Xbox’s Perfect Dark reboot has undergone significant development troubles and is still years out from release, according to a new in-depth report from IGN.
Per the outlet, Xbox-owned developer The Initiative has made very little progress on Perfect Dark in the roughly five years since it was founded and began working on the game. Since then, the only significant official update Xbox has provided has been through a CG trailer in December 2020 to confirm the game is based on Perfect Dark, Rare’s cult classic series starring superspy Joanna Dark.
Otherwise, the company has been mum about the game as a whole, including, even, what type of experience it is. (IGN says it’s a first-person shooter focused on combat and stealth on top of “experimental movement tech” and various gadgets).
According to IGN, the lack of updates on Perfect Dark boils down to a slew of issues within The Initiative, including a lack of direction, mass departures and clashes with development partners. Despite announcing the so-called “AAAA” game in 2018, The Initiative is said to not have had a firm grasp on what it even wanted the game to be. While the goal was always to make a big-budget single-player spy game, The Initiative seemingly didn’t quite know how to achieve that.
This led to issues when the team partnered with Certain Affinity, the developer best known for its work on classic Halo maps. The studio, which has offices in Texas and Toronto, was apparently mismatched with The Initiative, as it’s used to being given clear instructions about specific parts of games to work on. The Initiative, however, was largely still figuring out what it even wanted from Perfect Dark, leading to friction between the two studios. Some working on the project also took issue with how few women were involved, especially as male leads made insensitive suggestions.
All of this resulted in what little work was getting done mostly being scrapped. Eventually, Certain Affinity exited the project in early 2021, at which time many developers, frustrated with the lack of progress, started to leave the studio. Within the next year, dozens of people departed, and The Initiative had difficulty in filling those roles. Part of the problem is that the studio is based in Santa Monica, California, where there are many nearby developers. While this initially helped The Initiative attract talent from the likes of Naughty Dog (The Last of Us) and Santa Monica Studio (God of War), it also meant that people just left to go elsewhere instead.
In September 2021, Tomb Raider developer Crystal Dynamics ended up coming on as a co-developer. The hope was the veteran studio, with its experience producing acclaimed single-player campaigns, could help The Initiative. And while there were some initial growing pains in that relationship (The Intiative’s work was said to have been a bit of a “mess”), Crystal Dynamics is said to have helped development smooth out in 2022. In fact, the studio is apparently leading the charge on the game, although Xbox refuted that to IGN.
Of course, one year isn’t enough time to finish a full-sized game, and IGN reports that Perfect Dark is still in pre-production and, therefore, likely two to three years out. The publication also says there are plans to release the game episodically, although that’s not set in stone.
One big takeaway from this story is that employees IGN spoke to reported how “hands-off” Xbox was during the whole process. That’s a statement we recently heard from Bloomberg regarding Xbox exclusive Redfall, which was released in May to poor reviews. At the time, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer admitted that Xbox should have been more closely involved to ensure it didn’t release in such a rough state. Based on IGN‘s report, it seems like more supervision on Perfect Dark may have also been needed.
Speaking to IGN, Xbox Game Studios head Matt Booty attributed these issues more so to starting a brand new studio shortly before the pandemic while admitting that there were creative struggles and a mismatch between The Initiative and Certain Affinity.