Microsoft Just Announced a New Perfect Dark Game, and Nobody Seemed to Care
During an early segment of this year’s The Game Awards ceremony (you can check out our highlights of the event here), brand-new developer The Initiative made an announcement (alongside Microsoft’s own press release) about their first upcoming title on Xbox Series X|S: a new game in the Perfect Dark franchise, which began its life over 20 years ago as a Rare title on the Nintendo 64.
A lukewarm reception
The announcement came in the form of a teaser trailer that showed off the game’s dystopian future setting: a world utterly transformed by ecological disaster and now controlled by a sinister cabal of “corporations,” including, of course, the notorious dataDyne, the series’ staple producer of villains.
It should be noted that nowhere in the video is the company’s name actually mentioned. Instead, during one of the trailer’s landscape shots, the camera pans up a futuristic high-rise building to reveal the famous dD logo that harks back all the way to the first game.
The ubiquity of this logo throughout the Nintendo 64 title is what made the reveal effective: it was how The Initiative let fans know that this was a new Perfect Dark game before either the title or the narrator’s address to “Agent [Joanna] Dark” confirmed it.
Yet, as one Twitter user pointedly noted, the audience response to this reveal seemed rather muted:
Of course, I did not attend the Game Awards and thus did not see the blank faces mentioned above. I did, however, see the livestream, in which this announcement was immediately followed by another, this time for Turtlerock’sBack 4 Blood, the next entry in the Left 4 Dead series. I could also hear the applause that each trailer garnered, and the difference between the two was palpable.
A troubled history
As an honest-to-God Perfect Dark fan, I find this (relative) lack of enthusiasm as saddening as it is unsurprising. As any bona-fide fan will tell you, the series has had a rocky history to say the least. The original game was an absolute landmark of the late Nintendo 64 era (Get it here or buy the Xbox One remaster here), a spiritual successor to the classic GoldenEye 007 that garnered universal acclaim on its release, and a crowning achievement in a line of crowning achievements during Rare‘s golden era of the late 90s and early 2000s.
Then the Microsoft acquisition happened. I won’t rehearse the story here; most people already know it, and it really doesn’t matter anymore. What does matter is that the sequel (or, rather, prequel) to the original game, 2005’s Perfect Dark Zero for Xbox 360 (Get it here), was, if nothing else, not what fans had expected. To put it another way, Perfect Dark Zero wasn’t necessarily bad, it was just…weird.
The original game’s story could hardly be called high brow. Its X-Files–inspired plot about corporate conspiracies and alien invasions was unoriginal at best and just plain silly at worst. Add to that its ludicrous voice acting, with even Rare‘s own staff laughing about their British attempts at American accents. Yet, for a game of the N64 era, the cheesiness was part of the charm (wait…did I just figure out the symbolism behind the every-level-has-a-hidden-piece-of-cheese Easter egg?!), and it was all executed with a healthy sense of ironic self awareness.
In Perfect Dark Zero, all that cheesiness was still there, but where the original made it feel quaint, here it just seemed cringeworthy, a sentiment that was echoed in IGN ‘s review of the game:
“Granted, the storyline doesn’t really factor into the gameplay, but it’s pretty much impossible not to notice how laughably bad it is. Many of the game’s major events are treated as almost inconsequential, and often you’ll find missions start and end with tons of loose ends fluttering about. The voice acting too, during these sequences, is overflowing with a forced wit and general cheesiness.”
It is honestly hard for me to say whether the later game was objectively worse in the story and voice-acting departments, or if we just all expected better from a next-generation game. I will say that part of the problem was that, whereas the original was aware of how silly it was, the prequel seemed to take itself far too seriously, much to its own detriment. Also, it almost certainly didn’t help that while the first game aimed for realistic graphics (as much as this was possible on the N64), the Xbox 360 game deliberately yet unnecessarily went for a very cartoony visual style.
A brighter future?
And so, here we are, 15 years later, with a new game finally on the horizon. How do I feel about this? As any tired, jaded ex-lover might feel: skeptical, but also tragically hopeful.
Ok, ok, maybe that’s too maudlin. The truth is: while the Perfect Dark franchise’s spotty record has been difficult in some ways, it has also been a helpful exercise in detachment. Perhaps that is also the reason behind this new announcement’s lack of fanfare, which, seen in this light, might even be a good thing.
In today’s entertainment industry, where franchises are simultaneously milked beyond death and rebooted with nihilistic frequency, an entirely new take on a once-great IP that nobody really cares about anymore could be just what we need.
I admit that I was initially disappointed to hear that Perfect Dark 2021 (let’s just call it that for now) isn’t being developed by Rare (anyone who read my recent article on being a Slow Gamer will know how much of a Rare fanboy I was in my youth), and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder why. But again, perhaps this is all symbolic of the same new beginning that this franchise needs, and I honestly have no interest in speculating right now.
What matters here is potential, and I truly believe this new title’s potential is great. This is The Initiative‘s first title as a brand new developer, which means they both have everything to prove, and all the freedom in the world. What impressed me the most was hearing that the game’s sci-fi setting will have an unabashed focus on ecological degradation, a tragically relevant topic for our present age, with one developer calling the genre “Eco Sci Fi.”
Couple that with the “evil corporation” theme already present in the trailer, and you have the makings of a game that both builds on its franchise’s legacy and takes it in a new direction that shows genuine social commitment. I don’t know about you, but I find that exciting, and wish more developers had the courage to do it. With any luck, this may just be the game that convinces me to create a three-console household. (Get the original Perfect Dark on N64 here or buy the Xbox One remaster here)