Revealed at The Game Awards in 2020, Perfect Dark is a reboot with an unconventional legacy. Despite being a franchise only two games deep, Perfect Dark managed to secure a devoted fanbase, with many of those who played as kids now at an age that's ripe for commercially-harvestable nostalgia.
In co-development partnership with Crystal Dynamics, Perfect Dark's development studio The Initiative hasn't given us a huge amount to share in the two years since the game's reveal. And a few high-level departures from lead developers has given certain speculative sectors cause for concern. Now that we're heading into 2023, we can only guess when we might hear more.
Here's everything we know about Perfect Dark.
Is there a Perfect Dark’s release date?
We just haven’t seen enough yet to know. The Initiative formed in 2018, but it’s not like they all sat down on their first day together and immediately began coding levels for Perfect Dark. With no gameplay revealed nearing the end of 2022 and not even a vague release window offered, it's safe to say we shouldn't expect Perfect Dark until sometime in 2023, at the very earliest.
Additionally, a string of high-level departures from lead developers at The Initiative has left some with a chaotic impression of Perfect Dark's development, but we can only speculate about what effect that's actually had on the game's development timeline.
This trailer premiered at The Game Awards in December 2020. You can also check out this video of the developers talking briefly about the project, which ran right after the trailer.
What’s the story of Perfect Dark?
The first game was set in 2023 and revolved around two alien races using Earth as a battleground. Yes, exactly like Transformers, although I promise you it was less silly about the whole thing.
The alien war is actually secondary to the main plot, which is the battle between Carrington Institute (good guys) and dataDyne (bad guys). DataDyne want to use the alien tech for general early ‘00s evilness, and you have to stop them while working for Carrington. As part of the story, you end up getting taken to the bad aliens' planet (the Skedar), where you defeat their leader, then fly away in a spaceship back to Earth. It was actually good, though. I promise.
The sequel, Perfect Dark Zero, was actually a prequel, so it’s the original Perfect Dark that will act as the jumping off point. This new Perfect Dark is described as being set in the “near future,” so it takes place a little while after the last games, but not too long. We know the central character Joanna Dark—more on her below—is back too, so it makes sense that it’s following on from where the series left off.
The game is going to be an “eco sci fi,” where corporations (like dataDyne) have made the planet much greener and cleaner, but at a cost. In the trailer, we see a very lush, bountiful city in bloom, but also see parts of Earth ravaged by fires and destruction. As the trailer ends, Joanna Dark has just cleared out (read: killed everyone inside) one of these green corps, and stands on the roof of the building, staring out as a lightning storm rages in the distance. The logo on the roof reveals this building to be dataDyne HQ.
It appears then that Perfect Dark will have something to say about climate change, which will hopefully add some nuance to the campaign's setting.
So, is this a reboot? A remaster? A sequel? A prequel?
It’s definitely not a remaster. This new Perfect Dark has its own story, and while the developers talk about being inspired by the past, they also say they don’t want to use it “too much” as they bring Perfect Dark into the modern day. A prequel is unlikely too; it’s rare for a franchise which has been on ice for so long to decide to start things back up with a prequel instead of tearing forward and breaking new ground. Also, the “near future” setting wouldn’t fit; Perfect Dark was originally set in 2023, so a prequel would be in the “recent past”. Also also, two prequels in a row is a bit daft.
As for reboot or sequel, it seems from what the developers have said about keeping the game’s past in mind that it’ll be a bit of both. It doesn’t seem like it’ll be directly picking up on story threads from 2005’s game, but it’s not completely back to the drawing board either. It’ll be the same character fans know and love, same central antagonist, just with a brand new narrative.
The aliens will still be back, right? Right?!
Almost certainly. The Skedar weren’t wiped out, just defeated, and the other aliens, the Maians, are still kicking about too. The trailer even starts in space, with the devs letting us know the alien storyline isn’t being abandoned just yet.
Who is the main character in Perfect Dark?
Speaking of said character, that’s Joanna Dark. She’s codenamed Perfect Dark because of her perfect score on her aptitude tests (and her surname, obviously). Many sources contributed to Rare picking her name. As a trailblazing female hero, Joanna Dark was chosen as a name as a nod to Joan Of Arc, while her look was designed after ‘90s era Winona Ryder.
Her personality is supposed to take equal parts of La Femme Nikita and The X-Files’ Dana Scully, but she has a much bigger focus on tech than either of them; she approaches situations more like Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher. Oh, and she was designed by Martin Hollis, the director behind GoldenEye 007, so it goes without saying that her gunplay was always excellent.
What’s the combat like in Perfect Dark?
Sam Fisher meets GoldenEye is actually a pretty great way to describe it, if I do say so myself, but let's get a little more granular. It’s a first-person shooter, and one which generally had a very clean, uncluttered UI. Players were encouraged to approach situations slowly, with stealth and timing more effective than a hail of bullets.
The new Perfect Dark's devs have said they’re “leaning very heavily on ‘what is a secret agent?’”, which suits Joanna’s more methodical approach to combat. They’ve also said they’re trying to “diversify” the gunplay by “differentiating spy fighting versus a traditional first person shooter.” From their interview at The Game Awards, it might be that we do see a more action-oriented Joanna this time around, as the devs mention her sliding under or jumping over obstacles mid combat.
It looks like the new Perfect Dark will play up the “physicality” of the fights, but will also take advantage of the increased scope available to devs these days, meaning more tech elements can be incorporated. And that should be a good fit for Perfect Dark, which has always had a big focus on gadgets and clever alternate fire modes for each weapon.
We haven’t seen any gameplay yet, and don’t have much indication of when we will, but the developers seem to be following the legacy of the original games with a clear and straightforward take on the character and setting.
Who are the developers of Perfect Dark?
We’ve mentioned the developers a lot, but we haven’t really talked about them specifically, so let's do that now. Perfect Dark is being made by The Initiative, and it’s actually the studio's first game. But when you look at the talent attached, it sure ain’t their first rodeo.
The studio is run by Darrell Gallagher (former head of Crystal Dynamics) and includes, Christian Cantamessa (writer of Red Dead Redemption), Drew Murray (director of Sunset Overdrive), and Brain Westergaard (lead producer of God of War). Many of the other devs have great games under their belt too, with CVs from BioWare, Naughty Dog, Respawn, Sony Santa Monica, Blizzard, Insomniac, and Rockstar in the studio’s filing cabinets.
Daniel Neuburger (director of Tomb Raider) was working on the project as its director but an eagle eyed user on ResetEra spotted that the developer's LinkedIn profile indicated he had left The Initiative in early 2022. This surely adds to the chaotic development cycle already in place.
The Initiative is actually one of those studios that the bosses at Xbox claim are making “quadruple-A” games. I mean, nobody else is going to call them that, but still, pretty exciting, right?
What platforms will Perfect Dark be on?
Since this is an Xbox game, Xbox Series X/S is a given, and since it’ll be on the Microsoft store too, we’ll get it on PC as well. No word on whether it’ll be on other platforms like the PS5 or the Nintendo Switch; it’s unlikely, but Microsoft hasn't been quite so possessive over its exclusives as some other platforms.
It seems like a dead certainty for Game Pass, too, as all of Microsoft's first-party games have been.