No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way


Developer:    Monolith

Publisher:    Sierra, Fox Interactive

Released:   2002

PC Requirements:    Windows 98/Me/2000/XP, Pentium III 500 or higher, 128MB RAM (256MB for XP), 4X CDROM, 32MB Direct3D video card, DirectX 8.1 compatible sound card, 1.4 GB + swap file hard drive space, 56K modem for multiplayer.




by Singer

How do you follow up one of the most whimsically engaging, yet cinematically thrilling games ever created?  That was the dilemma facing Monolith, the developers of the fantastic first person shooter (FPS) called No One Lives Forever.  The trick with sequels is to find the balance between maintaining the spirit of the original and adding enough new features to make the game feel like a new experience.  Did Monolith manage to achieve the right mix?  Normally this is where I’d say “read on to find out”, but since you’ll soon know in no uncertain terms, I’ll just answer now… You betcha!

Cate Archer returns as the 60’s-era, secret agent extraordinaire in No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way.  She’s got a chic new  ‘do and flattering new duds, but the same saucy demeanor, and once again proves to be an ideal heroine.  Though the first game didn’t seem to leave much room for improvement, NOLF2 has refined most of the rough edges to produce a worthy successor.

The most obvious (and immediate) area of improvement is the game’s graphics.  While the artistry of the original game was equally impressive, it simply needed technology to catch up.  Utilizing the new LithTech Jupiter engine, NOLF2 now allows for bump mapping, anistropic filtering, and blah blah blah…  Oh, you’re not impressed with being swamped by technical terms?  Lucky for me, because I don’t even understand most of them.  What I DO know is the bottom line, and in this case, it’s that NOLF2 has some terrific looking visuals.

Characters in particular have undergone a (pardon the expression) dramatic facelift, and there is much more detail and animation.  Not only does this make everyone look more realistic, but it allowed the designers to really imbue the characters with individual quirks.  The scenery is equally well done.  Once again, Cate globe trots to a wide variety of exotic environments – this time ranging from Japan, Siberia, Akron (yes, in Ohio, so maybe “exotic” is a stretch), India, Antarctica, UNITY headquarters, an underwater submarine bay, a secret underground H.A.R.M. lair, and a remote island off Turkey.  As before, the outdoor areas expose Cate to the full range of weather conditions (you haven’t truly gamed until you’ve had a showdown in the eye of a tornado), and the indoor and urban areas all display wonderfully appropriate architecture.

One thing NOLF2 excels at, even more so than the original, is creating anticipation.  In several locations, you’re initially permitted to wander through an area with little or no resistance.  At first, this is a welcome respite from the adrenaline pumping sequences, but as it continues, dread begins creeping insidiously into your mind, because you KNOW that the axe will fall at any moment.  I could almost hear the level designers taunting me with “enjoy it now, because in a minute you’ll be running for your life!”  Bless those designers for their ingenuity, and curse them while I’m at it!

The cast of characters will be largely familiar to those who played the first game.  Without tipping my hand for those who haven’t, all the expected UNITY agents have returned, if possessing somewhat different roles.  Dr. Schenker, the scientist rescued from H.A.R.M.’s clutches, is now contentedly working for the agency.  In a nice twist, Magnus Armstrong, the brutish but honourable Scot from the first game, provides some much-needed support for Cate this time around. 

On the opposite side, Dmitri Volkov makes another appearance, looking definitely worse for wear from his previous encounter with Cate.  H.A.R.M. is now run by the character we saw oh-so-briefly and mysteriously at the very end of NOLF’s credits.  As the Director of an evil global empire, he is (naturally!) an effeminate, enigmatic figure with a bad combover who is harassed by his overbearing mother.  Fortunately for the Director, he has Isako, a lovely martial arts master who owes her allegiance to him, and is therefore called upon to kill Cate with the help of her many ninja assassins.  The other main baddie is a famous French killer who refers to himself as the Mime King.  Along with his burly mime cronies, the Mime King is easily one of the most memorable villains I’ve ever encountered.  In most other games, that would mean nothing more than a fierce opponent – in NOLF2, it means he was the source of not only inspired competition, but some of the most amusing scenes to ever grace the PC.  The “chase” scene, where Cate and Magnus are hot on the tracks of the Mime King, was so hysterically funny that I killed myself laughing.  Well, actually, I was killed by mimes WHILE laughing, but at least I died happy. 

Fortunately, H.A.R.M.’s henchmen are back, and they’re every bit as yappy as in the first game.  That means more eavesdropping on their comical conversations.  Once again, a little patience is advised, lest you miss such dialogue  as the marketing value of proper evil lair design, or practicing an “evil” laugh because the current one isn’t nearly menacing enough.  Super stuff! 

Once again, gameplay is a combination of stealthy spy tactics and take-no-prisoner gunfights.  As before, Santa arms Cate with a sack of toys that every good spy needs.  This time around, Cate has at her disposal such things as an eyeshadow taser, compact code breaker, nail clipper lockpick, hairspray welder, and a lipstick camera.  Along with these gadgets, Cate will rely frequently on a good old fashion coin, which is her main means of distracting guards momentarily.  Another handy dandy item will be the utility gun, which is capable of firing such “ammo” as tranquilizers, tracking devices, and electrical charges.

The usual assortment of guns is once again present.  Although having fewer than the original, this time there are various ammunition types to help make things interesting.  Although really never necessary, it was fun to fire bullets that caused flame, poison, or explosive effects.  Silenced weapons are once again important, and Cate will use a crossbow and shurikens at times.  For setting traps, you can use a bear trap or “angry kitty” proximity mine (yes, it looks like a cat that lures guards to it).  Cate can also make use of bananas when cornered and unarmed – thank goodness her pursuers are klutzy on their feet.  Unfortunately, much like the first game, the best use of these traps was rarely intuitive, and the game still didn’t provide hotkeys for them, so they went largely unused, which is a shame, because they were darn fun when they worked. 

The interface is virtually identical to the original game, with one noteworthy exception.  There is now a small onscreen compass, which not only shows the usual directional headings, it also highlights the general location of critical information, exits, and anybody you’ve tagged with the tracking device.  It’s still a little surprising that there’s no mapping feature at all, but the compass certainly is a welcome addition. 

Several changes have been made in an attempt to enhance the stealth aspect, to varying degrees of success.   One important feature is the ability to move bodies.  Since leaving a trail of carnage is a sure way to draw attention to yourself, Cate can now physically dispose of the evidence.  Of course, that’s easier said than done.  Cate can’t fire a weapon while hauling heavy bodies, and her movements are suitably slowed, so she’s vulnerable until she drops the body again.  Another great touch is the inclusion of a “lean” option for peering around corners.  So long as you don’t linger, you can poke your head around a corner without being seen, which makes a quick recon a much easier task. 

One of the more highly touted aspects, however, was one I found least useful.  Clearly inspired by the Thief games, now when Cate hides in shadowy areas, a visibility indicator appears with a meter that, once filled, makes her virtually impossible for enemies to see.  This works well in theory.  Unfortunately, I found many of these shadows to be in irrelevant spots.  Yes, I could hide in an alley where no one could see me, but I couldn’t see anything either, and standing there certainly didn’t help to advance me in the game.  Moreover, the second you move, you become completely visible again until you stop and allow your meter to refill.  Maybe I’m too impatient, but I simply quit paying any attention to the feature and just looked for the nearest corner to duck behind.   It’s certainly not a criticism; it simply didn’t work for me.  Perhaps for those with a greater emphasis on sneak tactics, it’d be more beneficial.

Easily the best innovation in NOLF2 is the incorporation of some basic role playing elements.  Each mission accomplishment earns Cate experience “points”, and when the points accumulate sufficiently, they can be used to upgrade Cate’s skills in such areas as stealth, stamina, marksmanship, gadget use, etc.  The higher the level you wish to upgrade, the more points you require.  Cate also earns experience points (in much smaller amounts) for each intelligence item she discovers.  As in the previous game, these amusing memos are present for comedic entertainment value rather than offering vital clues, but the point rewards are a further incentive to find as many as possible. 

This RPG aspect felt so natural in the game, it was hard to imagine doing without it in the original.  It gives the player a further sense of tailoring gameplay to their preferred style.  Ultimately it doesn’t effect the game much, as by the end you’ll have earned enough points to boost most skills to reasonably high levels.  However, the feeling of additional control and the added value given to exploring was a great move in making every aspect of the game feel relevant.

For an added degree of realism (and no small amount of yuks), fallen enemies now need to be “searched” in order to retrieve what they have.  Rather than simply running over the body and auto-collecting weapons or ammo, now you must take precious time in the open to rummage for valuables.  Again, this operates according to a little meter, and your search is complete when the meter fills up.  I found this to be another nice touch, as it was always a little nerve wracking knowing you could be discovered with your hands in a dead guy’s pockets.  The rewards were greater than in the original NOLF, as well, as you can now confiscate protective equipment if they have any.  As an added bonus, every body contains a completely useless item guaranteed to garner a chuckle, including such things as a dirty toothbrush, raffle tickets, or ugly baby pictures.

Sound effects are as exceptional in the second game as the first, and the swinging sixties music was geared not only to the pacing of the action, but the locale.  The music in Calcutta, for example, was appropriately eastern flavoured.  In a rather surprising move, the voice of Cate is provided by a different actress.  However, this resulted in no loss of quality, as both she and the rest of the cast once again provided top notch voice acting.  While good voicework rarely seems to stand out, I’ve played enough games with jarringly BAD acting that I don’t take it for granted, and I’m so glad that Monolith treated it with the importance it deserves.

Once again, if I have to criticize the game for anything, it’s in a few of the stealth missions.  NOLF2 definitely makes some positive strides in this department, such as having localized alarms, but a couple scenes still bog down when you must avoid detection in a confined area with guards that don’t adequately disperse.  The frustration was few and far between, but it was still present.  If there’s ever a NOLF 3, and I sincerely hope there is, I hope they dispense entirely with the sneak-ONLY missions.  I’m not insisting on brute force tactics, but having the use of concealed stun weapons until they’re needed the most is a needlessly intrusive restriction.

Some differences will be welcomed by some and disappointing to others. The cutscenes are shorter – a little too much for my liking, but the script is generally tighter, which allows for less waste.  The training course is gone, but replaced by Santa’s appearance during missions in the form of a robotic bird, present to give instructions at crucial junctures.  There is no tutorial, which may reflect the developer’s opinion that gamers playing the sequel will have previously played the original.  They may be right in most cases, but I do think it alienates newcomers.  The option to personalize mission equipment is gone, but that is tied into the fewer weapon options, and was a feature that didn’t work as well as it should in NOLF, anyway.

I should also mention that some players whose systems were well within the recommended hardware requirements experienced some technical issues, which will hopefully still be addressed in a patch.  On the other hand, I played the game unpatched, and the game ran flawlessly for me from beginning to end. 

Despite its few blemishes, the best news is that the game has lost none of its predecessor’s devotion to the finer art of storytelling.  The plot itself is just as kitschy as in the original (this time bringing the world to the verge of nuclear war), but of course that’s part of the ride.  The NOLF games simply refuse to take themselves TOO seriously; only seriously enough to reel you in.  Characters continue to be developed skillfully – I mean, you’ll be feeling sympathy for a mutated super soldier before game’s end.  Thanks to NOLF2’s continued clever writing, mission variety and inspired level design, you’ll run the gamut of emotions and love (almost) every minute of it.

If you’ve played the original NOLF, you likely won’t need any encouragement to play No One Lives Forever 2, but if you’re feeling any hesitation, let that end here and now.  This game is a winner.  If you haven’t played either game, I would strongly suggest you play BOTH.  You don’t need to have played the first to enjoy the second, but you’ll be missing on some of the inside jokes, and more importantly, an excellent gaming experience in its own right.  When you’re done that one, you’ll have this little gem to look forward to.

Final score: 90%

Played on:

Win XP

Pentium 4, 2 Ghz

512 Mb RAM

GeForce 4

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Please write to: Singer

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