I would consider myself to be one of the most passionate Perfect Dark fans in existence. I've spent years extolling this game. I've poured countless hours into playing it.
It's difficult to explain this game. Perfect Dark is an FPS game by British developer Rareware which, on the surface, looks like a simple console FPS, a primitive ancestor of Halo, or simply Goldeneye with a female lead. But to me, this game is so much more. It is a model FPS. I often liken it to the best of Pink Floyd's albums, and Rareware to Pink Floyd.
Perfect Dark has two key flaws which are well known. The framerate is stuttery and the visuals are blurry, especially on the NTSC version. But beyond this, there are very few true flaws. Yes, the game had a mission named Pelagic II which was confusing and frustrating unless you knew exactly where to go, but it is only a minor scratch on a beatiful work of art.
Perfect Dark has a spectacular soundtrack, mostly composed by Grant Kirkhope. Every track--from the pause menu to the training music to the G5 building theme to the track "Deep Sea: Nullify Threat"--is a masterpiece of theme, tone, and mood. The soundtrack touches emotions of wonder, of aggression, of uneasiness, and it does it without falling flat or becoming pretentious. In addition, the sound effects are excellent, and the game is notable for having extensive NPC barks, from jovial, to anger, to fear, and, most touching - to begging for their life.
Perfect Dark's visuals are very good. The lighting system is not as good as Rareware had hoped to achieve, due to N64 hardware limits, but the dynamic lighting functions very well, allowing weapons to illuminate areas, and lights to be disabled\destroyed to create darkness. The textures are very good for an N64 game, thanks to Rareware's custom texture mapping techniques, and the animation is fluid. The weapon animations are particularly memorable.
Perfect Dark's singleplayer is tightly paced, story-driven, and thanks to multiple difficulties with a list of objectives which grows longer with each difficulty, it offers something for both casual and hardcore gamers. On the Villa mission, on Agent, you must rescue a negotiator. On Perfect Agent, you ARE the negotiator. The AI reacts sluggishly, but this is not so much a flaw as a gameplay feature, allowing a multitude of tactics including disarming, wounding, taking cover, and intimidating enemies into surrendering. The storyline is interesting, and while the British charm might be seen as hokey by some, I feel it lends richness to the story. The gameplay never feels stale, and it rewards tactics over twitch shooting abilities.
The multiplayer is crammed full of options. Game modes, AI bot behavior, handicaps, weapon lists, music, player models, there are pages of things to tweak in order to make the game play how you wish. The bots have certain flaws, namely being unable to use mines and failing to hit anything with the shotgun, but they make up for it by having multiple selectable personality types, and being very good fighters. From Meatsims to Darksims, they offer cannon fodder, decent squadmates, and nightmarishly tenacious opponents.
I could go on for hours analysing aspects of this game which stand as monuments to fine game design. But in short, Perfect Dark for me is the best FPS game ever made, and it is possible the best videogame made to date. I have played many wonderful games in my life, but only Perfect Dark has touched me so deeply, and has not faded from my life with time. Every time I lack inspiration, I play this game or listen to its beautiful soundtrack. 13 years after release, it is every bit as amazing as the day I first played it, plugging in my controller and marvelling as Joanna spoke casually to Carrington Institute staff as I walked freely about with the most beautiful videogame tune I had ever heard in my life, "Carrington Institute Theme" playing.
When asked to explain why Perfect Dark is so amazing, or significant to gaming today, I often find myself struggling to find the words. Not because I can't find reasons, but because I fear I lack the ability to adequately explain the beauty and power of this videogame.