Back in 1999, all our 17-year-old self wanted to play was a proper sequel to GoldenEye 007, Rare's all-time classic James Bond-themed shooter and one of the standout titles to grace the N64. We weren't the only ones who were bitterly disappointed that Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Pierce Brosnan's second outing as Bond, didn't get the same Rare-authored video game counterpart as its predecessor. Instead, Bond fans were treated to a bang average movie tie-in from Black Ops Entertainment and EA Games 1999, but the less said about that the better. The following year, however, we got Perfect Dark, a new first-person shooter series developed by GoldenEye developer Rare, this time fronted by a new hero.
The name's Dark, Joanna Dark.
And so began our adventure with a new brand of secret agent, one who left behind the deeply masculine approach of everyone's favourite gentleman spy in favour of a sassier, more Lara Croft-influenced approach to taking down the bad guys while always maintaining a stiff upper lip. While we certainly missed the trimmings that surrounded the Bond license, the change gave the developers at Rare a chance to create something entirely from scratch, and the result was a shooter that borrowed and built on the best of GoldenEye's gameplay and wrapped it up with an X-Filesesque story filled with aliens and corporate conspiracies.
The story campaign was a blast, but accessing it wasn't straightforward. The reason: Perfect Dark was one of the games that landed in the latter part of the N64's life cycle and therefore players needed the Expansion Pak (a massive 4mb RAM upgrade that you could slot into the top of the console) in order to access much of the game's content. Basically, it was pointless owning the game if you didn't have the extra RAM, which meant a lot of people missed out on this adventure at the time, although it has at least been granted a new lease of life thanks to a 2010 remaster on Xbox 360 (that included online multiplayer) and a headline appearance in 2015's Rare Replay, where Agent Dark was able to shine once again, this time on Xbox One.
Perfect Dark was set in 2023, complete with flying cars and all manner of totally ridiculous future tech, and Rare's vision for the future was charmingly far-fetched. With advanced weaponry and a costume inspired by the likes of Ghost in the Shell, it was a departure away from the suave sophistication of 007 and into a Blade Runner-inspired world with noir themes and less testosterone.
The narrative was full of intriguing story beats and action-packed missions, with Dark going up against a shadowy organisation called dataDyne as well as dealing with little grey men from outer space, including a little fella called Elvis who features prominently. With high-tech weapons and plot twists to keep you on edge, it was nothing short of a rollercoaster. Even better, it was playable with a friend via co-op, and there was even an option to play against your friend in the campaign, with your buddy taking on the role of the various NPCs that are trying to take you down.
Yet, for us, it was the adversarial multiplayer that made the game, and while it doesn't hold the same place in our heart as GoldenEye does - sometimes it's all about the time and place when it comes to the games we love - Perfect Dark still managed to deliver an astonishingly good PVP experience. Up to four players could share a screen, and back then, when screens were generally much smaller than they are today, that meant some seriously cramped multiplayer sessions with you and three friends clustered around a square television, trident-like N64 controllers in hand, wiggling their singular analog sticks and screeching at each other.
It was great being able to play with up to three others on the same screen, but we all had those friends who couldn't help but spend most of the match watching your corner and trying to get an unfair advantage. That sometimes meant elaborate physical constructions designed the partition up the screen and make it fair (or maybe that was just us), but mostly it was simpler to throw in so many AI-controlled bots that it was silly to spend too much time looking at what other people were doing. On this front, Perfect Dark delivered customisable AI playstyles that gave extra personality to the computer-controlled characters and made the competitive modes accessible even for those playing on their own and looking to sharpen up their skills ahead of the next multiplayer session.
The wacky story, the stellar multiplayer and innovate game modes, and leading lady Joanna Dark came together to create one of 2000's great games. For many, though, it will only be remembered as the spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007, and that's an unfair legacy for one of Rare's finest games if you ask us. It's still got something about it, even after all these years, and if the on-off rumours of a remake or reboot in the works prove to be accurate, we'll be there on day one with sky-high expectations and our fingers well and truly crossed that we'll get a game worthy of the name.
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