X05: Perfect Dark Zero Hands-On

We get our hands on Rare's Xbox 360 shooter for the first time in Amsterdam.

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AMSTERDAM--The most hyped game at Microsoft's X05 event in Amsterdam this week is undoubtedly Perfect Dark Zero. Rare's much-anticipated first-person shooter has recently been confirmed as a launch title for the Xbox 360, and having spent some time with both its single-player and deathmatch modes, we can report that it has come a long, long way since we last saw it at E3.

The appropriately named "Rooftops" single-player level that we played through this evening was set high above the streets of Hong Kong, and it tasked Joanna Dark with (among other things) protecting her father Jack as he battled against an overwhelming number of enemies. Like all of the levels in Perfect Dark Zero, Rooftops will support cooperative play during which you'll have the option to keep an eye on what your partner is doing via a picture-in-picture system. But on this occasion we were playing solo.

At the beginning of the level, we found ourselves on a rooftop high above Jack's location, and noticed that he was taking fire not only from a group of enemies in his vicinity, but also from a number of snipers located in surrounding buildings. Our first job, then, was to provide cover fire for him so that he could progress through the level, which actually wasn't that difficult given that we were armed with a powerful sniper rifle. It also helped matters that many of our enemies in the demo weren't terribly quick to react to (or even realize that they were) being shot at. Although this was a little disappointing, we should point out that the game was being played on one of the easier settings.

Why did we choose to play the game on an easy setting? We didn't actually, but the game was defaulting to that difficulty level so that we could check out its hint feature, which kicked in automatically whenever we failed to make any progress for a period of time. The hints were in the form of translucent blue arrows, which showed us the best route to take, as well as icons that let us know when we should stop--either to put a vantage point to good use or to hop onto one of the level's many zip lines. The hint system was definitely helpful, but we're not sure that that's a good thing, since it suggests that the route through the expansive level perhaps isn't as obvious as it should be.

There were three or four vantage points from which we got to provide cover fire for Jack as we progressed through the level. One vantage point in particular tasked us with seeing him safely up through three floors of a building by shooting enemies through its windows. Exploding barrels inexplicably located inside said building made our job a lot easier than it might otherwise have been, and we're hoping that these, like the enemies' sluggish responses to our attacks, will be a feature of the easy difficulty level rather than of the game as a whole.

Things got even more interesting toward the end of the level, when we came up against an enemy piloting a futuristic dropship of some kind, which was firing missiles at close range. Using Perfect Dark Zero's stealth game-style cover system, we were able to take refuge behind boxes, crates, chimneys, and such (some of which were destructible), and then pop out from behind them to take shots at the enemy. The ship's engines were its only vulnerable spots during our first encounter, but we'll skip the details of how we eventually defeated it for fear of spoilers.

Shortly after checking out the Rooftops level we had an opportunity to jump into a 12-player deathmatch on a decent-sized map that resembled a modern-day (as opposed to futuristic) city. The map boasted subterranean areas and a multistory parking garage, as well as plenty of weapon pickups and pillars to take cover behind. The action was fast-paced for the most part, although we enjoyed far more success when using the aforementioned cover feature than we did when we attempted to move around the level in search of enemies. It's fortunate that all of the weapons we picked up during the deathmatch had quite limited ammo supplies, because if it weren't for the fact that we (and the 11 other players) frequently had to replenish them, it's conceivable that the majority of us would've ended up just taking positions in cover.

The strange thing about taking cover in Perfect Dark Zero is that, although you're hidden behind a wall or object, you're still able to use your crosshair to target enemies that will be in sight once you lean out to shoot at them. These are targets that you should have no way of seeing, of course, and although the kills from cover are extremely satisfying, we can't help but wonder if any kind of line-of-sight feature was ever considered whereby you wouldn't know which enemies were around the corner until you actually poked your head out to take a look.

Another feature of Perfect Dark Zero that we have our doubts about (even though it's innovative) is the way that pieces of body armor drop off enemies to indicate how much health they have left. On paper, it sounds like a great system--and sometimes it is--but there's something undeniably strange about seeing an entire suit of armor (at least half a dozen pieces) fall off an enemy as you shoot at it. The system might be more impressive, for example, if only the armor pieces that you actually hit would fall off, leaving the exposed parts of the enemy's body more vulnerable to attack. This isn't a complaint, but since we noticed it on several occasions it seemed worthy of a mention.

Although Perfect Dark Zero will boast an arsenal of more than 25 different weapons, most of those that we got to play with were pretty standard pistol, rifle, and machine gun variants. We're pretty sure that we came under fire from enemies who had located more interesting toys, but we never actually managed to get our hands on any of them for ourselves on this occasion.

There was also a second deathmatch map that we didn't get to play on during our time with the game, although we did spend a couple of minutes watching it in action. The large ice-covered map (the ice looks incredible, by the way) boasted caves, tunnels, a large wooden tower structure, and ledges cut into cliff faces that made great vantage points for anyone armed with a sniper rifle. The tower in the middle of the map looked to be where most of the weapon pickups were located and, as a result, was where most of the action took place. The tower could either be accessed via a stairway at ground level, or via zip lines from the cliffs above.

Perfect Dark Zero really has come a long way since we saw it at E3, and it looks great. We look forward to bringing you more information on the game just as soon as we get our hands on a more finished version.

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