One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way
Review by Steerpike
That Ain't the Way My Pappy Did Things
A couple of years ago a friend and I went to the movies on a Saturday
afternoon to see The Mummy with Brendan Fraser. Neither of
us was expecting muchEncino Man in a cheap remake of
a not-so-good '30s horror flick? I figured I'd get quite a bit less
entertainment than my three-dollar ticket was worth.
But The Mummy was a treat in every sense of the word. I
loved it. It took its time, managing to be funny and exciting, full
of action and comedy, well worth the price of admission. The
Mummy strikes me as one of those movies you can throw into the
DVD player just whenever, whenever you feel like it. It's a cheerful
adventure that harms no one.
In many ways The Mummy is similar to No
One Lives Forever, one of the great sleeper hits
of 2000. Both had the deck stacked against them. Both were unexpected
hits. Both were well-loved by fans and repeatedly viewed (or played).
Both wound up receiving very positive reviews. And both had highly
anticipated and hugely disappointing sequels.
If you look to your right you'll note that I've given No One
Lives Forever 2 a fairly high rating; the reason for this is
that when viewed based on its own merit, NOLF2 is a solid
first-person shooter with adequate design and a pretty good script.
It's that which results in the thumbs-up rating. But as a sequel
to No One Lives Forever, one of the seminal events in innovative
first-person game design, it is sorely lacking. Because while to
the casual observer The Mummy Returnser, No One
Lives Forever 2 may seem a lot like its predecessor, the designers
chose to gut the title in such a way that only a spark of the wit
and charm of the original remains.
Though I have myriad gripes with the game, ultimately my fundamental
complaint about NOLF2 is linked inextricably with its predecessor:
in No One Lives Forever, I was part of a storya complex
and hilarious tale with currents and eddies of theme and character
and plot. In No One Lives Forever 2, I was playing a gamea
game with an impossible-to-spoil story whose end is telegraphed
from the beginning and characters in whom I could not invest a single
emotional dollar. And that's disappointing.
One Moment in Time
No One Lives Forever 2 places you once again in the stylish
shoes of agent Cate Archer, a spy in service of UNITY, the global-but-largely-British
agency set in the '60s and focused on combating the nefarious schemes
of various fictional and highly amusing terrorist organizationsUnremitting
Evil, Very Bad Inc., and, of course, H.A.R.M.an acronym that
apparently stands for nothing except general divisiveness and evil.
Cate was the first woman to be employed by UNITY in NOLF, and therein
lay the crux of the storyline: she was untried, untrusted, and unwelcome
in the vulgar boys' club of 1960s espionage activity. There was
a mole in the organization, operatives were being murdered, UNITY
was in desperate straits, and H.A.R.M. was on the verge of taking
over the world. Much of the humor of the original NOLF lay in the
fact that despite this, H.A.R.M. was (quite intentionally on the
part of game designers) the most incompetent terrorist organization
in the history of armed conflict, and working against them was
In NOLF2, H.A.R.M. has reorganized and is once again ascendant
in the world of wickedness. Lovable villains and other characters
from the first NOLF reappear, including fighting Scotsman
Magnus Armstrong, moderately sinister Dimitrij Volkov, Bruno Lawry,
and a certain hard-drinking barfly that only those NOLF players
who let the end credits roll will fully appreciate. In this iteration,
the still not-wildly-competent H.A.R.M. is working with the Soviets
on a complex and multitiered world domination program involving,
among other things, a strategically insignificant island, a five-star
communist hotel, and a clan of fierce female ninjas. However, without
the depth and complexity of Cate's struggles for acceptance and
the lengthy character-developing cinematics we found in NOLF,
the story and characters fall flat.
It is disappointing that the developers of NOLF2 chose to
replace the voice talent of nearly every major character in the
game, including Cate Archer, though I cannot fault them for this;
actors are a fickle bunch and there's a possibility that the voice
talent from the original was unable or unwilling to return.
But some of the leading roles have been recharacterized as well
as recast, especially Cate herself. In this sequel, Cate has been
tarted up to such a degree that she no longer resembles the highly
intelligent, confident, empowered, and, yes, sexy woman that she
was in NOLF; she has fallen victim to Lara Croft Syndrome.
Her chest is bigger, her clothes are tighter, her skirts are shorter,
her behavior is more kittenish than well-groomed international spy,
and she seems ultimately designed to appease the hormones of greasy-faced
adolescent males who may or may not play the game. This was a conscious
decision on the part of the designers, made as a direct result of
the success of the original NOLF, and it is highly irritating
to those of us who do not need to turn to digital avatars to fulfill
A smidgen of roleplaying was added in NOLF2, in the form
of experience points gained by performing certain actions. These
points can then be spent to improve a number of Cate's attributes.
While the theory behind this addition is nice, it seems to me unnecessary.
Clearly attempts were made to fit NOLF2 into the same mold
as Deus Ex and System Shock 2, while its predecessor
stood quite strongly as a purist's first person stealth/shooter.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
It's interesting to note that the original No One Lives Forever
was designed in part as a flip of the bird to reviewers who
assumed that anything developed on the LithTech engine was crap.
LithTech was, at the time, freewhich meant that a lot of industry
nonentities snapped up the source code and made a terrible game
out of it. As the connotation became more severe, LithTech developer
Monolith Entertainment realized that they had to strike back with
a game that not only displayed the awesome technical capabilities
of LithTech, but was so innovative and clever that it would forever
silence those critics who associated the engine with mediocrity.
In its own way, NOLF2 is similar. While the developers of
NOLF accomplished their goal in spades, LithTech has since
evolved from a fairly standard 3D engine to a real competitor for
the best and most famous million-dollar engines out there. NOLF2
features a massively retooled LithTech engine, and in a lot
of ways I felt like the game was designed (like last time) to showcase
the power of the new codebase.
This has led to benefits and problems. There is no doubt that NOLF2
is graphically stunning, especially when featuring water and
environmental effects. LithTech, like the Build engine before it,
is famous for allowing great scripted control of the environment.
One scene finds Cate doing battle with H.A.R.M.'s ninja warriors
in a trailer park in Ohioa simple enough environment were
it not for the tornado thundering toward the area. Throughout the
timed sequence, trailers rock and fall, objects swirl into the air,
and heapingly generous particle effects darken the sky as a menacing
funnel bears down on you.
The price that gamers have paid for the technical power of NOLF2
is significant, however. A quick look at the many forums devoted
to discussion of the game will reveal endless complaints about level
load times that in some cases exceed five minutes on computers well
within the "minimum" requirements; a great number of systems
appear to choke on the graphics that are part of the game experience.
While trimming the eye-candy settings offsets the problem to a certain
degree, gamers who lack supercooled Crays may have a hard time running
the program. And though yours truly must admit that he experienced
no difficulty on his Athlon 1.33 GHz/512 MB DDR/GeForce 4600 machine,
systems that were only slightly less powerful than my own were brought
to their knees by this title.
Meanwhile, on the audio end of things, soundtrack in NOLF2,
while being quite clearly Austin Powers-inspired, is very good.
Positional audio is strong even with a two-speaker setup (provided
you're accelerating your sound in hardware), so you should have
no difficulty telling whether a voice is behind, below, or above
you. And while the actors may all be different, they do a good job
with their roles. Nothing irritates me more than abysmal voice acting,
and you may rest assured that NOLF2's acting quality is well
Have it Your Way, Baby
A number of terrific innovations have been added to the gameplay
of NOLF2. The ability to search and move bodies greatly increases
the sense of urgency and need for stealth throughout the game, and
the fact that a thorough search takes time is a wonderful throwback
to the very first Castle Wolfenstein. Cate can now switch
lights on and off, hide, Thief-like, when the appropriate
icon appears on the screen, ruffle through papers on a desk, and
open file cabinets to examine the contents. Generally one of the
real benefits of the new engine is that as a player you now have
greater control over your environment.
On the other hand, a number of issues that vexed me in the original
have reappeared in the sequel. One of the few aspects of NOLF
that drove me nuts was the prevalence of highly repetitive and
inane taskslocate and arm the four explosives, locate and
disarm the four explosives, locate and photograph the five pieces
of evidence, et cetera. These missions were sprinkled in with some
of the most clever and innovative missions yet seen in a first person
shooter, and, though infuriating, I was willing to forgive them
because I was so hooked on the story and the quality missions. NOLF2
lacks such admirable design, and as a result I found myself
much more frustrated by the recurrence of entire levels where your
goal was to find audio tapes with yellow, purple, blue, green, and
orange labels, or to navigate a huge area and stick explosives on
everything that didn't move.
Additionally, players will note that opponents are inclined to
respawn in areas you've cleared. This is a sign of woeful play balancing
and near-childish game design; in a title that is supposed to be
otherwise "realistic," enemies are available by the thousandsthey're
more likely to respawn if there's an alarm going off, but they seem
to do it on a timer otherwiseeven in remote facilities where
logic dictates that there could only be ten or fifteen guards. This
just strikes me as so cheap, so 8-bit Nintendo, that I am half-bewildered
Fans of the original NOLFand I really am sorry to
keep bringing it up, but honestly, how can one evaluate a sequel
if not in comparison to the original?will probably remember
the vast list of available weapons and ammunition. Don't expect
the same treatment here; the weapon list is stripped to bare essentials.
If you're fighting Russians, you'll pick up and use an AK-47. If
you're fighting H.A.R.M. guards, you'll get a Gordon submachine
gun. Only one pistol is included (for which there is never adequate
ammo)unless you count the highly amusing CT-180 Utility Launcher,
another little gem that NOLF lovers may remember was discussed
at great length but never actually seen in the original.
Ultimately, however, it looks like the designers either didn't
want to be bothered coding myriad weapons into the game or they
felt that players wouldn't use them, and I for one howl that they
are wrong. Many players will sorely miss such weapons as H.A.R.M.'s
Super Atomic Laser Weapon, the mighty Bacalov Corrector, the Parabellum
pistol, and many more that make nary an appearance in this sequel.
From a general gameplay perspective, as I mentioned above, NOLF2
is a satisfactory first-person stealth/shooter. Despite the
respawning and certain insanely annoying tasks, there is a lot to
be liked in the overall game design. Some more clever levels demand
total stealth and see Cate planting bugs, listening in on telephone
calls, locating critical enemy documents, and more.
This is not by any means intended to suggest that the level design
enjoys the type of creativity we saw in NOLF. You won't fall
out of a plane, visit a space station, interview a wealthy small-game
hunter, or swim with sharks in NOLF2. You won't see innocuous
hilarityWorld Domination Prevention Maps, "Welcome to
the Big H.A.R.M. Space Station" or "You Are Now in H.A.R.M.'s
Way" signs, etc.on the walls. The level design is, as
stated, adequate; and by "adequate" I mean "rushed."
Specifically, NOLF was an unexpected hit and it looks to
me like its sequel was hut-hutted out the door in an expedited fashion
in order to capitalize on that success (and on the increased curviness
and size of Cate's new LithTech-powered boobs). Don't expect game
design to be in the same league as its predecessor.
Though uninspired, physical level design in general is more or
less acceptable; though it's doubtful that any of these buildings
were created in consultation with architects, they are (for the
most part) logically designed and laid out. A stealthy player can
take advantage of storage areas, darkened corners, unused rooms,
and the like; the more aggressive agent can easily head directly
toward the mission's objective, guns blazing. That latter isn't
the recommended style of play, of course, but the level design quite
rightly allows you to do it if you so choose.
If you're willing to look past the predecessor-related shortcomings,
gameplay in NOLF2 manages to be generally satisfying, especially
if you're not an NOLF purist. It's not nearly as long as
the original, though I refuse to complain about its length when
I'm spending most of this article shredding the game (it would be
like saying I hate the food on my plate and then griping because
there's not enough there), but there is a clear sense of approach-to-goal.
Like the original, you feel like you're getting closer and closer
to unraveling the mystery of H.A.R.M.'s most recent nefarious plot.
Also, it mimics the very enjoyable globetrotting feel of the original,
sending Cate all over the world during the course of her quest.
There is also a multiplayer mode, a unique new cooperative style
that allows up to four players to perform missions corollary to
the single player storyline. Though the idea is pretty clever, the
multiplayer implementation is clearly tacked on; we had difficulties
getting a game started and lots of problems once the game began.
Furthermore, the multiplayer (quite inexplicably) offers no female
models for players in a game that features a female lead character.
While the multiplayer concept is a pretty darn clever one, and I'd
very much like to see it further fleshed out in some other game,
it was poorly and ineptly implemented here.
Once More with Feeling
If it sounds like NOLF2 is a lot like NOLF, and you're
wondering why I'm complaining so bitterly, you have my sympathy.
I spent literally hours discussing this game both with friends who'd
played it and with other Four Fat Chicks staff in order to put my
finger on the pulse of NOLF2, a pulse I found very difficult
to find. Mostly I wanted to confirm that my complaints about it
weren't mere fluffI was excited about this game, and some
might argue that excitement inevitably leads to disappointment.
But in the long run I confirmed that this wasn't true. When I say
they "gutted" NOLF2, I mean it, and I can back
To wit: training at Advanced Field Tacticsgone. Driving vehicles
(except once)gone. Varied and creative weaponsgone.
Customizing your own equipment loadoutgone. Ridiculously clever
level design (think of the airplane/parachute sequence from NOLF)gone.
Santa's Workshopgone. Totally useless "intelligence items"
that contribute to the humor level rather than the gamegone.
Lengthy, character-developing, multibranch cinematicsgone.
Characters you give a damn aboutgone.
Some of the above is a matter of opinion, and I respect the views
of those who disagree with me. But consider, before you flame me,
that the whole point of the No One Lives Forever franchise
was to prove that the technology was worthwhilenot by producing
"just" a technically impressive game series, but by doing
something so innovative, so clever, that it would be remembered
and emulated for years.
There were a lot of long cinematics in the original NOLF, and
I bet players with A.D.D. complained about this. I also bet they
complained about the long eavesdropping situationsevents when
most gamers were falling out of their seats in laughter as they
secretly listened in to the conversations of H.A.R.M. thugs. Maybe
too many players didn't like that they had to reach the end of the
game before they understood the whole story. Maybe some of the surprises
at the end didn't sit well with gamers. No doubt pornhounds whined
that Cate wore too many clothes in the original.
If all this is the case, then Monolith was simply responding to
player criticism with this game. If so, then the silent majority
that adored No One Lives Forever should speak up and salvage
the possibility of a terrific third sequel before the developers
wander too far down the path they are currently walking. The original
No One Lives Forever expanded the narrative capacity of the
medium. The sequel ... the sequel is just a game.
Release Date: October 2002
Four Fat Chicks Links
Windows 98/ME/2000 (with latest service pack)/XP
DirectX 8.1 (included) or higher
Pentium III 500 MHz or equivalent
128 MB RAM (256 MB for Windows XP)
32 MB Direct3D compatible video card with Hardware T and L, 32-bit
color support, and DirectX 8.1 compatible driver
1.4 GB free hard drive space for installation plus additional hard
drive space for a Windows swap file and saved game files
4X CD ROM
DirectSound compatible 16-bit sound card with DirectX 8.1 compatible
56k modem or LAN for multiplay
Mouse and keyboard
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