complicated textures the 360 can produce. Water refracts and reflects dazzlingly, explosions bloom in riveting high-def, and every surface reacts to dynamic lighting (even the sunlight streaming through the forest canopy dapples Joanna’s hand-cannon appropriately). What the bad guys lack in intellect, they make up for with their insanely accurate rag-doll physics, on display with every well-placed shot. Plus, you'll love dispatching foes with a huge arsenal featuring multiple firing modes (one of which highlights enemies in a sweet blazing halo of red). There's always a new way to slice and dice.
Xbox Live supports up to 32 players at once (assuming lag doesn't interfere), and maxing out that number is about the only way that it’s fun; even at the smallest setting, most of the scalable maps are too big for a handful of gamers to enjoy. Rare is quick to point out that PDZ is not supposed to be Halo 2, and many Master Chiefers will be disappointed in the clunky mechanics of taking cover (particularly when you get thunked on the headpiece while trying to snipe).
Perfect Dark Zero should have been a high-quality centerpiece of the 360 launch lineup, but it's easily outclassed by rival shooters like Call of Duty 2. It has flashes of brilliance, but overall presents a shallow experience with gameplay unworthy of the 360's potential.