The original No One Lives Forever took the gaming world
by surprise. Monolith, its developers, had a hit-or-miss reputation at the time.
Add to that a shaky first demo (weakly labeled a "technology test")
and it's not difficult to see why everyone was surprised when the final product
ended up as one of the best first-person shooters ever made. A couple years later,
Monolith attempts to shake off that bad rep and solidify themselves as grade-A
developers with No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way. Did they
succeed, or did NOLF 2 go the way far too many sequels go?
With No One Lives Forever 2, the core gameplay
of the original is mostly intact, with a few significant improvements. Most noticeable
is a new skill system that allows the player to customize the abilities of the
lovable superspy. Accuracy, weapon damage, health, armor, stealth, and a few other
things can all be improved by spending points earned by accomplishing objectives.
This adds an interesting new layer to the game, as gung-ho action-oriented players
such as myself can play through the game with guns blazing, and sneaky types can
improve those skills and become masterful infiltrators. Most of the points earned
for this purpose are gained through finding various intelligence pieces, such
as memos, notes and folders. I liked this aspect as it gave a tangible reward
for taking time to find them, unlike the previous title where they were nothing
more than an amusing diversion from the rest of the game. Some may feel the constant
searching of file cabinets and corpses to be a tedious affair, but it only bothered
me on a few occasions when that's all the player could do at the time. This problem
is also avoided by putting points into the Search skill, which dramatically cuts
down on the required time.
is the option to pick up, carry, and hide bodies instead of relying solely on
the Body Remover. I usually had a body count too high for this to be helpful,
though the sneaky types will really enjoy the option.
third significant change is a new system for stealth: certain pre-designated spots
on the map are now considered "hiding places". These spots will conceal
Cate from enemies even if they are looking directly at her, as long as she doesn't
move. It's possible to create hiding places within a map by doing things such
as turning out the lights in a room, but guards may notice a light that should
be on and come in to investigate. Little things like that made the game a joy
to play, as the AI was competent and intelligent for the most part. Also, those
of you that remember the hilarious conversations that could be overheard will
not be disappointed this time through. While not quite as frequent, most of the
guard conversations are still worth finding.
no doubt that A Spy In H.A.R.M's Way possesses much of its predecessor's
charm, though certain things seem to be lacking. Most importantly, the plot isn't
nearly as intriguing. The story is much more straightforward and moves at a faster
pace. There are far less characters this time around, and only a few that aren't
from the original. The levels themselves, while well constructed and entertaining,
don't have the fantastic over-the-top originality the first one did. A level or
two from NOLF 2 stand out in my mind (Akron, Ohio and Antarctica), but
not nearly as many as the fantastic original game. This time around, there's nothing
that's comparable to falling out of a destroyed airliner, exploring a sunken cargo
ship, or escaping a space station during a meteor storm.
the single player is not quite as unique as the original, the multiplayer breaks
into fantastic new territory which I hope many other games follow. Out of the
box, NOLF 2 is cooperative only. The co-op missions consist of small side-stories
that show behind-the-scenes aspects of the main plot. For example, in the first
mission Cate is badly injured and left for dead, which the player sees in the
game's intro. The associated multiplayer mission features a team of UNITY agents
rushing to her last known location to rescue her before she dies. For those who
have played through the single player game, this provides a wonderful second look
into the plot. I played all the way through the co-op campaign with a friend in
one sitting, and it was loads of fun. I hope Monolith releases more missions!
look pretty sharp in No One Lives Forever 2. While the Lithtech engine
was never cutting-edge, I was always pleased with how things looked in its games.
This is especially true in this title due to good level design and excellent textures.
Two things really stand out graphically in NOLF 2: the lip-syncing and
the water effects. This is the first game I can think of where the lips actually
match what the mouth is saying. While the water effects didn't blow me away like
Morrowind's did, they are certainly impressive for something as frame-rate
reliant as this.
Sound and music is another area where A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way does
not disappoint. Weapon sounds are particularly good this time around; it's nice
to see games are now taking into account the fact that bullets make sound as they
go by not just when they strike objects. Other sounds are clear and helpful too.
Footsteps make a variety of different sounds depending on the surface, and more
points in the "stealth" skill will noticeably reduce their volume.
music is nothing short of groovy. I really enjoyed the original's music, and this
time is no different. During play, the music is a bit more dynamic than it should
be, as sometimes a brief firefight will trigger 30 seconds of "tense"
Some fantastic improvements were made in this category. None of them are groundbreaking,
but instead a series of small polishes and refinements were made to the controls
that made the game much easier to play. For one thing, if the crosshair is over
something that requires a gadget such as a lock to be picked, pressing the fire
key automatically switches to the correct tool for the job and then switches back
after the task is complete.
The new skill
system allows for other aspects of the controls to be customized depending on
the player's style. Think the reload times are too slow? Put a few points in the
weapons skill. Don't think the guns are accurate enough? Marksmanship will fix
that. The end result is a game that plays exactly as the player wants it.
NOLF 2 has
ninjas in trailer parks (during a tornado, no less), chicks in skirts, groovy
music, and co-op play. What's not to like? While the sequel might not have the
refreshing levels and captivating plot of the original, it certainly delivers
ample good fun and some nice gameplay refinements that make it a solid sequel.
And now for a Second Opinion, courtesy of our own Assistant Editor, Nick
Few games are as close to my
heart as the original NOLF; not only was it a tremendously well-designed
game, but it also embraced and exploited the sheer goofy humor of the spy genre
that was so very ripe for the picking - and more importantly, did so with wit
and tremendous style. As a result, it was about the plot, characters, atmosphere
and setting every bit as it was about the terrific gameplay. After all, where
else could you tear through a German nightclub, or as Kevin points out, fall out
of an airliner, or even escape from a collapsing space station? It's these very
items that make it so bittersweet to dive into NOLF 2. On the plus side,
the gameplay is considerably more sophisticated than the original, as it works
in elements of the Thief series to more fully flesh out its stealth aspects, not
to mention the rather excellent RPG-lite system of stat points. The enhanced AI
adds a great deal to the experience, and that you're now able to fire tracking
darts to try and plan around guard movement only makes things even better. Toss
in a series of definitive spy gadgets such as decoders and eavesdropping bugs
and you've got yourself a toolset that would make Bond blush.
here, however, problems begin to arise. For starters, there's the fact that not
only is the game require considerably less time to complete, the re-use of certain
existing levels borders on ridiculousness. And then there's the issue with the
plot, which has been accelerated to the point of practical non-existence. In fact,
they've trimmed the cutscenes so drastically that you can barely tell there's
any plot at all. Some would hail these shorter cinematics as an improvement over
the longer ones from the original; I don't, as part of the original's charm was
its atmospheric and tone-setting story. With the almost complete lack of cinematics,
there's virtually no tale to tell, and the characters are rendered practically
worthless. For example, Bruno is temporarily promoted to Unity director at the
beginning of the game, though you wouldn't know it from any point thereafter.
To make things worse, there's fairly liberal use of guard respawning, which frequently
negates any fun - or even success - to be had from actually using stealth.
are supposed to be about 'more' and 'bigger'. While the 'bigger' aspect is certainly
spoken for in terms of larger levels, NOLF 2 seems to be all about 'less'
of the things that made the original a classic: less variety, less weapons, less
humor, and less plot. Which isn't to say that NOLF 2 is in any way a bad
game; on the contrary, it's a truly excellent shooter, and can definitely be a
tremendous amount of fun. However, as a sequel to a classic title such as NOLF,
it's woefully inadequate.
I also would
give it an 8/10.