The original Perfect Dark launched on the Nintendo 64 in 2000 and received acclaim for its phenomenal gameplay, excellent visuals and intuitive artificial intelligence. Even today, it’s frequently hailed as the gold standard for first-person shooters. And although the game did very well financially and critically, it only received one sequel in 2005: Perfect Dark Zero. It has been dormant since.
However, after more than 15 years, we’re finally receiving a new Perfect Dark sequel helmed by Xbox’s newly-formed first-party development studio The Initiative. Not only has Microsoft promised to provide a “AAAA” experience (whatever that means), but we’ve also received an exciting cinematic trailer to give a sense of what to expect from the game’s story and atmosphere. Although that AAAA branding also comes with the curious assistance being provided by Crystal Dynamics. Regardless, it’s most certainly one of the Xbox Series X’s most exciting exclusives. And if it does as well as some of the best PlayStation titles have, it could elevate our expectations for upcoming Xbox games.
Here’s everything you need to know about Perfect Dark, including details on its release date, setting, story, gameplay and more.
Perfect Dark release date
Perfect Dark was revealed in a cinematic teaser trailer at 2020's The Game Awards. Considering we still haven't received a lick of gameplay footage, there’s a chance it’s not coming out this year. However, we do know that when it does come out, it’ll arrive on Xbox Game Pass on day one for Xbox Series X | S and PC.
The Initiative has been around since 2018 so assuming the team has been working on Perfect Dark since then, the game likely has two to three years of development thus far. Games as large as this could take up to five years, so we might not get our hands on Perfect Dark until 2022 or 2023.
Design Director Drew Murray is also no longer with the company, as he's now returning to Insomniac Games. However, this should be nothing to fear, as he claims he left the company for personal reasons.
Chris Dring from Gamesindustry.biz spoke of Perfect Dark's release date during a VGC Off The Record podcast, claiming that the game is "so far away." He suggests that there could even be a new Xbox model (mid-tier upgrade) by the time it comes out.
Xbox's Gamescom 2021 did not show anything involved with Perfect Dark. This isn't too surprising; the game is going to need a lot more time in the oven before we see any gameplay.
The Initiative announced that they're partnering with Crystal Dynamics to fulfill their vision of Perfect Dark. This has been a cause for concern, as Xbox had hyped this studio up as their big AAAA team. It's hard to say what exactly this means for the game, but we'll have to wait until more footage is shown. Perfect Dark director Daniel Neuburger served as game director at Crystal Dynamics for many years, which makes the partnership between the two companies seem just a little more precedented.
Unfortunately, half of Perfect Dark's core staff has departed in the last 12 months, according to a VideoGamesChronicle report. Senior developers who spoke to VGC claim that a lack of creative autonomy resulted in a "fast and furious" wave of departures, along with slow development progress being cited as a contributing factor. These developers "didn't feel heard" on massive problems such as project planning, development priorities and team staffing. In the past year, The Initiative has also hired around 12 new employees.
Management at The Initiative spoke to VGC, expressing confidence in the current team and the new talent that has joined the company. "We wish all our former colleagues the very best, and I’m confident in the team we have in place, the new talent joining, and we can’t wait to share more with the fans,” studio head Darrel Gallagher said. Hopefully this is true, and we have the chance to see a fully formed Perfect Dark in the coming years.
Unsurprisingly, Perfect Dark did not appear at the Xbox & Bethesda showcase on June 12. The issues that The Initiative seem to be facing, along with bringing Crystal Dynamics on to assist with development, might paint a dreary picture for this game. But we're hoping Perfect Dark far exceeds these relatively low expectations.
Perfect Dark setting
Although we weren’t shown in-game footage, Perfect Dark’s announcement trailer gave us a first look at the general aesthetic and setting of the game. It will seemingly take place somewhere in Egypt, as the trailer shows our protagonist overlooking a desert storm that looms over a city. In the background, we can see the presence of three gigantic pyramids.
It’s also possible that this Perfect Dark sequel will take us to other parts of the world as well, as spy-thrillers often have the protagonist jumping between setpieces to do their job. We also know that the game takes place in a “near-future,” one which will likely be melded with science fiction elements.
Perfect Dark gameplay
Currently, there is no gameplay footage for the latest Perfect Dark title. However, we can make an educated guess on what to expect based on previous entries in the franchise. The original is a level-based first-person shooter where players collect all sorts of unique weapons to battle their way through complex and unique environments. It also had a system where players take differing amounts of damage depending on where they were hit.
Based on this information, The Initiative’s Perfect Dark will likely be similar, although we can probably expect even more weapons, larger levels and unforeseen additional mechanics. It could also be revealed as an open-world game, which some fans might dislike. Instead, I’m imagining it takes a similar approach as Doom 2016, where it faithfully sticks to the core mechanics of the franchise while modernizing the outdated aspects.
Perfect Dark story
The original Perfect Dark was set in 2023, which is not that far from today, so the new game will likely put players even further into the future. The previous title also incorporated heavy science fiction elements, including two alien races having a presence on Earth. Whether or not this remains consistent in The Initiative’s version of the story is unknown, as the cinematic trailer seemed sci-fi in a different sense. Society possesses futuristic technology, with high-tech buildings lining the scenes. However, it seemed like society was on the brink of a massive catastrophe due to a climate emergency.
In the opening of the reveal trailer, giant ice caps begin to melt from the perspective of a satellite hovering over Earth. We also see water consume bits of land bordering continents. As this happens, there is narration describing how the world has changed for the worse as storms, floods and fires overwhelm everything. It hints that corporations have tried solving these issues, but a greater secret is looming beneath everything, which is likely where we come in. In classic spy-thriller fashion, we’ll be working to unravel these mysteries.
Perfect Dark on PC
Since all Xbox first-party titles are launching on both Xbox and PC, we can expect Perfect Dark to do so as well. We aren’t aware of the game’s official PC requirements, but considering that it’s being called a AAAA project, it’ll likely be quite demanding. The Xbox Series X GPU is roughly equivalent to an Nvidia RTX GeForce RTX 2070, so if you have something like this or a bit stronger, it should have decent performance.
Otherwise, we’re hoping that even stronger hardware can make Perfect Dark look graphically superior to anything we’ve ever seen before. Since Microsoft is keen on calling The Initiative a AAAA studio, I expect them to deliver an experience that no other AAA can match.