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Perfect Dark Zero

Joanna Dark slips back into the videogame world in Xbox 360's flagship shooter

Like some sort of crazy A-Team-style plan involving hammering in a garage, close-ups of pipes being cut, sheets of spiked metal riveted onto a van, and some hilarious one-liners from Face-man, Perfect Dark Zero has actually come together. And we love it.

HARD AS (PRESS-ON) NAILS
You'll begin, unless you want your arse handed to you by an online ninja, with the 14-level single-player adventure. To anyone skilled in counting, it should come as no surprise this is a prequel, but there's absolutely no need to scour charity shop bargain bins for game cartridges; previous knowledge of the N64 classic is unnecessary. You're Joanna, a wet-behind-the-ears special operative with a Yankie accent (bizarrely, she spoke with a plum in her mouth in Perfect Dark). Your father is Jack Dark, a mercenary with vocal chords that have gargled glass. Your chum back at mission control is Chandra, a dreadlocked hottie with a viper wit and a body that old men go to prison for leering at.

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Through a somewhat convoluted plot that you won't be spending too much time remembering, this motley crew begin to track a Mekon-headed old Chinese man called Zhang-Li, and his supremely-hot-but-bound-to-bescarred- later-on daughter, Mai Hem ('mayhem', geddit?). This is achieved by killing hundreds of thugs, most with comical oriental accents. Good, wholesome fun is guaranteed. This is the game at its least impressive; the voices range from passable to offensive, later on enemies sound dangerously close to South Park's Terrance and Phillip, and the slightly 'wacky' nature of the enemies fails to amuse, especially when almost everything else in the game is so polished.

DATADYNING OUT ON THE VISUALS
The gigantic level structure of PDZ simply could not be recreated on a last generation console. By the time you've struggled out of a lift, and gawked at the flippin' great rocket on a launch pad, battled across a floating ocean platform, ridden a gantry bay, been attacked by bad bastards in jetpacks, and realised this is still the first mission, you'll be praising Microsoft's Rare purchase as a stroke of prescient genius. And the level design never deviates from 'impressive', except towards the realm of 'astonishing'.

Aside from a return to this floating fortress later on, each of the missions is significantly different from the next. You'll spend some time blowing up a boat in a rundown warehouse, then scale a phenomenally lit nightclub, realising the epilepsy warning in the instruction booklet wasn't a hollow threat. The action moves on to a dash along the tops of skyscrapers, tagging foes and keeping on your toes as a manic boss named Killian sweeps down in a dropship brimming with rockets, and two large, minimally protected engines.

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A night-time assault on a Chinese temple during a fireworks celebration is a particularly choice bit of fun with a gun. The infiltration and escape from a laboratory and a hovercraft ride through enemy compounds is classic heart-pounding action; pantcrappingly intense. But it is the jungle trek through a native village and a jetpack ride over Mayan ruins that left us pointing at the screen, agape. The action never lets up - it simply goes from one epic locale to the next. It's the assault on a massive temple exterior, followed by a banzai charge over a huge bridge swarming with wave after wave of enemies that really leaves you bewildered and utterly ecstatic at what's possible in games nowadays.

The advancements in level design also leave you little concern over that dreaded (and invented) word: 'replayability'. Because, like the N64 sequel, Rare has ensured you'll be charging through each mission dozens of times. Why? Well, for starters, there are four difficulty settings: Agent for the absolute beginner; Secret Agent for the casual or inebriated gamer; Perfect Agent for veteran first-person aficionados; and finally, Dark Agent, a mode so horrifically hard you'll be shouting all manner of rude words at your television screen.

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