on 16 October 2005
Just to clarify, Perfect Dark Initial Vector is the follow-on from Perfect Dark Zero, a game no-ones played, and a prequel to the original Perfect Dark, a game which is seven years old.
This is Microsofts attemp to make the series into a franchise, a la Halo, something Nintendo should have done seven years ago, and as such does contain spoilers about the XboX 360 game, as well as many links to the original.
The plot concerns young Joanna Dark, recovering from whatever happened in PD Zero (which is explained - be warned) in the care of Daniel Carrington and his private secret agency. Meanwhile, one of Carringtons undercover agents dissapears, and Joanna seems the best woman for the rescue job,
Initial Vector seems more concerned with setting up the N64 games plot than anything to do with Zero, and this is where the book really shines. From weapons from the game being used, includung secondary functions (Joanna using the Dragons proximity mine function in a hot spot can't fail to raise a smile from veterans of the original) to mentions of characters yet to appear, this brings memories flooding back and shows such a perfect understanding of how the world of PD works that it avoids that 'side story' feel many such novels have and genuinely feels like a crucial part of thr PD story, straight from the tap. When the surprising truth is revealed about the rivalry between Carrington and Cassandra DeVries of dataDyne it makes perfect sense, even going as far as to give the N64 game more credibility. The book even stays away from all aspects of the original story that were undoubtedly rubbish. You won't find Elvis the alien or any presidential conspiracies here.
The characters in this book are the real triumph. Joanna is believeable as being both a young inexperienced (and occasionally arrogant) girl and a natural killer, and the two mix to great effet. And it is nice that the book takes time to explore the effect so much killing has on one so young. Its a shame that this is not explored more fully.
The other characters from the game that appear here have a little less substance to them, Jonathan doing little more than complain about things and Carrington coming across as some very dark father figure to Jo, which is fine until you consider how many time he sends his "child" out to die.However Cassandra DeVries, villain of the first game, is very well written. She is a genuinely sympathetic and passionate character, and her story is one of the most engaging in the book. When thing inevitably turn sour between her and Carrington, you would be hard pressed not to side with her.
Other Characters in the book vary, with Cassandras main rival and his psycho adoptive son being the pick of the bunch. Hayes (the son) is a montrous creation, and so is his father in a different way, but the characters don't hold enough interest to drive scenes on their own. Hayes is great when the action starts, but otherwise there is not much here to engage a reader. Which makes it a shame that the story keeps flicking back to them.
The plot itself is the weakest point of the book. It takes a while to pick up at first, being spread over so many characters, and the action scenes are short and get lost easily in all the rest of the issues at hand. The book goes to great pains to establish the world controlled by corporations and how they now have more influence and control that the government, and it does this very well (and it'll make you look at that Microsoft logo on the back of the book with new eyes, I promise) but the book keeps pushing that point long after it is established, making some scenes tiresome and even tedious.
Many scenes are also too short, which keeps the story ticking along nicely, but makes too many of the action scenes lightweight and inconsequensial. A scene near the end of the book where Joanna and Jonathan infltrate a warzone is great action writing but it ends just as the dangerous, exiting bit is about to happen. The scene skips forward to after the mission, then later skips back to how it happened. this kind of to-ing and fro-ing is common throughout the book and is just disoreitating and often downright irritating. Special mention does have to go the finale however, which puts sheer tenson ahead of the action (although there is plenty of that) and for the first time the book is absolutely gripping, and ends on a good note.
Overall, this book is a good read, far above the usual video game tie in standard, and is well reccomended to action and sci-fi fans alike. And as for PD fans, well, they owe it to themselves to read this. After all, it's been seven years since we've had any Perfect Dark at all...