Back in 2020 Xbox announced its Perfect Dark reboot, a “AAAA” game being worked on at The Initiative, a talent-stacked studio in Santa Monica that Xbox set up in 2018, debuting the game with a sizzling two-minute trailer that had fans uproarious to see a classic franchise make an exciting return.
That trailer, according to one of numerous sources speaking to IGN on the game’s development, was created by an external CG house (as is common with pre-rendered announcement trailers like this) and “very obviously way far ahead of anywhere the game was at.” The source told the outlet, “We hadn’t even figured out any of our core game mechanics. We didn’t even really know what type of game we were making.”
It’s the beginning of a long and very eye-opening piece from IGN where it spoke to 13 anonymous individuals with knowledge on the Perfect Dark reboot’s development and goings-on within The Initiative, revealing that work on the game hasn’t progressed very far in the three years since announcement and that it’s still around 2-3 years out from release.
The report, which you can and should read in full here, describes trouble early on with the “AAAA” vision for Perfect Dark, which saw leadership pitching the game as a best-in-class experience with some incredibly loft goals in what it wanted to bring to players, that resulted in a solid couple of years of the team trying to translate the idea of a spy thriller into a gameplay experience that would suit the creative vision, with work constantly restarted and scrapped along the way.
“It was not that we didn’t know what we wanted, it was that we kept making things that weren’t what we wanted,” one former developer told IGN. “We’d do it over and over again. The…levels we had when I left weren’t the same ones we’d had three months prior, or three months prior [to that]. I don’t know why people just kept hitting the reset button. That was definitely contributing to that feeling that we weren’t making any progress. People kept starting over.”
Another former employee also described challenges associated with low numbers of female staff at the studio resulting in challenges typical of a male-dominated work culture.
As IGN describes further recounts of employees in leadership positions and veterans of the industry leaving in droves, and The Initiative’s original partner studio, Certain Affinity, leaving the project (with Crystal Dynamics brought on in their stead), it’s clear that Perfect Dark’s development hasn’t exactly been tidy and is largely indicative of the kinds of challenges present in attempting to deliver a product of this scope.
Perhaps, like The Elder Scrolls 6, we’re more likely see Perfect Dark launch on whatever next-generation hardware Microsoft has cooking for 2028 and beyond.