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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

360 plus `Zero': Game equals a less-than-perfect introduction...

360 plus `Zero': Game equals a less-than-perfect introduction to new Xbox console

""Perfect Dark Zero'' from Microsoft for the Xbox 360 exposes all the contradictions about the first new console to claim that it will introduce the ``next generation of video games.''

It is a good game, but it falls short of being great. It certainly isn't the next ``Halo,'' even though Microsoft originally billed it as the killer application for the Xbox 360. The game falls so far short of that mark it makes me wonder about the Xbox 360, which Sony derisively nicknamed Xbox 1.5. Is this really the best exclusive-launch game Microsoft itself could pull together to sell its new console? (As I've said before, the non-exclusive ``Call of Duty 2'' from Activision is saving the Xbox 360 right now.)

``Perfect Dark Zero'' is the sequel to ``Perfect Dark,'' a modern-day shooting game that made its debut on the Nintendo 64 console five years ago and received a lot of praise as the best game to appear on that machine. Microsoft picked up the rights to the franchise when it acquired Rare, one of Nintendo's best game developers, in the fall of 2002. The team converted the title from GameCube to Xbox, and then once again to the Xbox 360. After all that time and investment, I expected a lot. But that lineage also explains why this game has a hard time breaking free from last generation.

In the game, you play bounty hunter Joanna Dark from a first-person point of view. You have access to an array of super-spy weapons, and you get company on your missions from Joanna's father, Jack, as you do jobs and battle the evil corporation dataDyne. Joanna and Jack stumble onto a conspiracy that puts them face to face with the CEO of dataDyne, Zhang Li, and his daughter Mai Hem.

You get to try out 29 weapons in the 13 missions in single-player mode. If you go in guns blazing, you will fail. You have to be clever enough to shoot out video cameras or holster your weapons at times and walk right past unsuspecting guards. There's a certain joy in being sneaky. And while it is fun trying to master the game, the experience falls short of the next-generation label.

On the one hand, it has graphics that are stunning, with environments like swamps, snow-covered palaces, jungle temples and waterfalls. If you stop at any given moment and stare at the setting, you're likely to see a nice special effect that shows off the potential of the console. But walk around a waterfall and you'll see a sheet of water falling vertically. It looks as fake as anything from the last generation.

You have to move in stealth mode to avoid being cornered by enemies who hunt you in packs. But those enemies can act unbelievably dumb. You can run right up to armed enemies who are shooting at you and knock them out with a rifle butt. When you walk on snow, it crunches under your feet. But try to jump off a ledge and the game won't let you do it. The levels are huge, but that means you can run in the wrong direction for a long time. These problems make it hard to suspend disbelief." [more]

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