And yet I knew that Microsoft would show off the title in its full glory a week later at the E3 convention. That sense of false hope was brutally crushed when they did not show a single clip of Perfect Dark Zero during their pre-E3 press event. At that point, I knew something was up! My suspicions were confirmed when I did not see one sign of PDZ at the show; the only way to even see the title was behind closed doors.
After seeing the game up close and personal, I can tell you this: forget the screenshots, forget the 45 seconds of gameplay video you saw from the MTV special, forget everything you think you know about PDZ. This is not the same game that you have seen; it's a completely different beast. The graphics were many times better than had previously been demonstrated, which helps to foster the "next-gen" look and feel of the title. The textures were incredibly detailed and fully normal mapped, the lighting effects were dazzling, and we saw some of the most spectacular explosions.
Despite our amazement, the guys from Rare were quick to point out that what we were seeing was still running on alpha development kits and only using one of the two CPU cores, at that. Rare assured us that the game will look quite a bit better than it does right now, and they actually have some very advanced effects and more detailed textures that are already in the engine and ready to go. They're just waiting on final Xbox 360 hardware kits.
As great as the graphics looked, the gameplay was even more impressive; it was very realistic, much like a tactical shooter, with people taking cover and taking their time clearing rooms, instead of just busting in with guns blazing. There was a lot of strategy involved when navigating a level.
There are two main multiplayer game modes in PDZ, Deathmatch and Dark Ops. Deathmatch is your standard mode, where you can play classic match types such as Free for All and Capture the Flag. Dark Ops is a new mode that is set up much like a round in Counter-Strike. You have different teams of players, each with objectives to complete, and you play each round until one team completes a mission or kills everyone else on the other team. Every player only has one life per round, and if you get killed, you have to sit back and watch until the round is over.
You will be able to select different character classes before the match, such as medics and demolitions. Medics will be able to bring back a fallen teammate, but they will be limited to a set number of reheals. One of the really innovative features we saw was the "loadout" room. Instead of picking up different weapons throughout the course of a match, your team is put into a loadout room at the start of every round, and it has many different types of weapons and gadgets in it.
Each team member can pick out the weapons they want in the safety of this room before teleporting to a location on the map with the rest of the team. This is a really great feature, as it totally prevents the very annoying "spawn camping" that often takes place in online shooters. With this, everyone gets a fair start from the beginning. The loadout room is not exclusive to just Dark Ops but is a feature of all of the multiplayer modes.
PDZ places great emphasis on tactics, and the game's cover system aids you in that regard. Any time you are by a wall, box or other object that can be used as concealment, you push the A button to take shelter behind the object. This puts you into "cover mode," which allows you to aim the reticle and then press and hold the R button to dart out from your hiding place and fire. To return to the safety of cover, release the R button. For anyone who has ever been pinned down by a sniper in Halo 2, this is an extremely welcome feature. You can take cover behind any object, take aim at the sniper, and step out to unload a barrage of fire.
There is no jumping in PDZ, but you can perform an evasive roll, which is a much more realistic way of evading someone's fire than hopping around like a bunny. While in mid-roll, you can control its direction to some degree, which is great, as it prevents the other players from knowing exactly when and where you will come out of your roll, making it harder from them to hit you. Rare is making sure that this feature is well-balanced, so if you get shot during a roll, it will take off more damage. Additionally, you cannot shoot while performing a roll.
Overall, there are 28 weapons in the game; each one has two different firing modes, and many actually have a third mode. The third weapons mode is not an actual fire mode but more of a special gun feature mode. One we got to see was the ability to cloak the player for a short period of time. All we could see was a faint, barely visible outline of the player's body … at least, until the opposing team shot a rocket behind the cloaked player, at which point the smoke from the rocket caused his silhouette to be visible. Another is the ability to set up turrets anywhere around the level, and they will shoot at any enemy within range. One of the coolest gameplay elements, in my opinion, is that you can actually take over an enemy turret, reprogram it, and make it your own. The sniper has an alternate fire mode, where you can actually see the skeleton of an opponent or friendly through walls (just like in Eraser). I have some concerns that this will make the weapon too powerful and overused, but we have been assured that they are devoting their full efforts to balancing all weapons.
There will also be different types of vehicles in the game, such as a jetpack and a hovercraft. While we didn't receive too many details on the other vehicles, they did show off the jetpack, which is an extremely cool device that looks like a small mech that you can get into. The mech mode is extremely handy for covering a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Not only do you run much faster than a normal character, but the mech suit has two rapid-fire guns mounted to the arms to decimate anything in your path. With the press of a button, it morphs into a jetpack with wings, which you can use to quickly fly around the map and scout out the enemy.
Vehicles like the jetpack are very much needed, as the levels in PDZ are huge (the largest level size is an average of eight times larger than the Sidewinder map in Halo), and they need to be. For now, Perfect Dark Zero can support up to 50 players online on a single map, but the team expects to get that number to around 64 per map without a problem. One potential problem with this is that the maps will need to be huge to accommodate that many players, but when the servers are half-full, it will be hard to find any action on such a large map. This issue can be addressed with either of two solutions. The first is like nothing seen before – the map will dynamically scale to a larger or smaller size, depending on the number of players. The second option is to add bots, since Perfect Dark Zero has built in full bot support. Rare told us to expect some very good bot AI, and that you will not even be able to tell which players on a map are bots.
It's been a long road for Perfect Dark Zero, but it seems to have finally found a home on the Xbox 360. Initially, I was quite worried after the lackluster showing on MTV, but all of my fears have now been allayed. The dev team is already done with all of the content for the game and will be spending the next six months refining the graphics, balancing gameplay, and debugging (an unprecedented amount of time for simply making a good game better). From what we saw, I can safely say that PDZ is everything the fans have been hoping for, it will be the only shooter that this fan needs for the X360 launch this November.
Corey Owen also contributed to this preview.
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