No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way
It’s not a name that readily lends itself to a sequel, is it? To paraphrase early Steve Coogan creation, Paul Calf: "It’s a paradox, you daft twat." Probably more important is whether the game is worthy of revisiting, as the original wasn’t without its critics, not least this magazine.
Essentially a ’60s spy spoof, No One Lives Forever was a curious blend of camp humour and sickening violence in which you assumed the role of The Operative, otherwise known as leggy brunette, Cate Archer.
Predictably, having an attractive female lead character offered numerous opportunities for out of work actresses to earn a few quid by dressing up as the character at promotional events. Nothing changes, and on the day we saw NOLF2 our attention was drawn by the sight of a stunning model who appeared to have been poured into a white leather catsuit. Even more distracting was the fact that that she was frolicking with a man-sized bandicoot. It’s a good job I’m off the acid.
Anyway, such was the diversion that we almost missed Monolith producer Kevin Stevens’ opening line: "It’s a similar type of story. It builds on top of what people already know, but if you haven’t played the first game then it’s OK. The bad guys are H.A.R.M. again, and H.A.R.M. is up to no good - it’s got some world-destroying plan."
That plan involves no less than a top secret Soviet project with the potential to bring about a Third World War. And if that wasn’t weight enough to place upon Archer's slender shoulders, H.A.R.M. has also ordered the world’s deadliest assassins to take her out, and we don’t mean for a fish supper.
Hide And Sneak
So how is a girl to stay out of H.A.R.M.'s way? Well, she could always hide. NOLF2 will offer more opportunities for stealth than the original, including the ability to lean around corners. This should make it easier to avoid enemies, who can also be safely observed from hiding places. Even once you’re detected, pursuers can be outwitted and thrown off the trail.
Skulking isn’t compulsory though, and it should still be possible to adopt a gunblazing approach. As Stevens says: "It depends how good you are, but if you’re a really good FPS guy you could play 'guns out’. But generally, I combine a little bit of stealth, a little bit of guns out. But I think once you’ve played through a couple of levels you could replay those levels stealthily."
In keeping with the spoof spy theme, the first game’s weaponry was augmented by some frankly improbable gadgetry. Body Remover Powder, anyone? Expect more of the same in the sequel, with Archer’s armoury including a crossbow and some Japanese throwing stars, aided and abetted by the HR-4 Ladies’ Compact Code Breaker and a pocket-sized lipstick spy camera in tulip -Cate’s favourite shade, apparently.
Such poppycock has drawn obvious comparisons with the films of James Bond and Austin Powers, but according to the developer there is a greater cinematic influence: "Have you seen the movie, In Like Flint? James Coburn. It’s kinda what we’re aiming at."
Made in 1967 - the same time period as the NOLF universe - it’s loosely an American take on Bond, and well worth seeking out (if you’re really bored and don’t have a job).
There would be no fun in being a spy if you couldn’t rack up a few air miles, and NOLF2 will include such diverse locales as a feudal Japanese estate, a Soviet military installation in the Siberian tundra, the exotic streets of India, and the trailer parks of Buttpoke. Ohio. All of which should give plenty of scope to reprise the crass racial stereotyping of the first game.
Each place will feature an indigenous enemy, such as devious Ninjas, Tulwarwielding Indian assassins, and machinegun toting Soviet soldiers. Having played through part of the Siberia level, we can confirm the existence of this last bunch, although they’re not toting anything now as they have all been shot squarely in the temple or stomach, either picked off at range or mown down in a hail of bullets. Using the LithTech engine, it didn't seem drastically different from the first game, but apparently the major area of improvement is the Al. Accordingly, enemies will each have unique goals, such as guarding a safe or unloading a truck.
However, objects in the area can trigger their own internal urges. For instance, a guard could be tempted to nip off for a cup of coffee, or even take a quick nap in a comfy chair. The interactive environment can also be utilised by the player, but not always to their advantage. Leaving a door open or clumsily kicking over a bottle would cause enemies to investigate, for example, whereas unscrewing light bulbs could create a handy hiding place.
Whatever happens, you can be sure that Cate will be looking her best, although of course being a first-person game you won’t actually be able to see her, except in cut-scenes. Seeking inspiration, I mindlessly ask an American PR woman who would win in a hypothetical fight with Lara Croft. "Cate Archer!" she squawks. "Cate Archer would win. She’s got more brains." You heard it here first.
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First-person shooters They're all the same. You jump out on some poor unsuspecting terrorist/alien/ Nazi. You shoot their beard/mandibles/ helmet off, and then you do it again, and again, and again. Level after level this curious loop continues until eventually you reach the grand finale - the spectacular climax.
Here you find somebody who’s slightly bigger, quicker and smarter than the scum you've just carved your way through. You're worried for a while, but you needn't be. After a little tentative probing, you discover that this evil bucket of filth you’ve doggedly tracked down over mountains, deserts and probably galaxies, can be killed in exactly the same way as everybody else, albeit with a slightly bigger gun and a few more bullets.
Once again you’ve just wasted an ample chunk of your life - and for what? A monster list of credits that makes a Hollywood blockbuster film look like a cheap college production. Just name an FPS that hasn’t been an anti-climax - go on... You can’t can you?
Dead And Buried
At this point you might be wondering why this reporter, a fervent RTS and RPG fan and apparent FPS critic is about to get all worked up and excited about what is after all an FPS. Well, it’s simple. NOLF 2 is funny. It’s also clever, innovative and has lots of stupid gadgets to play with - but mainly it’s damn funny, and humour in a game is a rare commodity. OK, the original NOLF tried its hand at comedy and effectively died on stage, but things have changed since then. The scriptwnters at Monolith must have had their sense of humour krypton-tuned because this time it works.
Keeping faith with the original team for the sequel has paid dividends. For a start, the team knows from feedback which gags worked and which ones didn’t. So, at the beginning of the NOLF 2 project they armed themselves with the crucial information, barricaded themselves in the boardroom and then proceeded to throw strange ideas at each other. As a general rule of thumb, the more ridiculous the idea, the more likely it was to get into the final script.
Consequently, NOLF 2 is more tongue-in-cheek and surreal than ever. "There's no repetition of humour in the second game," claims Serena Churchill, Monolith's PR manager. "It’ll be a similar tone, but even better. We're going to the next level."
The level in question seems to be the same place in which Mike Myers is currently residing, because there's a distinct Austin Powers vibe to NOLF 2. "We definitely wanted to make it a '60s kind of spy game," says producer Aaron Blean. "If you’ve ever seen some of the original '60s spy films with their campy humour, then you’ll know what we're trying to achieve with NOLF 2."
The James Bond influence is also very much in evidence and the resulting mix of Austin Powers, James Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has evolved into a game bursting with surreal set pieces, bizarre characters, original gadgets and pure slapstick. Take the banana, for example. If you throw this onto the ground in front of a door, the thugs that emerge slip on the offending fruit allowing you to run up and pump them full of bullets while they're still flailing. Gizmos more associated with Q rather than Banana Splits include a rather deadly purse (you’ll know why females never let go of their handbags when you see this baby in action), laughing gas and an angry robotic kitten.
The freakish cast of characters includes French mime artists who feel their way along invisible walls and then open fire with tommy guns, as well as superb roof-top hopping ninjas who literally fly at you from all directions.
As in the first game. NOLF 2 is based around sultry Cate Archer's personal crusade to thwart a criminal organisation, which goes by the name of H.A.R.M. Needless to say their boss wants the sexy uber-spy dead, and will stop at nothing to ensure she makes her way six feet under as rapidly as possible.
Monolith's impressive new Lithtech Jupiter engine is powering the show, so graphically you can expect the story to unfold with a spectacular array of frills and spills. The animation in particular is ultra-smooth, and boasts an excruciatingly painful-looking 'falling down stairs after being shot’ routine.
The extraordinary backgrounds are also a major focal point of the game. One dramatic landscape features a tornado hitting a trailer park in Ohio with caravans and trailers twisting through the air and crushing H.A.R.M. henchmen. In contrast, the tranquil opening level set amid the scenic Japanese gardens of a large mansion is also highly atmospheric. Doubling up as a tutorial, this level allows Cate to feel her way back into the action, while a weird sort of mechanical bird tweets friendly words of encouragement.
Monolith also claims to have implemented a sizeable stealth element into the game. Strangely, this was also a boast attributed to the first game which in the end turned out to be, well, a bit hollow. Any attempts at stealth in NOLF were short-lived due to the unyielding nature of its full-frontal gameplay. How, then, has Monolith created a proper stealth style of gameplay for its successor?
"NOLF 2 features a goal-based system that is truly dynamic," explains Chris Miller, another of NOLF 2's gaggle of producers. "The enemy Al is aware of their environments, such as the states of doors and lights for example. If the player enters a dark room, then turns on the light, the next time a guard enters that room he’s likely to notice that the light is now on. At that point he can choose to ignore that fact, go and see why the light is on, or simply turn it off. In NOLF 2 the player will need to be more aware of their environment, too. If you bump into things, the Al will hear these noises and become suspicious."
Sure enough, Chris soon came to a point at which Cate was sneaking between some Pagodas, when she accidentally nudged a wind chime. Guards soon poured out of a nearby door, and before we knew it, poor Cate was an ex-spy. So. like Thief and Metal Gear Solid, NOLF 2 is a game you’ll need to play with your eyes and ears.
Back And Forth
Another of NOLFs controversial traits was its linearity. If ever a game promoted the run, shoot, run, shoot aspect of FPSs it was NOLF. Again, we're assured that this time things are different: "NOLF 2 has several fully traversable levels that a player will need to move back and forth between to complete objectives," explains Miller. "Also, with the additional Al changes, the linearity of NOLF has been significantly reduced. However, we still need to keep the player moving forward and advance the story, so it’s not all gone." And there is one final element to the gameplay that should also give NOLF 2 that final boost towards being something considerably more than just another FPS. With each objective that you complete you are given points to increase Cate’s skills. In other words you can increase attributes such as stealth, stamina and marksmanship as you progress through the game. So a little bit like an RPG too? Well, it’s not exactly Morrowind, but it makes a change, and it’s certainly something extra to think about while you’re running around dropping bananas.
NOLF 2 is out in October, and that means it’s the first of the new breed of game to hit your screens. We’re going to have the exclusive review and demo next issue, so we’ll see if it succeeds where the original tried and ultimately failed.
NOLF was supposed to revolutionise the FPS, adding stealth elements, a female lead and (gasp) humour to the usual mix of mass destruction. Sadly, we thought it was a bit of a dud and despite its legion of fans clamouring for our blood ever since, we've stuck to our guns. Poor Al (hitting a line and running straight at you is not big or clever) and bad execution do not a good shooter make.
So, NOLF2 then? More of the same? Far from it. Instead, it's the game NOLF should have been: brilliant and varied missions, a stealth element that actually works, genuine laugh-out-loud moments, superb set-pieces and lush visuals.
The relentless march of time has left a few footprints on the game and there are some moments in it - chapter four in particular - that still make you lose the will to live. However, overall you'd be hard pressed to find a better all-round singleplayer shooter (reflected by the fact that NOLF2 is still a prominent fixture in our A-List). At $4.99 this would get another Classic' award; at $12.99 it's an Essential' and way, way better than the recent add-on.
The original No One Lives Forever was a subject of some controversy when it was released early last year. But it had nothing to do with ingame violence. It's because we thought it was rubbish.
In theory, it should have worked a treat. James Bond gadgets in a tongue-in-cheek Austin Powers-like setting with a similar feel to Soldier Of Fortune sounded like a dream ticket. But, somehow, it all fell apart in the execution. Of course, many disagreed with us. Where we saw rubbish Al and repetitive and simplistic levels, some of you saw great Al and superlative graphics. But the real reason there's a sequel has very little to do with quality anyway. The first game sold very well, and that automatically qualifies it for a second run-out.
And what a sequel it promises to be. Monolith has recently raised the bar in first-person shooters with Aliens Vs Predator 2, and we have every reason to believe they will realise the full potential of the superspy setting this time round. Especially when they have stated that they are "aiming to create an engrossing, original, cohesive experience in the spirit of No One Lives Forever, but not necessarily in its image."
Once again you take on the role of the curvy Cate Archer, fighting the evil organisation HARM and averting the end of the world. The latest high-end LithTech engine, going by the name of Jupiter, will guarantee a stunning visual experience, but it's in the gameplay and Al that we're expecting the most significant improvements. Rather than the ultra-linear move 'n' shoot experience of the original, NOLF 2 (or The Operative 2: No One Lives Forever as it's apparently to be known) includes a much greater emphasis on stealth. Avoiding enemies will be an integral pan of the game, and to aid you in that task Monolith is introducing the ability to lean around comers and disappear into hiding places. The levels will certainly lose their cardboard box appearance and should offer the kind of interactive environment Deus Ex would be proud of. Not only can you create a disturbance (by, example, knocking a bottle or startling a pigeon), you can even unscrew light bulbs to create darkened areas. It might not have the beardy appeal of putting out torches with water arrows in Thief 11, but it could stan a lot of "how many Quake players does it take...?" jokes. The main improvement though, should be in the enemies, who are more intelligent and react far more convincingly. That should make them more satisfying to kill, don't you think? We don't think we'll be disappointed again.
You haven't lived until you've played this game because:
The sequel to Monolith's colourful spy shooter addresses most of the qualms of the first NOLF, while tweaking enemy Al and improving visuals with a facial animation system and one of the earliest implementations of ragdoll physics. Unlike other FPS games of the year that focused on the multiplayer arena, NOLF2 offered a solid single-player experience with a script that made you feel like you truly were an Avenger and a (wo)man from UNCLE combined. Aesthetically, the game is wonderfully designed to give off that '60s spy-movie feel, with a wonderful soundtrack, constant superbly written one-liners and a distinctive art style that looks like it's taken straight from Austin Powers' bed sheets. NOLF2's updated roster of outlandish gadgets also left fond memories in our collective craniums: favourites including the robotic poodle, the body-erasing perfume spray and the robotic bomb disguised as an adorable kitten - which I'm reminded to tell you is switched on by sticking a finger firmly up its arse.
People probably didn't play it because:
We reckon NOLF2's retail downfall was mostly to do with its kooky art style and outlandish design, which turned off mainstream gamers looking for a serious FPS fix. Having a leading lady didn't help much either, as the failed experiment in replacing her with Contract J.A.C.K. clearly went on to show.
Stand-out moment of brilliance:
The trailer-park scene where a massive, approaching tornado whips up everything around you, scattering massive trailers and power-lines in its wake. Eventually, you end up fighting ninjas inside a house floating in mid-air - a set-piece that could only have been bettered if the house was on fire and pirates fought alongside your ninja foes.
The panel's views:
Dan: "It's perfect kitsch, camp Bond stuff." Will: "It really makes you feel like you're in the Avengers or whatever, and like a lot of these games, it just nails the mood and atmosphere of the game. The level design is also brilliant, and in a time where every game concentrated on generic bad-man shooting, it genuinely did some very different things. And it also doesn't look or feel dated at all." Steve: "Don't forget about the crap stealth bits though."
Cate didn't live forever, but she always will. In our hearts...
She's the cheekiest spy to hit the secret agent scene since Austin Powers, and in this latest adventure, Cate Archer has a whole new arsenal of bizarre and oddly humorous weapons at her disposal to thwart H.A.R.M.S.'s desperate attempts to build a' vacation spot?
There are tons of good first-person shooters out there, especially this year, but few of them have managed to mingle a good, solid game with an interesting and really quite amusing plot, until now. This sequel to No One Lives Forever has made a number of significant changes and improvements to the last game. Now stealth plays a much bigger role in the game, with a newly added stealth icon to help you keep an eye on how hidden you are. If a baddie does spot you, you'll notice that their artificial intelligence is much improved as well. Instead of just charging right at you they team up and even will try to find ways to sneak up behind you or cut you off as you flee. Fleeing is a bit easier because this latest game offers several ways to get through a level, instead of the one way in and out so prevalent in the last game.
You'll still find yourself zipping around levels collecting gobs of things in the same silent, deadly form of Easter Egg hunt that at times made the last game a little tedious. Luckily there's now a compass to point you in the right direction of your next goal, making it a little less frustrating to complete a level.
NOLF 2 relies on the latest LithTech Jupiter engine to render the games cutting edge graphics, some of which are really beautiful.
Unfortunately, NOLF2 lacks what is becoming an increasingly important area'multiplay. In the letter sent along with the game, Sierra says that they plan on releasing an upgrade that will include a more robust multiplayer option, with things like death match and capture the flag. Currently NOLF2 comes with a mini multiplayer game that allows only cooperative play. Quite disappointing.
Overall NOLF 2 is worth the money for a bit of funny, shoot-em up fun and the pending release of a multiplayer patch or upgrade should make it a lasting game as well.