By Jeremy Kauffman
No One Lives Forever is by all accounts a good game. Anyone who has played the PC version of this first person shooter, released nearly two years ago, will tell you it has the makings of a classic franchise: a swinging sixties femme fatale serving her majesty as a covert operative, taking out the bad guys with style and flair. It has a fantastic sense of adventure, and an even better sense of humor. Unfortunately, it also has all of the trappings of a terrible console port: poor use of the hardware, a phenomenally bad control system, and few frills given to a game that is starting to show its age.
NOLF is a classic sixties cat-and-mouse spy tale. UNITY, an international team of super-spy good guys, is losing most of its male members (no innuendo intended) to a group of assassins calling themselves H.A.R.M. To infiltrate this evil organization, UNITY has turned to Cate Archer, the Bond Girl who would rather be Bond. She is a cat burglar turned secret agent, a model of sixties fashion and feminism. She has a sly wit, sexy smile, and one hell of a temper. Her mission will take her across the globe, to places like Berlin, Morocco, the Caribbean, and more, where she will encounter every kind of terrorist, rogue, and criminal imaginable.
This is where the game shines: story and the personality. Each mission (15 in all, divided into over 60 levels) takes you to an exotic locale, with unique enemies and inhabitants. The levels put you in all kinds of dangerous situations. In one you will be underwater in full S.C.U.B.A. gear. Later, you will have to jump out of a doomed airplane without a parachute (you must catch an enemy on the way down and take his). One mission even takes place in outer space. This is great stuff. And it is accompanied by a grand sense of humor. This game plays off of the conventions of the genre, acting as spoof, satire, and an intriguing spy yarn. It has that sixties flare, the sexual innuendo, and the entertainment value of early Bond, The Avengers, and Austin Powers all rolled into one. The game even delves into the misogynistic atmosphere of the time period, as Cate Archer becomes a two-fisted advocate against the crusty, old, male establishment.
Of course, any spy would feel naked without his or her personal collection of weapons, gadgets, and toys. NOLF contains over 30 of them. Most of the guns-pistols, submachine guns, and assault rifles-can use three types of ammo: Full Metal Jacket for penetration, Dum Dum for maximum damage, and Tracer for aiming at night. Some guns can be equipped with silencers and scopes. Then there are the gadgets, which contain a repertoire of handy things masquerading as stylish lady's essentials. There are sunglasses that function as a spy camera, mine detector, and infrared spectrograph. There are barrettes that become lock-picks, cigarette lighters that hide welding torches, lipstick grenades, and perfume that acts as a sleeping gas. In a pinch most gadgets can act as weapons. For instance, the barrette/lock-pick can also be used to stab someone.
Yes, the story, characters, atmosphere, and level design-areas wherein most games fail-are top-notch. The weapons are impressive. And yet, this port manages to disappoint in almost every other way imaginable. First, this game delivers the worst control of any console FPS in recent memory. The set-up is like any other PS2 FPS, using the left analog stick to move, the right to look and aim, and the various buttons to fire, switch weapons, use items, et cetera. It is the control response that is the culprit here. The default sensitivity for the analog sticks is incredibly slow. You can adjust it, although not in the in-game menu, so with some patience, and a lot of trial and error, you should be able to make yourself happy. The crazy auto aim is another matter entirely. All you have to do is get the targeting reticule within ten feet of your foe and it jumps right onto his or her chest. This makes the sniper levels a joke, as you could practically make the kills with your eyes closed. Conversely, it makes the stealth missions too difficult. Again, as soon as your aim gets anywhere near your target, it jumps directly onto their chests, making a head shot next to impossible. This can be turned off, which in turn makes the analog sensitivity all the more important, requiring more tweaking. The game does not support a keyboard and mouse.
The save features are frustrating. There is no quick save; you have to exit the game completely in order to save your progress. As NOLF is divided into levels, rather than being a continual story line, it saves your game at the beginning of the last mission you were on. And the load times are intolerably long-make yourself lunch, check your mail, go to the bank long.
The AI is none too impressive, either. This is one of those games where most enemies and NPCs are oblivious. Adversaries do not strategize or evade. They stand there, getting shot at and returning fire. It is also one of those games where enemies do not so much sneak up on you as appear out of nowhere. And though all games have pre-scripted events that progress the story, the events in NOLF are way too obvious. There is a level early in the game that has a high-ranking official wandering the streets while H.A.R.M. agents try to assassinate him. This all happens unbeknownst to him, as Cate is hold up in a sniper position, picking off the enemies before they get to him. At first, the guy's oblivious actions and quips are funny, but after a while it becomes absurd. People are shot right in front of him, and he doesn't notice. He stumbles over a dead man with a gunshot to the head, and mistakes him for a drunk. Even this would be fine, however, if the whole thing wasn't so predictable. The assassins wander out into plain view from any one of a few selected positions, so that the level performs like Duck Hunt rather than a spy adventure.
There are other, smaller gameplay issues that get tedious after a while. Things like ridiculous automatic mission failures. In one level, a merchant is trying to sell a soldier a monkey. You can hear their conversation as you sneak by, and after a rather prolonged sales pitch, I decided to just kill the monkey. When I did, the mission was failed due to "unacceptable simian casualties." Now, this is kind of funny. But there are many situations like this that are ultimately pretty stupid, especially when you have to start the mission all over again, after that horrendous load time.
As far as replay value goes, there are a few levels that you may want to go back and play a few times. There is no multiplayer, however, which is a bit of a faux pas in the FPS genre, unless you are freaking brilliant, like Deus Ex. This game is not.
The graphics are terrible. I don't think this is a matter of merely being outdated. The character models are blocky and stiff, the textures practically non-existent, and the special effects poor, but it is more than that. There are clipping and collision problems, flicker, aliasing, constant slow down, you name it. Important things disappear and reappear. Some of the characters have heads that are almost misshapen. All of this adds up to a lack of care taken with the porting process.
The sound, on the other hand, is quite good. This is especially true of the music, which is prefect. The theme song is a dramatic, soulful rendition worthy of any Bond film. The actors are pretty good as well, always finding just the right time to overact. It is hamming it up taken to an artistic level.
In the end, NOLF is a good game that has been done a terrible injustice. One only has to look at the Gamecube version of Resident Evil to see what a little bit of love can do for revamping a classic to a console port. That game is beautiful. The graphics are nothing short of stunning. They even went in and tweaked the gameplay and added different puzzles. They made it so good that even the people who had abandoned the series have to play it. I used to rant on and on about how Capcom was a lazy, money-grubbing monster that released nothing but sequels and clones of Street Fighter. After playing the PS2 ports of Half-Life and NOLF, Sierra has become the monster. These are two of the most popular PC games ever made. They are the games that defined today's first person shooters, and paved the way for console games like HALO and Red Faction. Yet when Sierra finally decided to port them over to a capable console like the PS2, they showed neither the games, nor the fans any love whatsoever. Their graphics are outdated, their performance lackluster. Think of what these games could have been with a little bit of polish, some refined controls, and serviceable multiplayer modes! They could have been just as good today as they were then, maybe better. As it is, No One Lives Forever is the kind of game that you want to love, but just can't. Only diehard FPS fans will be able to overlook the myriad of problems plaguing this title. Better to wait for the sequel, and pray that it is simultaneously developed for the console, while it is still relevant.