Friday, 30 November 2012

The Operative: No One Lives Forever (PC)

No One Lives Forever title screen
At last I'm finally taking a look at much loved critically acclaimed first person shooter spy spoof No One Lives Forever, voted Game of the Year 2000 by several PC magazines.

Console magazines on the other hand ignored the game entirely that year, mostly because it wasn't released on any yet. It eventually got a PS2 port two years later, but it was apparently a bit ass. I hear the Mac port was good though!

(Click the pictures to view them at an incredible 1280x960 resolution.)

After waiting for Scottish super spy protagonist Cate Archer to finish her shower, have a phone call, go out to dinner etc. she finally arrives at HQ and I'm allowed to play for a bit. Cate works for UNITY, which is basically the MI6 of the NOLF universe. I love how the spinning U logo squeaks as it turns; it pretty much sets the tone of the game right from the start.

And then two corridors later I'm thrown right back into another long cutscene packed full of dialogue as Agent Archer (no relation to Sterling Archer) is briefed on her next assignment. It's weirdly bearable though, possibly because of the high standard of dialogue and voice acting, but more likely because I'm mesmerised by that guy's face. I think he may be half alien. On the right side.

Even Agent Cate Archer isn't immune to the game's exaggerated art style. Also I'm not sure that's a suitable outfit for... oh wait, the game's set in the sixties. Never mind then.

It was nice to have an opportunity to have some input into the conversation, though Cate hoarded almost all the other lines for herself. To be fair she knows a whole lot more about what's going on in the spy business that I do. She could give James Bond a run for his money when it comes to remembering detailed info on obscure topics.

The developers haven't shied away from the fact that Cate's working in a very male/asshole dominated profession though, and some of the characters are outright sexist towards her. They make it very clear that the only reason they're giving this assignment to an emotionally inconsistent woman is because all their other agents keep dying.

Alright, it seems they've left me choose my own equipment. I can either carry a pistol... or a pistol. I guess I'll be building up a collection of weapons as I find them. I'm also carrying five coins to distract people with, some body dissolving fluid, and a lock pick barrette. Not the most high tech of gadgets, but it's only the first mission.

A shooting gallery sniper mission? All the ways they could have started the game and they decided to stick the player at a window and tell them to shoot the enemies as they pop up. Also I'm protecting that man in the blue suit on the right, so it's actually an escort mission too.

And then when the job's done and the guy walks off, I'm sent to another window to snipe another band of pop-up assassins. They just keep coming! It's like the developers were contractually forced to put this crap in and decided to get it out of the way early.

At last, someone's come to investigate who keeps murdering their assassins and I'm able to cut loose! These two were peering out to shoot at me from around a tree, but now that I'm unchained from my window I decided to close the distance to remove it from the equation.

Fortunately these enemies go down in a couple of shots, or one good bullet to the head, so I can get away with being stupid if I have the skills. I don't have to wear down their health first.

I've still got the rifle in my inventory but I don't really need it; this pistol is accurate enough. That'll teach him for shooting at me because I shot at his friends for trying to shoot an ambassador.

You know this may not be the prettiest shooter in the world anymore, but it's got a good feel to it. Plus the enemies seem to have a little more intelligence than in a game like Nightfire: they don't just stand out in the open and get shot. Well, not always anyway.

I've been finding packages and briefcases as I've gone around, containing jokes and hints about things like the assassins and Cate's backstory. It's nice to play a first person shooter that actually rewards exploration; half the shooters these days seem to punish you for daring to climb out of their ride and going off script.

I am loving these guns. The guy's so far away he's a blur of pixels, and I still got him without using the scope. Oh I should probably mention that there's no iron sights in this, but that suits me fine.

I'm in Morocco by the way, nowhere near the Middle East, in case you were wondering. These guys I'm shooting are from the local branch of a global James Bond villain organization called H.A.R.M., which stands for... something. Probably.

Anyway after successful escaping H.A.R.M.'s assassins I returned to England, only to discover that the guy who I was sent to protect ended up getting killed anyway. Oops.

Back at UNITY HQ I was shouted at a bit for doing a crappy job (shouldn't have sent a woman, blah blah), then sent right back out to East Germany to help a scientist defect to the West. Not much shooting this time though, instead I have to meet with a series of contacts to get pieces of intel to help me break in to the guy's lab.

There's a running joke here about the code phrases being really sleazy, but it just isn't working for me. It doesn't help that almost all the minor characters have really terrible stereotypical accents, like deliberately bad. In fact it's not just the accents, they're putting on silly voices too. I wish they'd dialled it back a bit, played their lines a little more straight.

The intel revealed that there's a secret passage in a library basement, which will presumably get me inside the high security compound to find this scientist. But after five minutes of searching the streets I couldn't find a library, so I got bored and broke in through the front door instead.

There's a brand new game feature in this bit: security cameras. Yep, it's a stealth level, and I have to avoid being seen or heard by creeping around outside their field of view.


BUT THEN.


Creeping around got old. I really did give it my best shot, I just couldn't find a way to get through without being seen by an enemy,  and that always seemed to end with the alarm going off whether I shot him or not. They've always got a friend hidden somewhere, watching and waiting to hit the alarm button.

And once that siren's going, that's it; there doesn't seem to be a way to stop it. The level's on alert mode forever and I just have to live with it. The cool jazzy sixties-style dynamic spy music is still doing its best to set the mood, but now it's being drowned out by this bloody siren.

Right, fuck stealth, time to wipe out every bloody guard on this base. Then I'll be free to look around for the explosives I was told to trigger as a diversion.


SEVERAL LAPS OF THE LEVEL LATER.


I can't believe I've been walking past these bombs so many times without realising it. They never told me what the bombs actually looked like you see, and it just didn't occur to me it'd be a stack of my beloved explosive barrels. Right, now I just have to find where the other barrels are hidden. Man, I'm so glad I don't have to sneak anymore, because this could've taken so much longer.


SOON, AFTER FINDING THE SCIENTIST AND JUMPING OUT OF A WINDOW.


A one hundred percent successful trip! Let's see those bastards back home complain about this.

Now that I've found the defecting doctor I get to play an interrogation level, as I try to get info out of him during the flight back to England.

No One Lives Forever Magnus Armstrong
Surprise! It wasn't really an interrogation level, it was actually a clever trick to lure me into a false sense of security while a giant one-eyed manic in a kilt invades my plane in a mid-air. Or at least it would have been a surprise if the level wasn't called "Unexpected Turbulence".

Now I have to fight them all off single-handedly and protect the scientist, else I'll get shouted at again back at HQ.


TWO MINUTES LATER.


Well I screwed that up. My first mistake was falling out of a plane, and I suppose my second was not wearing a parachute. Fortunately there are plenty of people coming to kill me, and I'm sure one of them has a parachute I can borrow.

This level's a real shame as it's got a fantastic idea, but it's just not much fun to play at all. Bloke falls out of the sky in the distance, I shoot at them, another bloke comes out and so on.

Well I lost the plane AND the scientist, but on the plus side... well, I still have a job. For now. UNITY has learned of a freighter carrying a suspicious cargo of chemicals that might be related to the scientist's work. If I find that ship, I may find the people who kidnapped him.

First though I've been sent to meet up with an American agent at this club in Hamburg, and I'm struggling to get inside. I figured out right away I needed to climb in through that window on the right, but I instantly lose whenever I try. It's bloody annoying to know the correct solution, but not being able to make it work.

Turns out in the end that I had to speak to someone in the crowd to get them to distract the guards. Which I might have tried earlier if it was generally possible to ever talk to people in this, beyond in cutscenes.

Oh damn, it was worth the effort getting into this place. Forget the rest of the game, I'm just going to keep taking screenshots of this club.

One thing I can say about this game, is that it's got a lot of variety (though not a lot of people). So far each new area has looked entirely different from the last, and the developers have worked hard to stick to the 60's spy movie theme.

Though this guy looks like he's from an episode of Thunderbirds. He's the American agent I was sent to meet (and latest victim of the embarrassing code phrases), so now that I've met him we can get on with investigating this freighter. Well just as soon as he's gotten over the fact that Cate's a woman... and yet a spy.

To be fair I can't get over the fact that he isn't made of rubber, so I guess we've both got issues to work through.

Actually before I do the freighter level I just need to have a bit of a shoot out in a German hotel first, because it looks cool and adds variety. The developers seem to have taken every excuse to stick in another level if they could; there's a lot of content packed into this game.

Hey, is that a working mirror! You don't see them in games that often these days for whatever reason, which I think is strange. Maybe it's a weakness of Unreal Engine 3, I don't know. Perhaps someone reading this knows the true answer.

Hang on, I think I see a guy sneaking up behind me in the mirror. Good thing it was there really.


EVENTUALLY.


Well I finally made it to that freighter I'm supposed to be investigating, but it's a little bit waterlogged so that means I get to play an underwater level, yay! Everyone loves underwater levels, with their limited visibility, slow movement, rubbish combat, and if you're very lucky, limited air so you have to race to catch a breath every thirty seconds.

But to be fair, this isn't actually that bad at all. For one thing I haven't gotten lost yet, which already puts it ahead of some of the levels I've played. Not really a fan of these sharks though, but that's just because I don't like desperately putting ten spears into something only to be insta-killed by his buddy sneaking up behind me.


LATER.



Well at least now we know what the chemicals in the freighter were for. H.A.R.M. has been using the doctor's research to concoct a drug capable of transforming human beings into walking time bombs!

H.A.R.M. has infected several innocent people without their knowledge, and have issued demands in exchange for the antidote and a list of names. Fortunately we have a lead to go on, so it's time for me to go off and kill a whole lot of bad people.

MISSION FAILED: YOU BLEW YOUR COVER!

Yep, it's another bloody stealth mission and this time I absolutely positively have to get through without killing every motherfucker in the room. Good news for stealth fans, not so good news for me. Thank fuck for quicksaves, because the game really does seem to be designed with them in mind; one screw up and it's all over. No wonder the PS2 version got bad reviews.


LATER.


Okay to be fair to the game the stealth isn't actually that bad, and it's possible (perhaps even necessary) to take out a few guards along the way without setting off the alarms, if the body isn't discovered by a wandering henchman or camera.

But screw this place, this train's moving slow enough for me to jump on and catch a ride. I wanna see where it goes.

Oh, it goes to Bangkok. Well, now I know.

I can't believe they put in a whole Indiana Jones style 'line across a map' video just for people dumb enough to try riding the train, that's awesome. Fortunately I was able to ride the train back again, and carry on with the mission where I left off.

Oh come on, now the game's just being an asshole. They stick a camera facing the ladder I'm standing on, so when I climb up it immediately goes into 'warning' mode. I'd have enough time to run directly underneath the camera and out of its sight before it triggers the alarm, but then the guard will hear me. I can shoot the guard before I climb into the room, but then the camera sees the guard!

This would be so much simpler if I was allowed to shoot the cameras.


EVENTUALLY.


I've broken into an office to look for clues. Eight clues to be precise, scattered across two floors, guarded by security cameras and patrols.

I know a lot of people like stealth gameplay, so I have no problem with the game being based around that, even though it's not really for me. But searching for envelopes in an office? Who does that appeal to? Wait, I had to find those four spies earlier, then find three bombs on that other level, TWO other levels actually... this game is a stealth collect 'em up! Gotta search every corner of the bloody level trying to find the one object you missed. Man it's tedious.

Fuck it, if I can get away with setting off an alarm, I will. Let the enemies run out into my hail of bullets if they want to so badly. They don't respawn, so it's very possible to clear out a whole level and have some peace.

Whoa, what the fuck is in these bullets they're shooting me with? I'm hallucinating goats here. That can't be good. Gotta ignore the goats, shoot the guards.

Oh incidentally, I know I was complaining about the enemy voices earlier, but these guys sound awesome. It's making me want to sneak up on them just so I can overhear the dumb conversations they have. Half the humour in the game comes from eavesdropping on henchmen discussing the mundane inner workings of a multinational crime organisation, and it can be genuinely funny.

It's a security laser jumping section! Lasers move up and down, and across the room, and I've got to jump and dodge them all or it's a room full of goat gas for me. Not so easy without depth perception.

Still, it could've been worse... and the next room along is. It's absolutely impossible in fact, too many laser. The solution is actually pretty straightforward though and I'm sure most people would figure it out, but it still made me feel clever for solving it. I won't spoil it though.


MUCH LATER.


No no, come back you asshole and get poisoned! You'll warn the whole base and... aw fuck. "YOU BLEW YOUR COVER."

You know, I think this is why I hate surprise stealth levels in action games so much. The penalty for making a single mistake is often 'YOU LOSE!' I can't just run away and hide for a bit, let people calm down. Nope, once that alarm is triggered it's all over.

And then I went to space! This is one advantage No One Lives Forever has over James Bond, it can actually get away with things like this. In fact this space station is awesome, it even has a bar. Unfortunately it's also a bloody maze, and it took me forever to figure out where I had to go to complete my objectives (again).

Plus then I had to have a shoot out against enemies armed with space lasers that cut right through my armour and drain my health bar instead. Health doesn't recharge in this, but my armour works like a second life bar so I usually rely on finding body armour to keep me going. Not on this level though, I've got to make do with what I've got (ie. load up a quicksave whenever I take damage). Though they do keep putting the armour pick ups around, just to torment me.


EVENTUALLY.


The one time I forget to pack my sniper rifle...

These enemies are almost as good at aiming as I am at this range, and they'll only get better as I get closer so I'll just have to take them out from here. Could be worse though, one of the other groups I fought around here was carrying a bloody rocket launcher. Even when he missed, he hit me.


SOON.


Oh you've got to be fucking kidding me. A fist fight in a first person shooter? Against a giant bearded Scotsman with arms as big as his waist. I'm just a skinny little spy, I can't even beat up regular guards (and I've really tried!) Actually to be fair, it's not entirely fists only. He also has grenades.

Not to be outdone by Nightfire (which actually came out two years later, but whatever), they've also got their own cable car helicopter shoot out! It's funny just how many FPS games featured a bit of gunplay on an aerial tramway in this era. But anyone can do one helicopter, that's easy, so they've stepped things up to the next level. I had to shoot down half a dozen of these bastards one by one before it'd let me move on, and it was about as tedious as it sounds.

Anyway, a few more boss fights later and that was it, and thankfully they let me use guns this time. The game ends pretty much how you'd want a spy film to end: with Cate in bed with a beautiful Bond girl. Actually that's a total lie, it ends with a satisfying mix of plot twists and shocking reveals. Be sure to stick around after the end credits for an extra scene!


To be honest No One Lives Forever was a bit of a disappointment to me. Don't get me wrong, it's a solid game, I'd slot it somewhere between GoldenEye and Half Life (it's definitely a step above the Nightfire games); but it had the potential to be better. I really wanted to like this more than I did, because it's got so much to like about it. The shooting is generally great, but I spent most of the game lost, stepping over corpses, trying to figure out what button it wanted me to press next. It's filled with interesting, well acted characters, yet I found myself wanting to skip cutscenes because they just dragged on too long. The game is dripping with style and atmosphere, yet half the time all I heard was a bloody siren because I'd accidentally triggered an alarm ten minutes ago. It even has a level select, though you're only allowed to pick from every third or fourth level. You wanna play through the level with the bike, tough you've got to play the entire level on the train first. It's ridiculous.

Still, it's nice to play a comedy game that's actually halfway funny for once. Plus even though I was determined to quit the game every time a level pissed me off, somehow it tricked me into playing it through to the end, so that's definitely earned it a gold star.

If you want to talk about No One Lives Forever, to point out that I'm a heartless monster for saying anything bad about it, or just want to share your thoughts on this site in general, you're welcome to leave a comment.

4 comments:

  1. I think you're probably more dead-on than you're giving yourself credit for on the sniper rifle thing. After Goldeneye came out and, sniper rifles were practically required in every game, regardless of whether it made sense.

    It may be simply because I don't subject myself to as many incredibly tedious games as you do, but I definitely didn't find the tedious moments as glaring as you seemed to. The stealth was a bit annoying at times, but I can only recall a couple specific instances where I was in a genuinely awful position requiring figuratively dozens of quickloads.

    Thanks for getting around to this one! I hope you'll still do the next one. I can't decide if I actually liked it better or not after playing through both for the first time fairly recently, but I certainly still recall loving the heck out of it.



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    1. Yeah, there were only a few points where I had any real trouble with the stealth, the rest of time it was more of a growing irritation for me. I'd end up reloading sections over and over trying to figure out what kept setting off the alarm.

      Also I can guarantee that barring a catastrophe (or something shiny distracting me) No One Lives Forever 2 WILL appear in the near future. I'm spacing them apart a little because I don't want to put up too many spy shooters in a row. Especially so soon after all those James Bond games.

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  2. I hope you finished this one, it's very much worth it... even if you found it a little bit disappointing :P

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    1. I did end up finishing it! I may have been whining about things the whole way through, but I played it to the end and enjoyed it.

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