Review by BlackMageJawa

"Cate Archer is back- but this time HARM's been done"

Picture the scene. A group of FPSs are meeting, having a party. All over the room, they are divided into two groups. There are the online multiplayer types, the CounterStrikes and Unreal Tournaments, wowing the human guests with their ever increasing graphical detail and framerates, neglecting to mention their equally rapidly increasing sysreqs and subscription costs. Then there are the single player, military themed types, featuring games like Medal Of Honor, Operation Flashpoint, and anything with Tom Clancy's name on the cover. There are a few who move between the groups, the multi-focused games with semi-decent SP campaigns (Half Life), and vice versa. But one game stands alone, neglected by both groups. It's not designed to be played online. It's not a deadly serious sim. But it's the slickest, sexiest game in the room. This, my friends, is No-One Lives Forever. A game with it's tongue lodged firmly in its cheek, with strange gadgets, a psychadelic 60's setting, a plot so ridiculous it makes Terry Pratchett look like the News at Ten, and a heroine who is very much James Bond's female counterpart. The freshest FPS to appear since Goldeneye, it was designed to be a single player game, the SP campaign was the whole focus of the package, and it was one of the best, funniest experiences on PC. And now there's more.

No-One Lives Forever 2: A Spy In H.A.R.M's Way, to give it it's full title, sees the mysterious (and slightly insane) terrorist organisation H.A.R.M hatching another plot for world domination. To this end, they have made some sort of deal with the Russians, and started a plan which could end in World War III. Only one thing stands in H.A.R.M's way- Cate Archer, the UNITY agent responsible for thwarting their last plot. To counter this, The Director has hired several assassins with one simple instruction- Cate Archer must die!

So, that's the story out of the way, what's the actual game like? Well, there have been several changes from NOLF1 that may annoy veterans at first. Most noticably, Cate has had a serious makeover, and is barely recognisable. Not only that, but she's got a new voice actress, who was also responsible for (I kid you not) Toad and Princess Peach in many of the recent Mario games. Once you've got used to the spy's new look, the remaining changes are mostly for the better, and some are more than a little reminiscent of Deus Ex.
First up, there's skill points. Basically, you get skill points for finding intelligence items, completing objectives, etc. Once you have enough, you can spend them to increase Cate's abilities, a bit like in RPGs. For example, you can boost her health, reduce the amount her weapons wobble when aiming, increase her running speed, speed up her use of gadgets and so on. Unfortunately in order to provide incentives to do this, Cate starts off slightly worse at all these skills than she was in the first NOLF. Nice to know she hasn't been wasting time on training between games. Still, it adds an extra layer of strategy, and makes for an excellent reason to search everywhere for that last intelligence item, and complete optional objectives.
Also new is that instead of simply having to walk over a fallen foe to pick up whatever they were carrying, you have to search the body. This of course takes time, so you have to make sure you're in the clear before you start. The speed with which Cate searches can be improved by raising her Search ability. You also have to use the action button to pick up items, rather than just walking close to them. Also new is the ability (at last) to pick up and move bodies. Obviously if a guard comes across a corpse they'll be a tad suspicious, so by moving the unfortunate foe elsewhere, you can prevent them ever being aware of your presence. It's just a pity you can't use them as a shield.
One thing that's gone missing since the first game is the ability to select your equipment before starting a mission, so you're stuck with whatever it decides to give you. And you can no longer choose to replay a mission you've already completed until you've finished the whole game once.
What else is there- ah yes, some enemies respawn (especially when alarms go off or you complete objectives), Cate can now hide by finding a 'hiding place' and waiting until a meter fills- when it does she will be harder to find unless she moves, fires, or the enemy is right on top of her, and um, I think that's it.

So what's the same? Well, many characters return- Mr Jones(the chief of Unity) is seen briefly packing for his vacation near the start, Dr. Otto Schenker now works for UNITY (although he appears to have switched from a scientific to a medical doctor), and Magnus Armstrong, who apparently quit HARM after being beaten up by Cate in the first game, also shows up- but I'm not saying whose side he's on. Oh, and how could I forget Santa, UNITY's resident Q. His gadgets are just as ridiculous, and many are very similar to those in NOLF1. Cate's barrette lockpick is now a nail clipper, the lighter welder is now a hairspray, and her sunglasses with the camera are replaced by a rather nifty lipstick camera. New additions come in the form of bear traps, a taser disguised as a mascara, tracking darts, and many more. Oh, but Cate's favoured weapon, which according to the first game, she always uses, is nowhere to be found.

The locations are nicely varied, although annoyingly, after exploring the beautiful Japanese Village at the start, you're back in the snowy climes that dominated the latter parts of the first installment, although this time they're in Siberia rather than the Alps. The enemies range from young female ninjas and various HARM guards, to the deadly Mimes (no, really).

Graphically, NOLF2 looks amazing, with the Lithtech Jupiter engine producing some amaxingly detailed environments to explore. Just wait till you see the scene at UNITY HQ, right after leaving the Japanese mission. The lip sync has been improved, and the characters are even more animated whilst they're talking, with more facial expressions.

But for all that, something about NOLF2 just doesn't feel right. It seems to be trying to pull in two different directions - they've gone and put in the RPG elements of Deus Ex, but at the same time they've given everything else a more arcadey feel. Thanks to the respawns, there is now nowhere near enough ammo to go around, and the game feels artificially difficult in places because of the sheer number of enemies and the lack of means to deal with them. They don't seem to flinch when shot any more, so they'll carry on shooting until one of you dies. And the loading times are horrendous.

NOLF2 isn't exactly a bad game. But coming after No One Lives Forever, it just feels like a huge step backwards. The 'stand-alone-expansion', Contract J.A.C.K, is even worse, completely abandoning everything that made NOLF great in favour of all out blasting.
Hopefully, Monolith will figure out what went wrong and return to the brilliance of the first game for NOLF3. I for one would like the chance to take on Dmitrij Volkov and The Director at least once more. Maybe I'll get them next time- after all, no one lives forever. Do they?

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 07/18/04

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