Camen Design Forum

Game Reviews


:: The Operative: No One Lives Forever [Game of the Year Edition]

* FPS - PC (2001)

With the introduction of Half-Life in 1998, the Quake era of FPSes ended and the new plot-driven era began. For better or worse some things were lost and new things were gained. No One Lives Forever (colloquially "NOLF"), would have been impossible a concept pre-Half-Life; for one thing, it has a plot! You play as Cate Archer, 1960s female spy in a spoof of everything 1960s spy movies / TV shows. It manages to be funny and endearing and not the kind of parody that beats you about the head with the joke.

The attention given to the constant sexism Archer has to face as a "woman" in a man's job shows that, whilst parody this may be, the characters within the plot are entirely serious within their perspective of the world and that the humour in the game is at the level of the observer rather than the characters being 'in on it'. Highlighting the sexism women faced in the 1960s would not have come across honestly if the characters were going to stand around and laugh it off like some Internet troll -- "It's just a joke, bro!".

The game is just full of great character moments; you'll spend a lot of time listening to guard's conversations about anything and everything, always funny and always different from the last.

It's that pace that sets NOLF apart from its contemporaries, it is billed as a stealth shooter after all. You'll spend your time waiting around corners, listening and trying [where possible] to shoot guards in the head and out of sight of any other patrols. You'll sometimes find the pace aggravating; this is not a game you can just sprint through in one sitting, you'll want to play a level at a time. The problem is that, unlike Metal Gear Solid or Thief (games designed wholly to be stealth experiences), NOLF is always at heart a first-person shooter and the stealth elements are just not sophisticated enough -- you either get seen or you don't, and luring guards is very hit-or-miss; they have essentially only two modes: total obliviousness, or precise awareness of your exact location.

All these complaints are made up for by the outstanding level design. In true homage to 1960s spy movies, the plot follows an international trail taking you all over the place, from the hot streets of Morocco to the cold streets of East Germany, up the Alps and under ground in the requisite evil lair. Everything is well crafted, atmospheric and diverse, although excessively rectangular; a trait of FPSes of the time:

*Begin history lesson*

By the turn of the new millennium, hot competition in hardware acceleration had made GPUs standard equipment for gamers and the push by manufacturers to out-do each other in the numbers' game meant that graphics cards had way more pixel fill-rate than was practical for the number of polygons they could actually push.

It was quite easy to make a game look extremely realistic by keeping the geometry pretty simple, but plastering it with very high-resolution [for the time] textures. Max Payne, the poster-child for this nu-wave, was a stunningly good looking game for the time even if upon closer inspection its just a corridor shooter with very simple and rectangular geometry. "Natural" environments proved difficult to do, either by way of the tools used by developers or the hardware capabilities of the time (or both), and this stalemate between texture resolution and geometry complexity wouldn't be broken until Crysis in 2007.

*History lesson ends*

No One Lives Forever is a creative, varied, _different_ experience than the run-of-the-mill FPS, but it is not necessarily innovative; it's stealth capabilities are remedial and underneath everything it's a rather straight-forward FPS with a forced slow pace. Oftentimes you'll find it aggravating or exhausting, but if you pace yourself you'll find a game that is funny, lovingly crafted and entertaining throughout.

:: Highlights

* Light-hearted sense of humour throughout
* Excellent level design, variety of environments
* Great voice-acting, if the cutscenes are a little stiff (see below)
* Excellent range of weapons; the Atomic Raygun has the best death animation in any game

:: Areas of Improvement

* Alternate ammo types are practically useless and a hindrance more often than not
* For a game of stealth, lacks practical stealth abilities like Theif. NOLF is a just an FPS without the usual run and gun approach
* Cutscenes are legion, rather slow paced and a bit clunky (this was apparently the limitations of the technology / developer's experience at the time)
* Far too few variations of NPCs (also a limitation of the technology at the time)


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