Perfect Dark for Xbox Series X | S – What is Going On?

There’s a long list of first-party games that Microsoft has announced in recent years, only to follow up on those announcements with almost complete radio silence. State of Decay 3, Contraband, Everwild, The Outer Worlds 2– there’s no shortage of prominent names on that list, but perhaps the one that has been the subject of most troubling reports related to its development is Perfect Dark. When Microsoft announced in 2018 that it had established a new first-party studio in the form of The Initiative, many instantly speculated that the studio was working on a Perfect Dark game, and when a reboot of the franchise was officially announced at The Game Awards in December 2020, fans were elated, to say the very least.

Since then, however, things have looked increasingly dire for the project. In the nearly four years that have passed since Perfect Dark was first announced not only have we had no additional official updates on the game, the details that have emerged on its development haven’t painted a very optimistic picture of what the early years of development were like. Even though it looks like Perfect Dark has begun to come together as a game behind the scenes over the last couple of years, all signs indicate that it’s still quite a ways off from launch.

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But let’s go back to the beginning, because really, if reports are to be believed, Perfect Dark has been a troubled project for about as long as it has existed. Back in 2022, for instance, a VGC report revealed that The Initiative had hit significant roadblocks in the form of a mass exodus of talent from the studio. At the time the report was published, around 34 people had departed from the studio over the preceding 12 month period, many of whom were core members of the development team across multiple disciplines.

As per the report, the wave of departures had been brought about by a number of issues, chief among them being what many of those who had left felt was a lack of creative autonomy. The report claimed that studio head Darrell Gallagher and game director Dan Neuburger (who would also eventually leave the studio) had exerted strong creative control over the project, leaving many frustrated. Another major point of frustration among staff was a lack of progress, with many allegedly feeling that development on the game had been moving extremely slowly.

Having bled a significant amount of talent, progress on Perfect Dark’s development only slowed down further at that point- though, of course, The Initiative wasn’t working on the project alone. In September 2021, the studio officially announced that it had entered into an agreement with Crystal Dynamics that would see the Tomb Raider studio serving as co-developer on Perfect Dark. According to VGC’s aforementioned 2022 report, however, the studio’s role in the project was much more involved than what was let on, to the extent that Crystal Dynamics was said to be essentially leading development by that point.

Interestingly enough, Crystal Dynamics wasn’t the first co-development partner The Initiative worked with on Perfect Dark. Multiple reports have revealed that Certain Affinity was originally signed on as the game’s co-developer in 2019, but as per an IGN report published last year, that partnership never really got going in any real way. As per the report, project leads at both studios often clashed with each other on how to move forward with the game, and those at Certain Affinity often ended up feeling mistreated. The rocky relationship between the two studios was, in fact, was apparently at least partly responsible for the slow progress the game saw in the first few years of its development.

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In fact, by the time Crystal Dynamics came on board, most of the work done on the project was deemed unusable, as per IGN’s report. Though a vertical slice of the game had been developed, it was described as a “mess”, while on top of that, by then, The Initiative had also made the decision to switch to Unreal Engine 5, in order to be able to leverage the toolset’s more advanced technical capabilities (such as MetaHuman). As such, in 2022, Perfect Dark was all but rebooted, with very little of the work that had been done up to that point being used for the project in its new form, and with Crystal Dynamics allegedly taking the reins as the lead in all but name.

So where does that leave us now? Well, it leaves us pretty much exactly where we were in December 2020- we know next to nothing about the game. According to IGN, Perfect Dark is going to be a first person shooter that will balance combat and stealth, with the usage of a variety of gadgets being emphasized on both fronts. Described as an espionage action game, it will also make use of “some experimental movement tech”, though what exactly that means isn’t entirely clear. Either way, a Perfect Dark game being an FPS focused on stealth, combat, and gadgets isn’t exactly something that fans of the IP wouldn’t have predicted.

Until we see the game with our own eyes, it’s obviously going to be hard to actually get excited for it, especially given how long it has been since it was announced- but again, when exactly we’ll be able to see it is entirely up in the air right now. In June last year, Xbox exec Matt Booty suggested that Microsoft might be planning on doing a Perfect Dark gameplay reveal within an 18 month period from that point, but a) he wasn’t exactly explicit in saying that, and b) one has to wonder whether the game is really going to be ready to be shown in that fashion by the end of this year if it really was rebooted in 2022. Yes, an Xbox Games Showcase is coming up in June, but honestly, we’d be surprised if we got anything more than a brief teaser for Perfect Dark (and even that seems like a naively optimistic pipe dream, to be honest).

And that, of course, means that the game is quite a ways off from release. At the time that it was published, IGN’s report claimed that the game was still 2-3 years away from launch, which means it won’t be releasing until 2025 at the earliest, or maybe even 2026- and that’s if development hits no other major roadblocks from this point forward. On top of that, there’s also no clarity on what form the game will take when it does actually release, because over the years, reports have suggested that it could be anything from a traditional, premium title, to a live service game, to one that follows an episodic release model.

In summary, the only thing that we know about The Initiative and Crystal Dynamics’ Perfect Dark reboot for sure is that… well, that it’s in development. We don’t know what kind of game it’s going to be, because we have seen absolutely no gameplay. We don’t know when it’s going to come out, though the reports on its many development issues suggest that it’s still not within touching distance (or anywhere close to it). We don’t know when it’s going to be shown off yet, because it might not be at a stage where it’s ready to be shown off yet. Hell, we don’t even know if we’re going to get the entire game in one go when it finally does launch.

Hopefully it’ll be worth the long and torturous wait, but at this point, its release looks to be so far off into the future that it’s hard to even imagine what an ideal version of the game is going to look like.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.

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