No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way Review

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Publisher: Sierra (Vivendi Universal Games) / Fox Interactive
Developer: Monolith

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: PIII 500, 128 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, 32MB 3D graphics card, 1.2GB HD Space

Cate Archer has returned to save the world from grief ... and H.A.R.M. The malefic international criminal organization H.A.R.M. has approached the Soviet Union, offering up for sale their latest dreadful handiwork – a project that could help turn the tide of the cold war. Cate and her organization U.N.I.T.Y. must first investigate the potential Soviet threat, ultimately leading them to the doorstep of H.A.R.M.'s sinister, if effete, director. As the United States and the Soviet Union stumble toward a nuclear war over the fate of a tiny island, U.N.I.T.Y. and Cate Archer must ensure peace and lasting security for the planet.

Kyle Ackerman

No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way (NOLF 2) captures all of the charm and tongue-in-cheek mockery of 1960s spy films that No One Lives Forever: The Operative (NOLF) exemplified, but in a tighter, shinier package. Sporting a brand new graphics engine and even smoother gameplay, NOLF 2 is a thoroughly engrossing experience. The game starts simply – Cate must complete a surveillance assignment in Japan. As the Americans and Soviets become involved, the situation grows increasingly complex until Cate is once again responsible for saving the world – on the way, visiting the central U.S., India, Siberia, the Antarctic, and evil headquarters both underground and under water. Cate faces enemies both old and new, old enemies turned allies, and receives help from an unexpected quarter to once again keep the planet intact.

It's easy to think of NOLF 2 as the same game as NOLF, but with much more of everything: more enemies, more weapons and more gadgets. There are some more fundamental changes that improve gameplay considerably over what was already a tough act to follow. The improvements are largely related to stealth and enemy artificial intelligence. Stealth is a viable option in most areas of NOLF 2. In addition to the distractions available from the first game, such as coins to grab guards' attention, a whole hiding dynamic has been added. Cate can conceal herself in dark nooks or corners, and can hide more quickly and effectively depending on her stealth skills. It's easier to hide in the dark, so lights can be turned on or off, and light bulbs can be unscrewed to make sure nosy guards won't find you by brightening the room with a flick of the switch. The environment can be your enemy, as well. Brushing against wind chimes or a stray bottle can reveal your location to enemies. You can also improve your ability to evade patrols by marking guards with darts that cause their location to appear on a radar-like display. Most of all, the ability to pick up bodies, if you should have to kill an odd guard or two, lets you hide suspicious corpses from patrols.

That Lava Seems Tepid

Of course, stealth requires patience, and sometimes a lot of it. Even alarms will end if you hide long enough, and if you wait long enough, guards will often leave to grab a smoke or head to the restroom, giving Cate the opportunity she needs to slip by. For gamers short on patience or time, stealth can be a bit more challenging, but the reward for stealth is one of the finest parts of the game – the ambient dialogue. By sneaking around you can overhear conversations that range from the amusing, to in-depth explanations of H.A.R.M.'s operations. Only by sneaking will you learn the symbolism behind H.A.R.M.'s salute, the reason H.A.R.M.'s lava-filled caverns aren't so hot, or what robots think about math. Stealth makes a non-lethal approach viable in some areas, but guards that wake up without weapons will fearfully run around yelling (and sometimes crying), and can be more of a hazard than a hidden corpse.

Improvements in enemy behavior add depth to the game. Because most guards will choose from a set of behaviors instead of scripted paths, the situation can differ tremendously between approaches. Each enemy has a few habits and requirements, including the need to relieve himself. It can be startling to see a soldier sprinting away from his patrol towards Cate's hiding place, until you realize he's just searching for a convenient tree to give him a little cover during a bathroom break. This adds replayability – while the terrain remains the same, and some approaches are better than others, the experience varies between tries, helping to add variety to the quicksave/reload rut that some games fall into. There are, of course, exceptions. The snowmobile escape from Siberia has all the foes fixed in predetermined locations, and some of the most powerful enemies follow predetermined routines unless disturbed, making the firefighting task that a particular level enforces an exercise in pattern recognition, rather than an opportunity for creative exploration.

An FPS – RPG-Style

Between NOLF 2's improved stealth and deeper A.I., there is a lot to explore within the game. One design choice occasionally detracts from the fun of slinking carefully through enemy installations. Some areas have respawning enemies. They can be tagged with tracking darts, but the endless stream of guards can be pretty irritating if you've spent your time patiently taking out the opposition, one by one, in silence and shadow, eliminating the bodies, only to find yourself back where you started.

Character development that existed in the first game has been made much more explicit. Now, as you progress through NOLF 2, completing objectives or just finding intelligence secreted in file cabinets, you gain points that can be spent on improving skills. By the end of the game, if you complete the many optional objectives, Cate can be expert in nearly everything, but choices do have a significant impact on early play. Points spent on Stealth and Gadgets allow Cate to hide quickly and (with care and patience) bypass areas firing nary a shot. Stealth and Marksmanship can help build a silent assassin, and Weapons and Armor can be used if you want to jump around, shooting all the while. The element of choice in character development helps the player get closer to the trials and tribulations experienced by Ms. Archer, and lets gamers adapt her strengths to individual playing styles.

A Banana Can Be A Stealthy Girl's Best Friend

The variety of weapons and gadgets is glorious. There are different weapons to suit most play styles. You won't always have access to your favored gun, but you should always have a choice between stealthy accuracy and launching a wild spray of bullets. Most weapons have multiple types of ammunition, and gas grenades come in a variety of flavors, including laughing gas, which is amusing enough that one player in a cooperative multiplayer session did little but use such canisters on himself. Non-lethal solutions include tranquilizer darts, glue pellets, bananas and bear traps. Bananas and bear traps often aren't worth the effort when you can just shoot someone, but can be used in ambushes and are useful when facing suspicious enemies you are forbidden to kill. Such items are sometimes entertaining enough to be worth a try, regardless of the inconvenience. The "angry kitty" anti-personal device, for example, is simply worth watching. When you drop it, enemies are distracted by your covert explosive in cat's clothing. It's amusing to watch (from a safe distance) as a Ninja walks up to it. "A cute little kitten..." she exclaims, then...Boom!

There is tremendous attention to detail in NOLF 2, and some inventive comic touches. Everything looks better with the new engine, right down to the fancy water effects, but this is most obvious with the exacting gestures used to convey emotion. The animation of eyes is a small point, but is enough alone to make NOLF 2 more viscerally emotive than many previous games. Enemy intelligence is full of details on intellectual property claims and the administrative details of running an evil empire. Crossbow bolts pin enemies to walls, and you see Cate's feet if she slips on a banana. The soundtrack and voice acting are appropriate and well done. In-game help is provided by U.N.I.T.Y.'s robotic bird, providing justification for the assistance. Mimes silently pull on invisible ropes to dodge Cate's bullets, and the trailer park in Ohio is full of objects buffeted by the wind, including a tumbling trailer! Lighthearted humor is plentiful, as well. The pursuit sequence in the streets of India bears a passing resemblance to a turret shooting sequence, but is very funny, and the punishment for poor performance in the ranks of H.A.R.M. has to be seen to be believed. (At least it's 65% reversible.)

Levels are well-thought out, and include some clever sequences, such as aiding your captured pilot in his escape from a soviet camp. The whole process of helping an unarmed ally move, under cover, while protecting him from attacking guards with automatic weapons is exciting. There is even a branching sequence, where you must choose one of two paths to follow. On the way, you require assistance from your companion in several spots. If you are stubborn enough to play both branching paths until they rejoin (by reloading), you get to provide the aid you required while taking the opposite path, nicely meshing both sequences.

A Team Of Spies, Madly Running And Gunning

In addition to respawning foes, boss battles are the main criticism that can be levied against NOLF 2. Fighting challenging battles can be exciting, but identifying and exploiting patterns is nearly always an irritating exercise. The battle against the Mime King is the most frustrating and distracting sequence of the game, which is unfortunate because it integrates into the plot so well, and is visually exciting.

Monolith made a sensible choice for NOLF 2's multiplayer component. While it would have been possible to include a free-for-all or team battle mode, NOLF 2 would have been in competition with any number of other online games. Instead, you can join other U.N.I.T.Y. agents to cooperate in completing missions related to the storyline of NOLF 2. Typically, the scenarios involve cleaning up after Cate – you can even rescue an unconscious Ms. Archer. The multiplayer missions contribute to the overall NOLF 2 experience by explaining and elaborating on events in the single player plot. Each player can configure their character with a set amount of skill points, appearing as a dapper Englishman in a variety of dark suits. You start with a silenced pistol, but other weapons are scattered throughout the level. The concept is good, but some of the things that make NOLF 2 compelling don't work as well in multiplayer. It's difficult to find a good, stable server with low latency. That, combined with the need for patient and cooperative teammates, means that stealth and sharpshooting in multiplayer are virtually impossible. Ideally, with friends and on a local area network, each player could specialize in different skills, conquering the multiplayer maps as a team of expert spies. In reality, most games contain a lot of running and wild shooting. It's entertaining, but without a lot of longevity. Whatever flaws the multiplayer may have, the single-player campaign alone is worth the price of admission.

NOLF 2 is an absorbing, exciting, humorous and clever game, that is a worthy successor to NOLF. PC gamers who avoid this title are missing an exceptional experience.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 13, 2002 6:41 PM.

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