No One Lives Forever


Developer:    Monolith

Publisher:    Fox Interactive

Released:   2000

PC Requirements:    Windows 95/98/2000/Me, Pentium II 300 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 400 MB free hard disk space, 4x CD-ROM drive, 8 MB 3D accelerator with Direct3D support, DirectX 7.0 or higher, 16 bit sound card.




by Singer

In case adventure fans are wondering about that sound right behind them, it’s the hard charging footsteps of the first person shooter (FPS) genre catching up as a storytelling medium.  Yes, for those of us that went to the Brog school of puzzle solving, yet still like an absorbing story to sink our teeth into, our time has come!

One of the best of this newer breed of shooters is Monolith‘s No One Lives Forever.  Released late in 2000, the game has since been surpassed graphically by others (including its own sequel), but as a testament to its excellence, the game holds up just as strongly today as it did then.

No One Lives Forever (or NOLF) is a delightfully campy, tongue-in-cheek homage to the 60’s secret agent/spy theme.  Call it a James Bond meets Get Smart offspring with a sprinkling of Austin Powers, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the game’s tone.  Unlike those three titles, however, NOLF centers around a smart, sexy, and sassy heroine who’s more than a match for her male competition. 

Cate Archer, a young spy for a British global protection agency called UNITY, is looking for her first big case and a healthy dose of respect for women.  Her break finally comes when the notorious villain Dmitri Volkov begins assassinating UNITY agents with such calculated precision that his information is obviously being provided by an inside traitor.  So it is that Cate’s bosses reluctantly agree to send her into the field as The Operative.

Before you take Cate out, it’s advisable to run her through her paces at the training courses, which introduce you to the basic elements of shooting, sneaking, and using the many spy gadgets she’ll require on her missions.  This feature not only makes NOLF an excellent starter game for newbies, it’s important even for FPS veterans, since this game is so much more than a run ‘n gun shooter.

NOLF’s gameplay is a wonderful mix of stealth and force.  In addition to the many alert enemies who’d be more than willing to cut Cate’s spy career short, you’ll also have to contend with security cameras, spotlights, and guard dogs, all of which will trigger alarms that land you in a world of hurt.  

Fortunately, the various “toys” provided by “Santa” will assist Cate in staying one step ahead of her adversaries.  In addition to spy essentials like code breakers, grappling hooks, camera disablers, and photographic glasses, there’s a wide array of gizmos like a lockpick hair barrette, cigarette lighter with welding torch assembly, stun gas perfume dispenser,  lipstick explosives, fuzzy pink slippers that cut down noise, and a pheromone poodle for distracting dogs.  Prior to each new mission, you’ll return to the training area for an introduction to the latest gadgets.  Yes, most of them are gimmicks, and I’d have preferred that the developers incorporated more scenarios in which the gadgets were necessary, or at least the most logical means of progressing.  However, even as is, they’re all wacky fun that add to the game’s abundance of personality.

Of course, Cate will also be armed with a nice variety of weaponry.  The standards are all here: semi-automatic pistols, revolvers, submachine guns and sniper rifles, among others.  Cate begins each mission with a limited arsenal (that you can choose yourself or use default selections), but she’ll continually collect weapons and ammo from fallen enemies.  Each weapon has a distinctive look, sound, and feel, so you’ll want to experiment to find the ones that best suit you.  Thankfully, several weapons come with silencers, and you’ll be counting on those in strategic situations.

Controls involve a relatively standard FPS setup which will feel immediately comfortable to veterans, and the interface is clean and simple.  Virtually everything can be re-mapped if desired, which is always a nice option.  The only quibble here is the rather laborious process of cycling though weapons and gadgets.  Weapons are assigned hotkeys, but gadgets are not, which makes accessing them somewhat bothersome on the fly.  In connection with them not really being necessary very often, I found myself tending to ignore them at crunch time.

The game’s AI is as rock solid as the other aspects of the game.  Enemies will listen for your footsteps or notice your footprints in the snow, and they’ll track you relentlessly until they become convinced you’re gone.  If they spot you, they’ll shoot, shout out or make a beeline for the nearest alarm, all of which will result in reinforcements.  In a firefight, they’ll often charge in too recklessly, but they’ll also duck for cover, and even overturn obstacles to hide behind.  Smart, but not TOO smart (but hey, henchmen aren’t renowned as being the brightest bulbs).

Like any good spy thriller, Cate’s travels will take her to the widest range of locales possible.  In between scuba diving in a sunken ship and infiltrating an orbiting space station(!), Cate will visit Morocco, the French Alps, and the Caribbean.  She’ll descend into underground tunnels and fly high in airplanes, gondolas, and … well, I’ll save the last one as a surprise.  She’ll travel by motorcycle and snowmobile (which the player controls), move indoors and out, in wide expanses and claustrophobic quarters (in one I found myself literally ducking at my computer), through sun, clouds, rain and snow, day and night.  There’s a little of everything here – all equally enjoyable and tied in nicely to the story.

NOLF’s graphics are harder to describe in retrospect.  Using the LithTech 2.5 engine (for those who are into that kind of detail), the graphics were top notch at the time the game was released.  Environments and character modeling are each well done, and movement looks fluid and realistic.  As in all facets of the game, little visual touches abound in the game that give NOLF a flourish and style.  Be it the mink stole worn by a snobby baroness, to the walls of a sinking ship being crushed by pressure, to a giant view of Earth from a transparent space station walkway, the visuals are yet another contributor to the game’s creativity and immersion factor.  Even if you’re going back to play NOLF after a newer cutting-edge game, you’ll quickly adjust to the graphics, and for anyone who’s still nursing an older mid-range computer, you couldn’t ask for better.

Since I’m starting to sound like a broken record anyway, I’ll touch on the high quality of sound effects.  In keeping with the game’s theme, the music is all retro 60’s.  At times it seemed a little misplaced in relation the action, but for the most part it was completely appropriate, and it was never overdone.  Sound effects were stellar, which is important, as being a sneak requires listening intently for such things as footsteps and the soft whirring of security cameras.  The voice acting was among the best I’ve ever heard in a game.  NOLF features a huge cast of characters, and everyone from Cate to the many unnamed thugs deliver their lines with total credibility. 

So gameplay, controls, AI, visuals, and sound are all skillfully done.  The game does have some flaws, although none are particularly damaging. Some of the cutscenes at UNITY headquarters, while adding to the narrative, were far too long to see nothing but the same shots of Cate talking to her bosses.  Several times when I chose my equipment for my upcoming tasks, I began the mission only to find that I hadn’t been equipped with everything I’d selected.  These are trivial points, however.  The only notable complaint I have is that several of the stealth missions were harder than they needed to be, and the designers seemed to arbitrarily choose when even silent force was allowed and when it wasn’t.  On the Normal difficulty setting, I had no other problems getting through the game, but these few missions gave my reload key a frustrating workout.

A few annoyances aside, were I to stop here, I could already recommend the game to any fan of the genre.  Yet that would be doing the game an injustice, because its greatest strength is its writing.  No One Lives Forever has an incredibly cinematic feel from beginning to end.  The plot, characters, dialogue, and humour are truly what make a great game excellent.

There’s simply no reason for me to spoil any aspect of the plot for you, as that’s part of the joy of playing the game.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s entirely hokey and clichéd, but guiding Cate through it all is great fun.  Suffice to say that there’s more at stake than Volkov’s killings, and when an evil organization called H.A.R.M. threatens the fate of the world, it’s up to Cate to stop them.  It’s a crazy romp, and by the time you witness a ransom demand being issued by a hand puppet, you’re not at all surprised! 

Character interaction is incredibly detailed, and it’s impossible not to feel attached to several of the characters by game’s end – particularly Cate, of course, but not limited to her.  The writers took great care to present them as fully human, each with their own unique personalities, backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses.  The central handful of villains include wildly entertaining, over-the-top personalities like Magnus, a hard drinking, kilt-clad Scot, and Inge, a rotund tone deaf opera singer.  In a masterstroke, you’ll even become acquainted with many of H.A.R.M.’s thugs, as a common occurrence in the game is eavesdropping on their conversations.  Each and every dialogue you overhear is worth waiting out, as they’re often very funny and remarkably personal.  Whether you’re listening to a debate about the correlation between beer drinking and criminal activity, complaints about a mother-in-law coming to visit, or wishes that a despised co-worker was fricasseed in an explosion, you’ll find yourself hoping that each corner brings a new such surprise.  

Scattered throughout the game will be numerous “intelligence items” which you’ll collect.  In the form of film rolls, dossiers, and handcuffed briefcases that represent internal H.A.R.M. documents, rarely do these provide much useful information for proceeding, but instead are throw-away gags designed solely to entertain.  Not only do these parody the notion of an evil corporation, but any employee who has worked in a large company will be laughing and nodding their heads at the idiocy of bureaucracy.

With all these elements in place, the only other issue to master was the pacing, and Monolith did it superbly.  Although I like shooters, I tend not to play them for long periods, as I need a break from the tension.  With NOLF, the writers built in the tension breaks with the lengthy cutscenes, stealth-only missions, intelligence gathering (even an adventure type-interview!) and exploring, timed sequences, comedic touches, and so on.  There never seemed a reason to stop playing, and because NOLF drew me in so fully, I wanted to keep playing, and that’s pretty much as high a tribute as I can pay a game.

If you have any interest in FPS games and have yet to try No One Lives Forever, hustle yourself out and snatch it up immediately.  If you’ve been toying with the idea of trying a shooter for a change of pace, this would be a perfect place to start.  If, on the other hand, you’re someone who scoffs at shooters as mindless and repetitive (usually without ever having tried one), I dare you to challenge your own perceptions with this game.  Don’t worry – when you admit how wrong you are, you’ll have enjoyed NOLF so much that you won’t mind eating crow.

Onwards and upwards – No One Lives Forever 2!!

Final score: 88%

Played on:

Win XP

Pentium 4, 2 Ghz

512 Mb RAM

GeForce 4

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For questions or comments on this review,
Please write to: Singer

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