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What have we learned from Perfect Dark’s gameplay reveal trailer?

The art of the reveal is a difficult thing – and in our current industry, most publishers prefer trailers packed with pre-rendered CGI or snippets captured across the game. Yet, I’ve always preferred a different approach: a linear series of events showcasing what’s possible in the game. This style was memorably used to reveal Metal Gear Solid 2, along with titles like Halo 2, Doom 3, The Last of Us and Killzone: Shadow Fall. It’s designed to showcase the gameplay vision of a title contained within a single location – a way to help the player understand what sort of game the developer is building. With the reboot of Perfect Dark, finally shown during this year’s Xbox showcase, I was thrilled to see a return to this format.

There’s little doubt that the lead-up to Perfect Dark has been fraught with challenges. First named six years ago in a simple teaser, the studio went radio-silent afterwards, with rumors suggesting it was in a rough state. With this new trailer, however, it finally feels like we have a vision for what the team wants to achieve. This is still very much a vertical slice – it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that little else of the game’s campaign has been built yet – but this trailer gives me hope that they’re on the right track.

Creating a new entry in the Perfect Dark series is perhaps not as simple as it may seem. On the face of it, the original Perfect Dark is a type of shooter that largely doesn’t really exist any longer. It’s mission- and objective-driven, filled with gadgets and other unique scenarios, but the central mechanics, level design and flow are very much of the era. There is one contemporary game, known as Agent 64, which perfectly builds on this style of play – the demo is excellent and a fun throwback – but that’s not necessarily what you’d want from a full reboot.

Here’s our full video breakdown of the Perfect Dark gameplay reveal at the Xbox Summer Showcase. Watch on YouTube

Instead, The Initiative has opted to build a game that integrates elements of immersive sims with first-person parkour not unlike Mirror’s Edge. While we do not know the scope of the game yet, this trailer really suggests that players will have options in how they handle a stage. In this case, it’s an infiltration mission which implies some freedom in how you reach your objective.

Some things that caught my interest. One, the game uses full body awareness, allowing you to see Johanna’s arms, legs and torso while performing actions – something that increases immersion in these sorts of games. We also see things like different vision modes and the voice recorder, suggesting that gadgets return, as you’d hope. The question here is whether there are alternative solutions – for instance, she uses the voice recorder to bypass a gate at one point, while a proper immersive sim (“im-sim”) might allow alternative methods of infiltration.

Later in the segment, they showed off a skirmish between Johanna and numerous foes. I appreciate the fruit being destroyed and the beautiful powder unleashed by an exploding fire extinguisher, and I really hope we see more interactables like this. Of course, with this demo being mostly stealth focused up until this point, I’m also curious what their plans are for enemy behavior – this is a huge part of any similar game. If the enemy is too sensitive or not sensitive enough, it can break the whole thing.

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Another key element which they got right in this trailer are the weapons themselves and how they’re presented. You’ll spend more or less the entire game looking at the weapons or tools in your hands, and I like what they’ve done here thus far. The pistol in particular has a shiny texture to it that feels like a nod to the original, yet with the tech benefits you’d expect from a modern game.

The key here is that, while there’s still a lot we don’t know, what’s here is promising and seems snappy to my eye. I like the direction they’re going – and that goes for the technology powering the game too, at least based off our initial look.

Firstly, despite Crystal Dynamics involvement, this game is built using Unreal Engine 5. I’m disappointed that we aren’t seeing an evolution of Crystal’s excellent in-house tech but, still, what we have thus far is looking good.

Here’s the three minute and 27 second gameplay trailer in its entirety.Watch on YouTube

It’s not clear if this demo was created on PC or an Xbox either. While PC is the most likely, due to ease of building the video assets, something about the image quality and performance characteristics gave me pause. Specifically, while it’s tough to tell with a compressed video feed, the pixel counts I was able to complete came in at 1440p or slightly higher. Furthermore, the frame-rate in this trailer is not stable – which could also be true of a PC build given how early in development this is, but it’s not clear. Either way, I’m not here to pass judgement on either of these elements – it’s ultimately just academic at this point, but it looks like what’s here could feasibly be running on console hardware.

The game also seems to be using the full suite of Unreal Engine 5 techniques. What looks like Lumen can be spied from the rich indirect lighting in areas like the darkened alleys early in the trailer or the hallways later. You can indeed spot typical RTGI (ray-traced global illumination) noise here as well. This does appear to be the software path of Lumen, rather than the hardware path, as we do see some artefacts common to the use of screen-space information augmenting the SDF-based reflections. Still, that’s not unexpected for a 60fps title, and the game still looks good.

We also spotted the use of virtual shadow maps, allowing super-fine detail to be represented in shadow, including the fine grass details towards the end of the trailer.

a screenshot showing broken TAA in perfect dark
With the flash effect breaking the game’s TAA momentarily, we can do a pixel count on its edges. However, other elements in the scene seem lower-res than the 1440p count we come up with, suggesting a lower base resolution being scaled to 1440p. | Image credit: Digital Foundry/Microsoft

That said, while scrubbing through the footage, I did notice some curiosities I could nitpick – and again, this is not commentary on the final game. Basically, the scene which helped make pixel counting possible has a flash which reveals both unaliased ~1440p edges and more detail loss than we’d expect from that resolution. That suggests, like many other 60fps Unreal Engine 5 games on console, we’re actually looking more at something like a 720p to 960p internal resolution that’s upscaled to 1440p.

The same flash also reveals that dynamic lights like this currently don’t cast shadows. That’s not a big deal for this particular scene, but it is curious – and as a fan of muzzle flash shadows, I’d like to see additional shadow-casting dynamic lights.

Of course, given the length of the actual gameplay in the trailer, there’s not much more to glean at the moment – though I will mention that I’m a big fan of the sound that they’ve crafted thus far, with the voice acting and music all having great potential.

Overall, I’m just happy that the game really exists and they’ve found a coherent vision for it. Given the lack of an announced release date, I suspect we’ll be waiting for quite a long time before Perfect Dark is ready. When that day arrives, however, you can bet we’ll be there with coverage, as this is one of the games I’m most curious about from Microsoft’s upcoming lineup.


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