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Perfect Dark: Everything we know so far

Perfect Dark
(Image credit: The Initiative )

A new Perfect Dark game is officially in the works that will bring the N64 classic to a new generation on the Xbox Series X. The Initiative, a new Microsoft studio, is working on the project to bring us this new experience. Interestingly, The Initiative also recently announced that it would be partnering with Crystal Dynamics, the studio behind Tomb Raider, to work on the new Perfect Dark. If you're unfamiliar with the original game from over 20 years ago, we've put together everything you need to know about Perfect Dark, including all of the latest details on what you can expect from its upcoming successor.

What is Perfect Dark? 

Perfect Dark

(Image credit: The Initiative)

Perfect Dark is a first-person shooter that’s supposed to emulate the feeling of being a real spy. The new Perfect Dark will likely be a reboot of the original game released in 2000 by Rare, which was then owned by Nintendo. The new Perfect Dark will build on the pillars of the original – it will be an FPS secret agent thriller, as Microsoft describes it, led by Perfect Dark’s protagonist Joanna Dark.

The original Perfect Dark was formative for the stealth genre, even if it hasn’t led a large franchise like Metal Gear Solid, for example. For one, it was pretty advanced for its time. It was created as a spiritual successor to Rare’s GoldenEye 007, the standout James Bond game released for the N64 in 1997, because Rare was outbid for the James Bond license by Electronic Arts and thus unable to make another James Bond game at the time.

Joanna Dark is basically the original badass female super spy, predating Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher and even Hitman’s Agent 47. She can sneak and shoot with the best of them, and Perfect dark offers an unusually large variety of weapons, even by today’s standards. 

In a long interview for the 500th episode of IGN's Podcast Unlocked, Xbox boss Phil Spencer said that protagonist Joanna Dark adds a more diverse look to Xbox's main set of characters. He said: "I think it's awesome for us. We can focus on a female protagonist in our lineup. We don't have a lot of that in our first-party [lineup]." 

"I think Joanna offers a lot of modern opportunities that I love to see the team kind of focusing on, having a strong protagonist."

Apart from its large array of different weapons, Perfect Dark also features stealth – to successfully make it through a level, you have to use gadgets such as night-vision goggles and silently approach opponents from behind to disarm them, or even don disguises to get past them undetected. This was an exciting amount of variety for a game then, and to top it all off Perfect Dark even came with co-op and a multiplayer deathmatch mode reminiscent of that in Goldeneye 007. To this day, Perfect Dark stands out not only for the amount of weapons it featured, but how different they felt, and the three difficulty modes played distinctively different, posing a decent challenge for completionists. Even a lot of its gadgets will probably translate to a modern game without no problems.

Perfect Dark was followed by Perfect Dark Zero in 2005, an Xbox 360 launch title and prequel to the original Perfect Dark that simply couldn’t compete with the original, which was remastered for Xbox 360 in 2010. Perfect dark actually had another prequel, a top-down Game Boy Color game that was released mere months after the N64 game.

When is the Perfect Dark release date?

A Perfect Dark release date hasn’t been revealed yet. Developer The Initiative was announced two years ago, and from the interview video, it sounds as if they spent most of those two years with studio setup and idea finding, which eventually led them to Perfect Dark.

Most games of the complexity Perfect Dark is aiming for take several years from announcement to release – Microsoft itself has only said it’s “looking forward to sharing more about Perfect Dark in the future” – our guess is that Perfect Dark will release 2023 at the earliest – fittingly, the year the original game was set.

What platforms will Perfect Dark release on? 

Perfect Dark

(Image credit: The Initiative )

Perfect Dark has been a Microsoft Franchise ever since Perfect Dark Zero, and The Initiative is a Microsoft-owned studio, so you can expect Perfect Dark to release on PC and Xbox Series X and Series S. Since Microsoft releases all of its first-party games on Game Pass, it will be a day one Game Pass title.

The Initiative being a Microsoft studio makes Xbox and PC-exclusivity likely, but nothing has been confirmed on that front yet.

What is the Perfect Dark story? 

Perfect Dark

(Image credit: The Initiative )

Microsoft described the upcoming Perfect Dark as an “eco sci-fi” tale set in the near future. The first trailer drives that idea home – the voice-over describes increasing natural disasters and shows a giant storm ravaging a city while Joanna watches. In this world, giant corporations stepped in to help people adjust to life on a planet that could no longer regulate itself, but the trailer already suggests that these corporations may not selflessly have the good of the people in mind. If done right, this could be an opportunity for Perfect Dark to say something about the very real issue of climate change, which would certainly set it apart from all other FPS games.

The sci-fi part of Perfect Dark’s eco sci-fi may refer to the ways in which humanity has advanced to meet the new ecological challenge. It may also be a callback to the original Perfect Dark, which depicted no less than the conflict of two alien races, one of them even looking like those classic grey little men you also see in XCOM. The game’s influences reached from Blade Runner to X-Files and Ghost in the Shell, and it somehow combined the elements of a spy thriller with aliens, sentient AI and secret government weapon projects.

In the original, two alien races, called the Maians and the Skedar, have chosen Earth as setting for their conflict. Each is represented by a powerful corporation, which uses its resources to do the aliens bidding. Joanna Dark, nicknamed Perfect Dark for her high scores in spy training, gets embroiled in that conflict, which will feature no less than aliens trying to kidnap the president and a plot to destroy the world.

This is a bit much for a spy game in 2020, seeing as the stealth genre as a whole has moved away from sci-fi and towards a gritty sort of realism. For the reboot, you can expect something slightly more realistic, although it’s not unlikely the aliens will make a comeback – in the trailer, you can already see the headquarters of dataDyne, the main antagonist in the original Perfect Dark.

While Microsoft hasn’t definitely said whether this Perfect Dark is a reboot or a sequel, the fact that it’s simply named Perfect Dark as opposed to Perfect Dark 2, and the fact that this new game needs to appeal to new and old audiences both make a reboot more likely. 

Who is the new Perfect Dark developer?

Perfect Dark

(Image credit: The Initiative )

This Perfect Dark is developed by The Initiative, an all-new Microsoft studio that was announced two years ago. The perfect Dark developer interview that was released shortly after the trailer, the team mentions being excited about making a Perfect Dark game with modern resources. “There really isn’t a game that’s hitting that sort of blockbuster secret agent vision, so when I found out that we were reinventing the franchise of Perfect Dark I was very excited,” game director Daniel Neuburger says in the video.

While you could argue that IO Interactive’s Hitman franchise is a very good stealth game, it’s perhaps lacking a bit in the blockbuster and more importantly, secret agent departments. It also isn’t a shooter, so yes, Perfect dark could occupy a unique position in the genre, especially since it’s an FPS. The Initiative also mention being excited about adapting an old game to today’s gameplay standards. And yes – unlike the original Perfect Dark, this will include the ability to jump.

Apart from Neuburger, himself previously the game director on the Tomb Raider reboot trilogy, The Initiative is made up of several game industry veterans, such as studio head Darell Gallagher, former head of Crystal Dynamics, Lead Writer Christine Thompson, who previously worked as Narrative Lead and Lead Writer on Destiny 2, or Christian Cantamessa, lead designer and writer on the first Red Dead Redemption.

In a recent Twitter post, The Initiative also announced it will be partnering with Crystal Dynamics to co-develop the project, saying: "We are partnering with Crystal Dynamics, the world class team behind character-driven games such as Tomb Raider, to bring this first-person spy thriller to a new generation." 

"The teams couldn’t pass up a chance to work together," The Initiative added in a follow-up tweet. "We’re still early in development, but incredibly excited to use this unique opportunity to deliver on the vision for Perfect Dark!" 

For more, check out all of the new games of 2021 and beyond to get excited about. 

Malindy Hetfeld

Malindy is a freelance video games writer for outlets like Eurogamer, PLAY, PCGamer and Edge Magazine, who also occasionally works in game design consultation and localization. As a Japanese speaker, she enjoys Japanese pop culture and is always on the hunt for the next game from the Land of the Rising Sun. She also particularly enjoys narrative-focused games and cute indies, and always seeks to learn more about the business-side of the gaming industry.