When a video game developer releases one of the most iconic games of the generation, it's only natural that they try to capitalize on it as soon as possible. So it makes sense that Rare, who were responsible for the Nintendo 64's breakthrough FPS GoldenEye 007, began development on a sequel soon after its release. Its initial work focused on a true sequel-a game based on the film's sequel, Tomorrow Never Dies-but when Rare was outbid for the James Bond license by EA, their attention shifted towards a sci-fi, near future take instead. Utilizing some of the engine of GoldenEye, Rare released their spiritual successor, Perfect Dark for the N64, in mid-2000. And while it shared many of the same concepts and features of its predecessor, in many ways it was considered an improvement, garnering near universal acclaim, and was, in the hearts and minds of many, one of the greatest games of all time upon release. And while it's understandable that sentiment hasn't carried over into the modern day, it's also a bit unfair that Perfect Dark hasn't retained the same status its predecessor has in the gaming community. Because while GoldenEye has the nostalgia factor and the brand recognition, Perfect Dark is-in very many ways-the superior game.
Of course, it would make sense that the feel of GoldenEye were translated over to Perfect Dark, and in a way, it picks up right where GoldenEye left off, giving off the same spy-thriller vibe. All the best features return. Multiplayer is just as fun and chaotic, and the maps have been drastically improved. Single player difficulty-based missions are still here, and they still provide an incredibly unique way of varying difficulty without just increasing enemy health or buffing their damage. The weapons are even more over-the-top, featuring alien weaponry and a laptop gun. But more significant than what it brings back, it's Perfect Dark's improvements that are more notable. Enemy AI is improved, but more importantly, friendly AI is improved, and escort missions don't feel anywhere near as painful as they did in GoldenEye. N64 games are never going to have the best graphics, but for the time, PD is really impressive, and it's clear why it requires the expansion pak to function; you could probably count the number of visually superior N64 games on one hand, if any exist at all. Because of this extra processing power, missions were more immersive, levels were more detailed, and (surprisingly competent) voice acting made its debut.
These are nice additions, and certainly increase the playability of Perfect Dark, but its best and most significant change was in its game modes. In addition to typical single and multiplayer, PD introduced a Co-Op & Counter-Op mode. The former of which allowed for a two-player completion of the campaign, which is of course a great feature, but the latter was even more revolutionary; it allowed a player to take control of enemies in a mission, and attempt to stop the other from completing their objective. It's a fantastically innovative addition, and is still one of Perfect Dark's most unique aspects.
Of course, these improvements can only go so far while being limited by the technology of the time. Perfect Dark is, after all, still an N64 first person shooter, and that means having to contend with some mediocre-at-best controls. Especially on harder difficulties, later missions can get extremely frustrating if you aren't familiar with the controls. It also suffers from having some vague or confusing mission objectives, which was also a problem for GoldenEye, but due to PD's larger maps and sense of scale, those issues are exacerbated here. As mentioned previously, Perfect Dark's graphics are impressive, but a lot of times, it doesn't seem the N64 has the power to handle them; as a result, any amount of explosions or large numbers of enemies are enough to totally tank the frame rate for a good few seconds. All these flaws add up to an experience that is more difficult than likely intended, and since the difficulty comes from the game's flaws rather than by design, some missions end up feeling like a bit of a drag to complete.
It's rare for games to retain their status and prestige so long after release, and Perfect Dark is no exception, but just because it isn't any longer considered one of the best games ever made doesn't make it bad either. It, along with its predecessor, helped lay the groundwork for many FPS games on home consoles, and it's a fantastic time capsule to a definitive point in gaming. Moreover, it improved upon what was a monumental title, and produced what was certainly the finest FPS at time of release. Modern inspection reveals faults and cracks in the game, as it often does, but not enough to completely dull the sheen of what was an impressive title. Even decades later, after it's been bested by the passage of time, Perfect Dark remains a wholly unique experience, with plenty of gameplay options and a good amount of fun.