Full Review: However, it's best to Die Another Day
In the 18 months since the release of the PlayStation 2, the system has seen its fair share of excellent First Person Shooters (FPS). The launch period saw games like Quake 3, Unreal Tournament, and Timesplitters ? all were great shooters, but severely lacked any semblance of a single-player mode. Later FPS's included the made-for-PS2 hit Red Faction, along with PC ports of Half-Life and Deus Ex. Now you may add another PC port to the PS2's library ? Monolith Soft's No One Lives Forever. This unique stealth-based FPS may be a few years old and carries the baggage that usually comes with a PC port, but it's still a solid game with lots of action, intensity, and of course, some extremely funny quips and jokes.
NOLF tells the story of Cate Archer, a former thief turned undercover agent/spy for a British Intelligence (I've heard rumors that this is an oxymoron, but I can't be completely sure) Agency, but is only used for petty cases that aren't a real risk to national security. Unfortunately, the other agents in her group are being picked off and killed at a rapid pace, leaving her their only option to get information about a group called HARM, and figure out why all these killings are taking place. Of course, Ms. Archer gets no vote of confidence from the head cheese, only indignation and mockery. After all, Cate is a woman, and the game is set in the 1960's, and?ah it's just silliness, okay?
From just the first few minutes, it's easy to tell that NOLF is a straight-out parody of Bond movies, from the silly title that you might expect a new 007 flick to carry, to all the hilarious gadgets given to you throughout the game. I mean, exploding lipstick? There's some truly ingenious work here by Monolith.
As mentioned previously, NOLF is centered around stealth. It's best to avoid confrontation whenever you can, & in some cases absolutely required to get certain goals achieved. This whole stealth thing is actually the first major problem in NOLF ? it's nearly impossible to not be detected unless you do the start-stop tactics. Slowly sneaking by is almost impossible because the oh-so intelligent Ms. Archer is decked out in heels, and I think we all know the clanking noises those make when walking. Instead, you have to start up a little, then stop, then start up, then stop, repeat, ad nauseam until you finally get past someone who has their back turned to you. Of course if you have a silenced weapon you can just do the old stealth kill ? but oddly no melee kills ? you'd expect them in a stealth game, wouldn't you? Other stealth elements include dodging security cameras, and making sure dead bodies aren't in the sight of those video cameras. They don't react too kindly to seeing something dead on the floor, unless it's you. So it's not just about silent killing ? you best figure out how to cover your tracks instead of hoping the bad guys will vanish Jedi-style after they kick the bucket.
Each portion of the game is split into ?scenes? which really serve the purpose of breaking the 15 missions apart for saving purposes. See, NOLF lacks a save anywhere option; you can save all you want but you have to start over at the beginning of the scene you're on. Personally this doesn't bother me too much because there's a set saving time (and no long-ass times between save points like some games use to increase the challenge), and the scenes are usually only a couple major events at a time that can be run through again if you get killed. It perhaps may be better if NOLF (along with other FPS's) incorporated a checkpoint system that Halo uses, but I suppose that's the same thing as breaking the levels into scenes. Anyway, you've been warned.
If you're expecting a wealth of multiplayer options, you probably should pass ? NOLF has exactly zero multiplayer features; it's a purely 1-player game. Apparently it's Monolith's way of saying ?this is a one player game, and the game will be measured by the single player experience?, but even some of the best story-driven FPS's (Halo, Half-Life) have great multiplayer (Counterstrike, anyone?). This lacking feature is somewhat disappointing, but if all you want is a single player shooter, this will be fine.
Besides all that stealth gameplay that was mentioned before, there is a lot of shooting and exploring going on. On your missions you go around finding intelligence items, be it letters or be it briefcases full of other items. Many of these items explain the backstory, with snippets about Cate before the game takes place. They aren't necessary to collect, but it goes towards your overall percentage completed.
However, you might have a difficult time finding these items if you're being surrounded and gunned down by all your enemies. In the event stealth doesn't work or is impossible to do, Cate has a ton of firepower to kick some bad guy ass. Rifles, machine guns, the whole arsenal is at your disposal, along with the various gadgets given to you before each mission. There's an auto-aim to help you target enemies, which is actually a good thing, given how oddly clunky the controls are. The crosshair aiming is very erratic, even if you fiddle with the settings and adjust the sensitivity. Mix in the aforementioned stealth issues and you do have a game that takes time to adjust to. There are plenty of training missions to help, but even then it takes a few minutes to get used to things. Thankfully it does use the now-traditional FPS controls on PS2 (especially similar to Half-Life, actually), so the learning curve is not as bad ? but still you can play with different configurations.
When you're not wandering through levels knocking off the enemies, you can hop on your motorcycle and play drive-by-shooter. This element breaks up the usual FPS action and gives some freshness to the game at times. It's still a standard by-the-numbers shooter with a little twist of stealth, but there is some creativity in terms of action (there's tons of creativity in the non-gameplay elements, that's for sure).
Really, NOLF is a solid game that has its moments of being great, gameplay wise. There's a lot of fun to be had with some of the missions (the codeword mission in Berlin is one of those sorts), and while the stealth can be annoying to execute, it's still fun to sneak past guards and/or kill them. It's not a game to change your mind about FPS's, but if you enjoy FPS games, most likely you'll at least enjoy and want to play through No One Lives Forever.
The visuals are where NOLF takes a major hit. The game is a few years old now, and the technology has increased, thus the PS2 port looks decidedly plain compared to a game like Red Faction. The framerate, when steady, is in the 60FPS area, but it has moments of being very clunky and falling out of that range. Most of the textures and character animations are very PSX-ish and not particularly great, but adequate for a PC port. Some of the lighting effects aren't bad, but nothing memorable to write home about. Really, NOLF is a plain looking game that didn't get any enhancing, or so it seems. Even Half-Life looks better and manages to hold a steady frame rate at all times. As long as you're able to look past the graphics of NOLF, it shouldn't be too bad.
The Audio department is one of the areas that NOLF shines brightest. The music is good ? all the themes that play in each level is very close to the kind of music you'd hear in the area. The sound effects are really good too ? the gunshot sounds, the sound of Cate's heels clanking across the walkway, and the various surrounding effects are a big plus.
Where it really shines, however, is the voice acting ? it's some of the best you'll hear. There's tons of genuinely funny and witty lines thanks to some great scriptwriting, and it's backed up by some extremely talented voices behind them. ?Who comes up with these secret code messages?? ?Someone in need of a girlfriend, apparently? is just a sample of the amusing interaction between characters, and it doesn't sound the least bit campy ? it sounds like what a parody of spy flicks, and most specifically, Bond movies.
No One Lives Forever is a game that is good enough to play, but difficult to describe without telling the whole story behind it. The stealth elements are fun if unnecessarily difficult (and redundant in some places), but the whole game is a blast and is the total experience with the great audio, but killed by some poor visuals. As is, NOLF is a decent port of a pretty good game, and one that FPS fans (and Bond fans) should enjoy once your eyes get past the rough visual display. It's by no means perfect, but No One Lives Forever is not a terrible addition to your PS2 library ? but yet not a must-own. If you like FPS's, give it a try ? if not, you probably won't like it.