Perfect Dark Zero Final Hands-On

We finally got our hands on one of the most anticipated Xbox 360 launch titles. Read our impressions leading up to our full review, and check out lots of new shots and footage.

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Is Perfect Dark Zero the Xbox 360's Halo? We don't know yet, but what we do know is that we like what we've played of this highly anticipated first-person shooter so far. Rare's fully featured game offers up a story-driven single-player campaign, a cooperative option, and multiplayer modes playable both online and in split screen (as well as using a system link). More importantly, perhaps, it seems to have plenty of personality and original touches, despite the fairly conventional first-person-shooter mechanics and controls. And we just love what we've heard of the funky dance-music soundtrack so far.

We kicked off our experience with the finished version of Perfect Dark Zero by diving right into the single-player campaign, which starts off with secret agent Joanna Dark assaulting some sort of futuristic high-rise. You'll have to pardon our Halo comparison, but we got some déjà vu looking at this place, with its glossy metallic walls that reminded us a lot of the overall look of Bungie's shooters. However, Perfect Dark Zero's near-future stylings are definitely different. The weapon arsenal includes both familiar and high-tech guns, and we were really impressed with the attention to detail found in the different weapon models, which offer alternative firing modes, zoomed views, optional silencers, and other interesting little options. One of the most important things in a shooter is obviously the quality of the weapons, and we like what we've seen of Perfect Dark Zero's assortment of guns so far.

Joanna has a slew of high-tech gadgets with which to ply her secret-agent trade...
Joanna has a slew of high-tech gadgets with which to ply her secret-agent trade...

This game is rated M, despite its somewhat cheeky presentation, complete with a James Bond-style musical introduction. There's some cussing in the dialogue, and plenty of blood when guys get shot, especially if you use high-powered weaponry like shotguns. But the game doesn't feel all that violent. Killed foes slump down like rag dolls, so the death animations feel a little tame. The only other thing we don't like about the graphics so far is that some of the character models look like plastic action figures rather than people. Well...there's also the game's frame rate, which is comparable to Halo's, meaning it's not quite as smooth as we had hoped. That, combined with the game's pretty-looking motion blur effect--which kicks in whenever you turn--actually started to make us feel a little queasy as we ran through tight corridors in multiplayer. If there's an option to disable the motion-blur effect, we haven't found it yet.

Back to the single-player, which starts off with a bang. Joanna's raid on the compound has her quickly using some of her moves, like her evasive dive and ducking behind cover. These moves quickly cut out to a third-person perspective before throwing you back into a first-person view, and the effect is done reasonably well--though, it made us wonder why not just have the option to play entirely from a third-person viewpoint? Then again, getting to see the weapon models right up close is probably something you wouldn't want to give up. The game cuts to third-person views fairly often, such as when you're climbing ladders.

You've got some gadgets to play with, such as the lovably named "locktopus," a little doodad that lets you pick locks Splinter Cell-style. Though the locktopus looks unmistakably high tech, you'll interface with the device much like you pick locks in other games: you'll rotate the analog stick around until you find the sweet spot that will break the lock, which is conveyed through both subtly varied controller vibration and a sensor on the device itself that changes in color from red to yellow to green as you get closer to succeeding. Another device lets you hack into some computer-controlled keypads, and you'll accomplish this by matching up colors on spinning concentric circles on the handheld gadget's screen. During the first mission, you even get to use a little probe to basically break into a computer mainframe and blow it up, which is done by controlling the probe remotely via a first-person view.

...but sometimes it's more fun to let the guns do the talking.
...but sometimes it's more fun to let the guns do the talking.

Then you're on the run as these cute-but-dangerous little spider droids start swarming in. You join with some bewildered scientist types trying to escape as lots of radio chatter fills the com lines. Enemy soldiers make matters worse, and then Perfect Dark Zero truly feels like a first-person shooter as you're blasting human opponents. These guys haven't yet blown us away with their tactics, but hey, they've got heads and we've got bullets, so things are all right.

At first it seemed like a visual glitch of some sort, but we could have sworn we saw one of the scientists covered in static. After we fought our way past some crazy jetpack-toting enemies and reached a space shuttle, we found out what was going on--not a glitch at all, but a pretty clever hook on an exciting first level.

The next mission has Joanna looking rather spunky in a raver outfit that befits the destination she's trying to assault--some kind of a nightclub in the Orient. She's got to track down some thugs, though, so this mission involves a little bit of stealth. By using her microphone-equipped binoculars, Joanna can pinpoint key targets and eavesdrop on them, relaying key info back to base. Keeping the viewfinder of this device locked on a particular enemy will actually reveal his identity and then relay that information back to Jo's superiors.

The story mode's second mission begins your globe-trotting adventures with a hectic gunfight in a Hong Kong nightclub.
The story mode's second mission begins your globe-trotting adventures with a hectic gunfight in a Hong Kong nightclub.

Of course, Ms. Dark can just plug bad guys with a silenced pistol when their backs are turned. We were also quick to test out Jo's close-combat moves, which allow her to smack enemies with her guns or even her bare hands. The look of these moves is pretty good and the results can be deadly, though we're not yet convinced that the melee in Perfect Dark Zero is as satisfying as in the Halo games. Then again, for our melee fix we've always got Condemned.

We haven't spent much time with the game's objective-based multiplayer mode yet, which resembles Counter-Strike in that it features a variety of mission types as well as a buying phase, where you can load yourself up with different hardware. But we did blast through a number of deathmatch rounds online, which performed smoothly on prerelease servers. The deathmatch gameplay is pretty straightforward, though it's neat to see characters' body armor break apart as they get shot.

It's also possible to play with and against human opponents as well as computer-controlled bots. The bots seem fairly competent, though we haven't yet mistaken their behavior for a human player's. We haven't tried the four-player split-screen mode and have yet to play the co-op mode also. Besides these different gameplay options, there seems to be a large number of different variables to be tweaked both during multiplayer and in the options, in general. In short, the multiplayer game seems to have a lot to it.

Perfect Dark Zero's trappings have been appropriately futuristic so far.
Perfect Dark Zero's trappings have been appropriately futuristic so far.

The audio is really impressive so far, complete with quality voice acting and good-sounding weapons. But as we said, we like the music most of all. It's high-tempo electronica that fits the high-tech theme well, but it also just makes you want to tap your foot to the action. Plus, the music kicks in at scripted moments, lending some drama to the single-player proceedings. We really missed the soundtrack in multiplayer.

We need to spend a lot more time with Perfect Dark Zero before we reach a verdict, but we're having fun playing it so far. The game's got a slick presentation and a lot of different features, as well as what seems to be a compelling campaign. We'll learn more soon enough and will bring you our full review and video review the week of the Xbox 360's release. For now, we invite you to check out our new screenshots and HD-quality videos of the game in action.

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