Summary: No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way, or is it A Way to Kill Your GPA? The original was fun, fresh and, well, original. The sequel comes at us with better technicals obviously, but does the gameplay live up to its predecessor? More importantly, are there enough glamour shots of Cate Archer? Find out!
Like its competitors, NOLF gave the genre a new spin. Starting with the introduction of a strong and capable, yet not overtly sexual or butch female character in Cate Archer; then tossing in a great and topical sense of humor that never got overbearing or stale; and finally finishing with an excellent action-spy style, No One Lives Forever was one of the most unique titles out there. To this day, no one copied the style. Into this hungry market, Fox Interactive/Monolith have released the sequel.
NOLF2 is really just more NOLF. We’re going to be the last people on the planet complaining about that. The developers took the original then refined and distilled it into a superb gaming experience. The spy game has never been so fun. No One Lives Forever 2 takes players all over the world, to locations in the North, East, South and West. There are no crazy levels like skydiving without a parachute, and ‘gimmick’ levels like sniping in Morocco, as we had in the original. But these have been replaced by far more solid normal levels..
The absence of the mini-games takes away some of the James Bond feel from the title, but there’s no doubt that this is still a spy action game. The emphasis of the game is still on being stealthy whenever possible, sneaking around to avoid attracting unwanted attention makes progress much easier than going in with guns blazing. There is a wide assortment of creative spy weapons like Angry Kitty Bombs in addition to regular firearms such as the AK-47 or grenades.
SIDEBAR: Athlon/Pentium 500Mhz
128MB of RAM
32MB GeForce, Radeon or Parhelia cards
1.5GB hard drive space
512MB of RAM
64MB GF2 or better
No One Lives Forever 2 has an interface that takes the typical first-person shooter control setup, taking particular note of Half-Life, and simply extrapolates it to its needs. Weapons are put in categories, from melee, traps and small arms to rifles, explosives and miscellaneous equipment. With a weapon or item selected, it’s just a matter of point and click. Some items, like the light, have their own keyboard shortcuts. Others can be activated with the right mouse button when they become useful. If you approach a lock with an AK-47 in hand and target it, a ‘pick lock’ text will pop up where your cursor used to be. This extremely convenient feature makes it easy to spot and solve puzzles. That’s not to say the puzzles aren’t challenging, it’s just that players avoid the frustration of running around a level, clicking on anything that looks like it might interact.
In a nod to Counter-Strike and Rainbow Six, Cate’s aim gets worse the faster she moves or turns. Her guns produce recoil and prolonged automatic fire isn’t recommended except in close combat. The targeting reticule gets bigger and more blurred the worse her aim is. While effective, it’s harder to judge the actual aim deviation than it would be with CS or R6.
The front-end, from the main menu to the in-game interface, shows a lot of character. Maps are usually spy photos with marked locations or crude drawings on paper. Loading screens offer tips that hint at what is to come in the level ahead, and prepare new players sufficiently for the challenge. The in-game menu is complete with objectives, Cate’s stats, and intelligence and equipment menus. Highlighting objects or items of intelligence can offer useful hints if you’re stuck.
What a sexy voice
The game has utterly amazing sound effects. Everything just sounds appropriate. Don’t take that to mean realistic. Doors will always make noise when opening, just to provide a challenge when sneaking around. Like Garrett from Thief, Cate seems intent on wearing hard leather boots despite the rather stealthy nature of her job. Guns, explosions and other effects are right on the mark.
Sound effects aside, NOLF2’s real strength is in the voice acting. Despite the dire lack of variety, since there are maybe a half-dozen voice actors in the game, the actual voices are great. What makes them even better are the actual lines they deliver. Listening to the Russian soldiers is particularly funny.
SIDEBAR: Athlon T-Bird 1GHz
32MB GF2 GT-S
Buzzwords like ‘next generation’
NOLF2 is running on the next-generation LithTech engine, ‘Jupiter’. More than any other series of engines, the LithTech ones are recognizable and identifiable by their style. There’s always been a sort of flat, cartoonish look to them - the textures never seemed to be on the same level. If it wasn’t a chronic trend with LithTech engine games, we’d normally attribute that to the developers.
Animation has really gone through the roof with NOLF2. Not only are models fluid in their motions, they have a ton of them to go through. Even stock bad guys like H.A.R.M. troopers and Soviet soldiers have a huge repertoire of motions and poses at their disposal. They’ll stand around talking, shrugging and gesturing in various ways. They handle stairs very capably, are well versed in searching for Cate while she’s hidden and a variety of other tasks.
That’s not even the end of it! By far the best part of the animations in NOLF 2 are the combat effects. If you hit a ninja running on a rooftop, she’ll fall to the ground in a believable fashion. Same with a sniper on a balcony – he’ll fall over the railing like you’d expect him to. Dying soldiers will roll down stairs, they’ll fly through the air when propelled by a grenade blast, writhe in pain when caught in a bear trap and gently tumble to sleep when put down with a sleeping dart. In short, NOLF2 is brilliant.
The hot stuff
Combat effects aren’t neglected either. Muzzle flash from weapons is as good as Max Payne’s. The weapon model details are similarly impressive with clearly a great deal of time spent in making them compatible with the character models. Enemy soldiers are perfectly blended with their weapons, we simply can’t see where one ends and the other begins.
We’re a bit less impressive with explosions and like effects. The special effects do get better as we look at the environment, with a tornado, water and molten ‘lava’ (play the game, get the joke) being standouts. The water and lava are done as in UT2K3, complete with waves and a reflection texture of the environment laid over, which follows the wave pattern. Very, very spiffy indeed.
SIDEBAR: How sweet Tommy sings
The dancers fall out of breath
Full of forty-five
A lot of NOLF2’s gameplay revolves around stealth, but we wouldn’t call it a first-person-sneaker, in the fashion of the Thief games. There is far too much combat for that to happen. In fact, at least in my style of play, I found sneaking to be only useful to get in position to deal out the most damage while getting little return fire. Cate turned into a deadly assassin in my hands, but she didn’t have to. It’s perfectly feasible to run in guns blazing, lighting up the room with AK-47 or Tommy gun fire like Arnie or Sly would.
The rest of the game involves sneaking around, searching through file cabinets, desks, and chests to find intelligence data. Sometimes the intelligence is useful, other times just funny or amusing. Occasionally you will stumble on a quest to collect a whole series of notes, the reward being skillpoints for completing the task.
What makes NOLF2 great is how much fun the game is. Observing your enemies from a hidden vantage point can be worthwhile as you learn their patrol routes. Sneaking up on them gives the opportunity for an ambush, or to hear useful or simply amusing information. In fact, several times we’ve reloaded a previous save because we interrupted one of these conversations before it was over – the chance to listen to something funny was easily work another 4 or 5 minutes. Playing NOLF2 gives this undeniable sense of fun and fulfillment, it’s like the Borg creed: Resistance is futile, you will have fun. The best comparison we can give for NOLF2, without referring to the original, is to call it a light-hearted Deus Ex. High praise indeed! Like the original, it goes through fifteen chapters, each about three missions long, full of puzzles, stealth and combat.
No One Lives Forever 2 comes with co-op mode multiplayer. You read that right. In fact, this isn’t even the same campaign as you embark on with Cate. The levels are the same but the goals are different. Where Cate might go on an infiltration mission, you might have to rescue her (as the ‘UNITY Operatives’), or to finish off a job that was an optional quest for her. Co-op mode is most definitely a LAN activity, though support for internet play is still offered.
There really aren’t any gripes we can think of that had a serious effect on gameplay. One is the inferior stealth system, which is nowhere near as good as Thief. Then again, nothing before or since has been. It is rather difficult to judge what a good vantage point is, since sometimes enemies spot you behind a rock 50 yards away, other times you can almost go under their noses. The game doesn’t have much in the way of replayability either, except to spend your skill points differently. Speaking of which, the skill system is more like a bonus than a necessity. Except for the armor skill, improving anything seems unnecessary. Yes, you can aim a bit better and recover from movement, or hide/search/reload faster, but personal preference aside, there’s little reason to spend your points in any specific fashion. At the beginning of the game, it’s not made clear that you won’t have enough points to get everything, so those of you just spreading points around generally are in for a disappointment.
SIDEBAR: Cate is seriously the hottest computer-generated chick ever. God have mercy on men if a woman of her looks ever actually appears.
Gameplay. Absolutely stunning. The best first-person shooter I’ve played in almost two years. Only Deus Ex and maybe Thief rank has high.
Umm... Except for a few nitpicks about the stealth system and replayability, we’re still looking.
SIDEBAR: Pretty much the whole of the core FS staff, past and present, are No One Lives Forever fans. If you’ve ever played either of the games, it’s easy to see why.
Game of the Year.
Maybe we’re being a bit hasty, but at the moment this is clearly it. Like Deus Ex two years ago, there is simply nothing on the same level. No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way, is much lighter and easier to digest than Deus Ex or Thief, and its humor gives it a completely unique character in the genre. It’s so rife with depth of gameplay, calling it a ‘light’ game is criminal.
While I would be loathe to recommend the other two titles to someone who’s not completely familiar with gaming, NOLF2 is really perfect for almost any audience. With the blood toned down, your 8-year-old brother can play and enjoy it as much as your 30-year-old uncle. NOLF2 is the perfect LAN party game, but more importantly, a great way to spend a week of playing after school or work.
SIDEBAR: Is Jakub off his rocker? It’s only October and he’s already proclaiming a game of the year? Well, not quite but that’s a bold statement with so many titles still to come for the Christmas season. Did you like the game, the review? Sound Off!
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