Review by Relle
"Shuriken and banana peels...groovy, baby!"
No One Lives Forever is another one of those quirky franchises I missed out on way back when because I'm not a big FPS person. I don't go craving the latest shooter release like so many others. I'm not big on Doom or Half-Life or Halo, though I can't help but like NOLF2. It's the clowns, I think. I hate clowns. Love to shoot them, though. And the female ninjas. They don't wear bras.
You are Cate Archer, secret agent extraordinaire, and good-looking in that Mary Tyler Moore meets Agent 99 kind of way. You've returned from the last game just in time to star in the sequel. Your mission? Save the world, of course. Your opposition? H.A.R.M., the leading bad-guy group and a female ninja who's trying to assassinate you. And not in a good way. The whole game is a spoof of the many spy movies and TV series of the 60's and 70's, and it's done quite well. There's a lot of in-jokes, and a ton of humor even those born in the last couple decades will be able to get.
So how do you, a lone agent, go about saving the world? Very carefully. The whole premise behind the game is not to run and gun. Oh, you can, of course, but you better be damned good or you'll be dead before you can say "Mini skirt!" Instead, the game emphasizes a stealthy approach, fitting of a top secret agent. Hide in the shadows long enough, and your pursuers will lose track of you. Trip them up with a banana peel (no, that's not a typo) toss some shurikens, then shoot them full of hot lead. Toss throwing stars from afar, then take a katana to your enemies and do some real damage. Or, just use your assortment of guns to ventilate your enemies a bit. Come up against a locked door? Pick it open. Find an encoded message? Use your handy-dandy compact slash decoder to translate it.
There's more to it than that, otherwise this would be a short review. Hiding, gunning, picking locks and decoding passwords, computer data, all of it is based on skills you can improve throughout the game. Improving stealth means you hide better, and enemies lose track of you sooner. Improving your shooting abilities means the natural wavering of your targeting reticule stays more near center, and more often. Health and ammo carrying capacity are self-explanatory, and always useful.
You can't train yourself just like that, though. You have to be a good spy. All throughout the game there are notes on walls, pieces of computer data, missions and sub-missions that will give you spy points. While it may seem a simple collection-fest, it makes more sense than in most games. You actually do what a spy does: collect information, sneak your way into and through enemy territory, and survive long enough to become better than you were before. So assuming you do survive, you can turn those spy points around and use them to increase the level of your abilities. The game won't provide you enough points to improve all your skills to max, so you have to choose what kind of secret agent you want to be. Do you want to spend your time hiding in shrubbery, or shooting everything but the shrubbery?
Aside from improving yourself as a secret agent, there is a world to save after all. It's all about the world, isn't it? Selfish world, never tries to save itself. You're sent through a series of chapters that take place in locations around the world, including Japan, a snowy winter wonderland, India, H.A.R.M. headquarters, and more. These overlying areas each contain several levels, with their own objectives you must complete. Standing in your way is H.A.R.M. and all its various cohorts, along with many, many flying bullets.
Because the game deals in chapters filled with levels composing the entire area, you can expect to backtrack from time to time. Destroying a communications tower is proceeded by a raid of a H.A.R.M. base, then a daring escape on a snowmobile across gaping chasms! Wander through an Indian city while on the run from the local police, all the while trying to find an enemy agent with the information you need. And, my favorite part, do battle with ninjas while in a motor home that's in the funnel of a tornado. Sweetness.
Now, for a game not quite recent, it looks quite good. The character models are some of the best I've seen, and not only move in realistic ways, but also speak and act like real people. It's the game's highpoint in terms of visuals, but the environments aren't too shabby either. On a low-budget computer you'll be able to get a lot out of this title, and if you're on a high-end machine, so much the better. I almost wish I could play the game in third-person to watch Cate's sweet, sweet...err, never mind. Let's just say things bounce and I like watching them do so.
Oh yes, the speaking bit. The whole game's voice-acted, with a great cast that really does justice to the B-movie spy spoof theme. Random H.A.R.M. agents will shout orders or warnings at their comrades, while your allies (when you have them) yell for help and occasionally make witty comments all on their own. Ninjas will declare battle cries, and if you manage to sneak up on certain NPCs, you might catch bits of conversation between them. That's where the real humor is, after all. Hearing a ninja speak to her mother/friend/coworker about her boyfriend (girlfriend?) before you pop up and pump them full of lead is a lot of fun. It really projects the feel of a world around you and draws you into the whole secret agent' role, as if the information-gathering and other stuff weren't enough.
Like most shooters, the difficulty is what you make of it. NOLF has an aside to it, in that if you're a good secret agent and do your spy work, you will be able to improve your abilities and have an easier time of it later in the game. This is in addition to the staple global difficulty setting, naturally.
But of course, what shooter would be complete without an online mode? Ah, there's the rub. The standard deathmatch mode is always a blast, especially with up to 32 people running and gunning their way to the top. When the game first came out it wasn't much, but later patches have added additional features more numerous than I care to list here. Best to check the developer's website, if you're curious. Needless to say, the game's been improved upon for the better over time.
At its current price, how can you say no to such a worthy title? Earn your chops in the single player, then hop online and show your skills to the community there. For a game with so much action and humor, it's worth a second play-through at the very least to catch all the conversations you may have missed. Good luck, and don't let H.A.R.M. get you down!
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/19/03, Updated 07/08/04
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