The first game's title was obviously inspired by the Bond movies, but sadly Monolith decided not to give the sequel its own name and just stapled '2' onto the end. Imagine if the Bond series had gone the same way, we'd be up to Dr. No 23 by now. It's a shame because A Spy In H.A.R.M.'s Way would have actually worked fine as a stand alone title. Though I suppose it makes sense that without a recognisable '007'-style logo or a famous character, the title's the only brand they had to sell it with.
(Click the pictures to view them in their original resolution.)
Okay, the game begins with UNITY agent Cate Archer arriving in the picturesque Japanese village of Inotakimura to do a little photography and maybe a bit of first person shooting if there's time. Rumour has it that the village is about to become host to an international crime convention, and we've been sent here to take photos of the participants without being discovered. Sounds a bit stealth-missiony to me.
|No One Lives Forever (2000) | No One Lives Forever 2 (2002)|
What makes the biggest difference though is the animation. Motion capture and face rigging has taken her from a Gerry Anderson puppet to something resembling an actual human being, capable of communicating emotion with just her expression and body language. It definitely helps make the cutscenes more interesting to watch.
Though hang on, I can move the bodies this time? That's new.
I may be choosing the 'kill 'em up' style of gameplay here, but there's no way I could go in guns blazing and expecting to win; mostly because I haven't been given a gun yet. This crossbow takes a second to reload after each shot, so I'm creeping around and making use of shadows and alleyways when I can.
Though it's actually a pretty vague map, without much I could use as a point of reference. In fact I can't even figure out where I am on this damn thing! Disaster, the map is useless!
SOME SNEAKING LATER.
Despite this being a very stealth oriented level, there's been no harsh penalty for getting seen up to this point. The enemies managed to run off and trigger an alarm a few times, but all that happened was a whole bunch of angry ninjas jumped in from the rooftops and I had to hide for a bit or shoot them all. Then any survivors eventually reset to patrol mode and walked away. No instant fail, no constant alarm siren drowning out the music for the rest of the level. It's so much of an improvement over NOLF1.
BUT THEN, AFTER I SUCCESSFULLY DID ALL THAT STUFF THEY WANTED ME TO DO.
After putting a sword right through the protagonist the game cuts straight to the opening titles, leaving her fate a mystery. Did she deliberately fake her death? Are we playing as a new character from now on? Is the rest of the game a flashback?
LATER, AFTER THE CREDITS.
But c'mon, what about Cate?
So what was the point of the dramatic cliffhanger then? Was she stabbed just to build up the villain as a threat? All it's done is make Cate seem like Wolverine's slightly slower healing British cousin. I mean sure in gameplay if you give her a first aid kit she can instantly bounce back from multiple gunshot wounds to the head, but in the cutscene dimension the characters are meant to be human.
It's funny how much of a dumb warmongering paranoid American stereotype this guy is, considering that Monolith is actually an American developer. In fact both No One Lives Forever games have a very British perspective to them, which I guess comes down to the team doing their homework (i.e. watching lots of 60s British spy movies.)
In fact I was expecting him to be outraged that the Brits would send a woman to do a spy's job, as half the characters in the first game never shut up about it, but it seems he's wise enough at least to not antagonise the agency's most talented mass murderer while she's standing in the same room. I think it's probably a good thing that they've resolved the issue of her co-workers' open sexism this time around, as it serves no purpose to the story now that Cate's proven herself.
Hey, not every picture requires a short essay underneath it.
After a bit of investigation, I figured out the reason I couldn't locate my position on the map: I haven't even reached this bit of the level yet! I'm off the map somewhere to the east.
SOME PEACEFUL SKI-DOOING LATER, I SEE A PAIR OF ENEMIES.
Oh wait; I just had a thought...
Deus Ex style skill point system since the first game, and I've been going around with level 1 accuracy. It's a wonder I was able to hit anything. Four level of marksmanship should help with that. Or at least I bloody hope it will.
By the way, skill points are earned by completing objectives and finding stuff in the level, not killing people. I doubt it's possible to get through the game without ending up in a few fights along the way, but it doesn't penalise me for sneaking past enemies.
SEVERAL ACTS OF SABOTAGE LATER, INSIDE THE INSTALLATION.
As long as necessary to find out what I'm supposed to do next I mean.
SEVERAL LAPS OF THE LEVEL LATER.
I had this problem with the first game too. A level would be fantastic right to the point I came to a dead end and had to spend ten minutes wandering back and forth through trying to spot what I missed. You'd think that objective marker on the compass would solve this, but it's pointing to something on the other side of the fence!
Okay, now I can get into the main building and go hunt for, I dunno, a big map with arrows on it pointing to the island maybe? This would be so much easier if they'd just put me into an easily escapable death trap and tell me all their plans.
System Shock 2, Bioshock etc, except it's all text on paper so they've got the freedom to do more stuff with them. And these particular files paint a clear picture of this installation being a real shithole.
SEVERAL FILING CABINETS LATER.
So now I've broken into a H.A.R.M. agent's house in Ohio to.... search his desk drawers for intel. I've even got to look behind the bloody posters. There aren't even any enemies around yet, just an oppressive gloom and a storm rattling the shutters outside.
I run from house to house, trying to dodge shurikens and figure out where the game wants me to be. If there's any clever level design tricks here designed to subconsciously lead me down the correct path, they ain't working on me.
SOME CUTSCENE STUFF LATER.
It'd help if I knew where the fuck I was running to. On the other levels I'd give up on stealth quickly whenever I got frustrated trying to find the next objective, but that's not really an option here. Not unless I can get good a head start.
MUCH LATER. MUCH MUCH MUCH LATER.
Anyway, this next level is a pure stealth level, with instant failure if I'm caught. I can't kill anyone and I don't know where I'm meant to be going so I've got to sneak into every room in turn. Joy.
I honestly hate this level. I'm terrible at it and it's dragging on forever. It doesn't help that I didn't realise I needed to be hidden for them to put up the posters at first, so for ages I had no idea that I was running around searching for wanted posters that didn't exist yet.
On other levels they'd give me tranquilliser darts so I could take the enemies down non-lethally and steal their weapon so they were no longer a threat. But they don't want me doing that this time, so the best I can do is tag them so they appear on my radar. Or get lucky with a thrown banana peel.
A FEW LEVELS LATER.
It's basically just a painfully slow rail-shooter sequence taking me in a loop around the streets of India (yes the same few streets again), and I have to shoot mimes as they pop up from the balconies. And I can't get off to search bodies for health so I have to make good use of quick saves. Stealth fans, you're out of luck on this one.
But now I've got a new problem, I'm totally stuck, again. I got the wrench to turn off the steam to pick up the fuse to turn on the power to open the gate, but now I need to get the keys to open the door to grab the handle to open the storage room to collect the explosives to blow open the floor to get the wire to fix the other gate... and I can't find them!
My theory is it's something to do with these pipes in the ceiling. If I can jump up there somehow, I could get into that room on the right.
FIVE MINUTES LATER.
But then this bloke suddenly crashed in though the wall and I had to climb up onto the pipes to escape (so hey I was half right about them). He must be this Project Omega I've been hearing so much about I presume: a super-soldier designed for island invasions.
Can't say I'm very pleased to see indestructible Big Daddies stomping around in my spy shooter though. On my favourite things about the game so far is how every enemy has gone down in just a couple of hits, even if I didn't manage a headshot. I've never been a fan of bullet sponge enemies.
It seems that the developers and I have very different ideas of what this game should have been about. I was hoping to be able to creep around super villain lairs, taking out enemies one by one, making my way around like a ninja with a silenced semi-auto. They seem to have focused their efforts on giving players the experience of hiding from things around a block in Calcutta.
Anyway civilians have been trapped behind fires, so I have go fill a bucket and throw it on the flames to put them out, one by one. Also first I need to go find a bucket. Also I'm sad now.
How did I get here from India you might be wondering? I have absolutely no idea. I must have missed the part where she discovered this secret underwater facility and knew it was where she had to go.
You can tell I used the level select here, because it's started me off as a level 1 character with no upgrades. Which is a bit annoying really. Actually that should be the tagline for the game.
Anyway, after this there's a big finale at the island of Khios (where I was finally able to kill some super soldiers) and Cate's friend is tragically shot a whole bunch of times while saving the world from a nuclear apocalypse. But then he just gets right back up again without explanation and they laugh about it as the credits roll. Because by this point they've basically become indestructible cartoon characters and it's hard for me to care about any of it anymore.
At times No One Lives Forever 2 is easily one of the finest first person shooters I've ever played. At other times it's a pain in the ass. It fixes so many of the flaws that dragged down the original game and adds a couple of Deus Ex-style features like searching bodies and raising stats, but it has so many of its own problems that it evens out to be about equally enjoyable overall as the irritatingly imperfect NOLF1. I still found myself stuck in an empty level time and time again, stepping over corpses, trying to figure out where I was meant to be, or stuck searching for the next item. Looking for a set of keys in the dark isn't much fun in real life and surprisingly it ain't much fun in a video game either.
Improved technology and better editing has made the cutscenes are far more watchable this time around, but some of the drama and wit seems to have been lost in the process. NOLF had some good arguments between Cate and her acerbic alien-looking boss as she struggled to persuade him to trust her judgement and let her do what she needed to do, but in this game she's free to casually march out of HQ to do whatever she feels like. It weakens UNITY as a halfway plausible intelligence organisation. Plus continually resolving cliffhangers with 'and then she woke up in hospital' doesn't do much to make me give a shit about the character's fate.
In fact in one scene her friend makes a tragic sacrifice and is sent out of an airlock at the bottom of the ocean, miles away from land, with no scuba gear or hope of rescue... and then turns up back at HQ a few hours later like nothing had happened, with comedy music playing. Yeah I know it's a comedy game, full of dumb jokes and caricatures, but it's not Looney Tunes, it's supposed to have some resemblance to reality. Or maybe it's not and I've misjudged the tone they're going for this time around.
But anyway don't let me put you off, this is packed with charm and style and polished gameplay, and it rewards patience and curiosity. You can also fight enemies with bananas, glue guns and exploding robot cats, how can that not be worth a look?
If you've played No One Lives Forever 2 and want to argue or agree with me, to share your thoughts on the franchise, or just want to say things about this site you've found yourself looking at, feel free to leave a comment.