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Perfect Dark


10:4109/04/2010Posted by Paul WatsonNo Comments

There used to be a small, dingy, independent games store tucked away inside the Forge Arcade in Glasgow. A barely-there, cupboard-sized floor space, complete with nailed-in shelves and black marker-on-neon-orange-cardboard-star price tags. The owner didn’t wash, it smelled appalling and the selection of games on show was humble to say the least. But it had a Nintendo 64 hooked-up to a small screen behind a glass cabinet and you could “test out” games before you parted with any cash. And it’s there that I first played Perfect Dark.

It was the day of my birthday and, clutching a crisp bundle of rich smelling £10 notes, I screeched into town with my mother to buy one the most anticipated releases ever. I launched myself like a diarrhea-impaired Flash from the car park, pounding down the glistening, sun-bathed, tiles on the mall floor and into the carpeted wonderment of a big, fancy, white-washed store called “Electronics Boutique”.

“P-P-P-PERFECT DARK! PERFECT DARK!” I wailed at the cashier. I warm glow emanating from my ruddy little school-boy cheeks. “Do you have the Expansion Pak?” enquired the evil begetter of eternal child-hood disappointment. “No…what’s that?” I squelched. Bless my heart; I was so young, so naive, and so pure. I simply couldn’t imagine the horrors ahead. The cashier pointed to a small display box. A red bubble-topped, 4MB insert that cost as much as the game. It turned out that I’d need one of these to play the game. After much pleading and pledging I was given enough for both. Except Electronics Boutique were fresh out. And no, none of their sister stores had any in stock either. Disaster. Epic disaster.

Except…there was that small, dingy, independent games store in the Arcade where the owner didn’t wash, where it smelled appalling and the selection of games on show was humble to say the least. Maybe, just maybe, it could save a broken-up tweener’s birthday. Navigating the last-stand of huddled shoppers in a whirl of panic and lingering anticipation, I squinted my eyes in the dulled, gloomy corridors of a junk-filled bazaar. On the shelf sat the boxed duo of Pak and Perfect. Affixed with an absurd price tag of £70 each. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Back to the well I went, setting a record for prospective, in-waiting chores. By estimate, I probably should still be in debt today.

I wanted to play it straight away. The anointed features and palms of Captain Unwashed slapping the cartridge into place. And there I stood for close to a good hour. Oh, what a good hour it was. I loved every minute of it. Well, apart from the parts where I meandered back and forth over the same route a dozen times, inducing a dusty beaten path in the hunt for what I’m supposed to do. That sucked. But more on that in a second.

It was GoldenEye Pt.II. Bigger, louder, sillier and featured an alien named Elvis instead of Robbie Coltrane. I can’t remember which felt odder. It’s been 10 years since that day. Christ, do I feel old. Games have changed and evolved at breakneck speed. The drop over the horizon saw everything and the kitchen sink cobbled together and thrown at the industry, three generations of an insatiable thirst for innovation quenched for what feels like nothing more than a minute, all in the pursuit of the very same sort of dystopia inhabited in Perfect Dark.

So, can a game from the Bronze Age really stand on its own merits in the harsh shadow of the billion quid Modern Warfare franchise? Quite frankly, no – it can’t. But that’s not to say it’s a futile re-package that should be dismissed out of hand because this trip down memory lane is awash with a simple sort of fun.

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