It may seem to some that the spy genre has been done to death since James Bond first came to the big screen with Dr. No. There were the Flint films which gently mocked the cliches of the Bond films, and we can't really forget the Austin Powers films. In video games it isn't really the same as Bond titles haven't always captured the feel of the movies well. Goldeneye is of course a classic and Everything or Nothing was a Bond movie in game format but none captured the feel of the early films. Not even Sean Connery appearing in From Russia With Love could save the game from average reviews. A brilliant alternate to the Bond titles and a worthy contender is No One Lives Forever, a Monolith title for the PS2 and PC.
As far as the plotline goes, you really can't ask for a more Bond feeling scenario. Evil organisation H.A.R.M has stolen a weapon that turns humans into ticking time bombs and have destroyed several locales. On top of this, the majority of agents working for good guys U.N.I.T.Y have been murdered by a mysterious Russian assassin with an eyepatch. This leaves only one agent that can save the world from certain doom, and it just so happens that it's a female! Sexy but strong agent Cate Archer is on hand to save the day on her first big assignment!
Graphics-wise the best way of describing it is primitive but entirely effective. The game captures the swinging sixties feel tremendously and you really do feel like you've gone back in time and are about to see the Beatles perform a gig and see the Ed Sullivan Show on the TV screens! It's very rare for a game to just capture a moment in time so well, especially 40 years after it. It's kudos to the developers that they have managed to create a world that is both realistic but contains the over-the-top Bond elements that we know and love.
Another area where the developers have clearly been doing their homework is in the music department. The game sounds 60s in every way shape and form. The best example of this is the game's theme tune, also called "No One Lives Forever" and is a classic piece of British themed pop which evokes images of The Avengers from the opening chords. The in-game music is at the same standard and captures the whole 60s feel incredibly well. There's no synths here so no doubt Queen would be proud of them!
The voice acting is also top notch in every regard. Cate Archer is played excellently by Kit Harris who gives Cate both elegance and attitude throughout the game. Her one-liners are in some cases better than Bond's. Several missions after falling out of an aeroplane at 30000 feet, she's asked whether she likes heights - she responds "Anything under cruising altitude." I thought that was a brilliant line, although there are plenty of others to choose from throughout. The enemies are also played effectively too - Jock Blaney gives a chilling performence as Dimitri Volkov and David Staler portrays Scottish anti-hero Armstrong with a great deal of humor and affection. The actors may not be well known but their performences are excellent and if there's any justice, they'll be getting lots of work for years to come!
It's hard to criticise the gameplay either when clearly a lot of work has gone into it! The levels are very well designed and look beautiful - there's a wide variety of locales including the Alps, Morocco and in Outer Space! Clearly there were no boundaries here. The controls are nice and simple so you'll be a master in minutes. The excellent training level helps a lot in getting to grips so I recommend going through it all and making sure you know how to do everything before you start! The novel feature of the game are that they include many brilliant gadgets. There are the obvious and smart ones, like a lighter that doubles as a welder and a belt that acts as a zipline. Then there's the more amusing ones like a Poodle that emits horomones to keep dogs subdued! It's a pretty novel idea and is quite fun and useful in practice.
The diffculty level is usually pretty good, although trying to defeat the final few bosses even on Easy mode is a challenge. It makes a change through from games that you just sail through and the plotline just keeps you engrosses throughout. Although it's sort of a parody of 60s spy films, the game takes itself serious which makes it all the more effective because of it.
In truth, there are few FPSs that are as solid or as unique as this one. It's a genuinely fun and witty title that has been spectaculairly put together by the people at Monolith and Sierra. There isn't anything else quite like this which is sure to give it a place in gaming history in the future. The fact that the game is near perfect only adds to the joys of the whole spy experience. I hope that No One Lives Forever 3 will get made somepoint in the future as this is one series that has a lot of life in it yet and doesn't deserve to die! Cate Archer, we need you to save the world again!
Stop the terrorist organization H.A.R.M. as sexy secret agent super-spy Cate Archer in this sixties styled first-person shooter!
The dialogue can be long winded at times, but it's wonderfully written, and is served well by the voice-acting. In the missions you might find yourself stopping to eavesdrop in on a conversation between guards - cool!
"Cause no one lives forever/but evil never dies/so learn to laugh at danger/never surrender/cause no one lives forever.", sorry I had to quote these lyrics - the theme tune is so damn groovy! The music fits in with the game's 60's theme.
There are gadgets to go ga-ga for. Though not great in their execution, with a couple making as keys for a lock, it's the thought that counts - sunglasses which are not only stylish but takes pictures as well as detect lasers and mines; lipstick that's as lush as it is lethal, detonating when thrown; and how about a perfume to die for, or at least to send the enemies to sleep.
Whilst the variety of tasks isn't that varied, come end of game, you'll have been sniping on the balcony, silently sneaked about for the stealth sections, gone scuba diving, jumped off a plane, taken a motorcycle or snowmobile if not the train for a ride, gone along with the gondola, interrogated a supposedly successful business man, exchanged banter with criminals, had to put up with a tone-deaf opera singer's "singing", sparred with a Scotsman, been given hell from helicopters, travelled to outer space, and last but not least, relived your pickpocketing past (only on PS2 version). What a woman this Cate Archer is!
Having to restart the scene, only for the lengthy loading times to last longer than your life. Repeatedly.
And it's not like the graphics are gorgeous. Character models are decent enough, Cate Archer is fine (*sigh*) but look through the scope, and the textures on some surroundings have that appearance where it's as if they were suffering heavy compression. If only they showed damage. The bad girl trio have horrible costumes.
No changing analogue sensitivity for horizontal and vertical axis independently. Four preset controller configurations. Not a button left unused, but the 180 degree turn should have been discarded - I loathe having a button mapped to the L3 button! Vehicles are infrequent, are tricky to handle.
Enemy AI is rather a mixed bag. No multiplayer.
The game is no walkover. You'll do well not to depend on auto-aiming. Even on easy the enemies are fairly accurate with their shots. There is much body armor lying about but barely any bandages for health. However the difficulty of a mission can be changed beforehand. No game lasts forever - this title will last several nights. Okay for replay value - it's nice to read about the intelligence items that can be picked up, I found myself replaying the interview mission for the dialogue.
A groovy FPS but not without faults. Despite having more missions, If I had to, I'd point a finger in the direction of the PC version for recommendation.
What do you do if you're a games developer who wants to make a James Bond fps (first person shooter) without the expense of the licence? Well, obviously high on your list you make sure you come up with a plot worthy of a typical Bond film. Then you ensure you include the gadgets, the one-liners and the exotic locations. Perhaps during development you're inspired by the Austin Powers movies which are going down a storm in the cinema so you base your game in the 60's and just for good measure you make the lead character female to distance yourself a little from the male spy. Oh, and don't forget to round it all off with an obvious Bond-like game title and a suitable theme tune. Maybe accusing it of pinching too much from the Bond series is being a little unfair as this game makes for a nice change of pace from most of the titles in the fps genre. But, since it's unlike me to start in the middle of a review, lets get back to the basics for a moment. 'The Operative: No One Lives Forever' originally surfaced on the PC in 2000 to some very good reviews. The Playstation2 version turned up in 2002 albeit with one or two amendments. You play the part of Cate Archer, an ex-thief but now recruited as a deadly operative working for UNITY - a secret international organisation dedicated to protecting humanity from your everyday megalomaniacs. However, it's the 1960's and female spies are not usually par for the course. But UNITY have little choice but to send Archer out into the field when over half of their operatives are killed by an assassin known to have links with a little-known organisation going by the name of HARM. I don't know who comes up with these plots but it appears to have been ten minutes well spent, probably during a visit to the pub. The 60's theme hits you right in the face from the outset thanks to the music playing in the background and the psychedelic animated
game menu. After starting a new game and choosing one of the four difficulty levels you'll get a mission briefing and a set of objectives. Once past the loading screen (and get used to it because you'll be seeing it a lot), you get a couple of cut scenes showing the assassination of some of UNITYs agents which sets the scene for the first level. You start in the headquarters of UNITY and a quick check of you objectives reveals you first need to report to the briefing room to be given your mission. During the course of the next couple of levels you'll be taken through field tactics and weapons training which is a nice way of easing you into the game. It's also useful to get the hang of the controls because strangely nowhere in the instruction manual does it list which button does what. You can find this though the options menu in the game where you can also choose from four button configurations. Presumably this choice of configurations is the reason for leaving these details out of the manual but the default setting seems to be a fairly standard layout and I would imagine the one most people would use. Also I like to check out the controls before playing a new game just to see what moves are available to me. Still this is only a petty annoyance. The game is divided into nineteen missions (four of which are specific to the PS2 version) with each mission comprising of a number of levels - or scenes, as the game likes to refer to them - making about sixty levels in total. These are based in various world-spanning locations such as Morocco, Berlin, the Caribbean and even a space station. Your objectives for each mission may change as you work your way through the levels but a quick press of the circle key displays them on screen and also shows which have been completed. These range from fairly general instructions such as 'prevent civilian casualties' through to more specific goals like 'bribe the gate gua
rd to get inside the compound' and they all have to be completed in order to finish the mission. Movement is controlled by the left analogue stick and direction by the right, although the choice of controls allows the directional pad to be used if that's your preference. As with most first person shooters there is a slight bobbing action when in motion and should you be carrying a weapon this will sway side to side as you walk. If this is the sort of thing that gives you motion sickness then you'll be relieved to know that the game options allow you to reduce these movements or even switch them off altogether. As you make your way through each mission you can collect ammo, body armour and extra weapons. There are no pickups to replenish your health although the body armour does a pretty good job of protecting you. Health is only replenished between missions so you had better keep a close eye on it. There are weapons and gadgets aplenty - about 30 in total - some of which are supplied at the start of a mission, others which can be picked along the way. Cates handbag is soon full of weird and wonderful items such as explosive lipstick, lock-picks, camera disabling devices, code breakers, pen darts, sleeping gas ... and that's before I even mention the selection of weapons ranging from pistols and rifles through to grenade launchers. I guess it's a big handbag then. Stealth also makes an obligatory appearance and much of the training is dedicated to creeping up on targets or avoiding them altogether although in actual practice it's much more tempting to race through the levels shooting at anything hostile that moves. The graphics on the whole are pretty good although there is nothing that hasn't been seen before. Movement is fluid and there is no slow down to speak of. There are some very nice touches on the animation front such as if you kill an enemy at the top of a slope or stairway they o
ften roll down and land in a heap at the bottom. While on the subject of enemies it's also nice to see that they don't always just come racing towards you unlike the cannon fodder found in many other titles. Instead they may take cover or wait for re-enforcements to arrive before attacking. One other thing I will say though is that they are very accurate with their weapons even at a distance - and that's only on the normal difficulty setting. You could always try the Hard or Super Spy difficulty levels if you really want a challenge. While playing the game a suitable soundtrack plays unobtrusively in the background but it's the voice acting that really stands out. Not only is much of it quite humorous but it's the little snippets of conversations that you'll pick up on as you wander through the levels that catch your attention. They are highly entertaining and more than once you'll find yourself stopping just to hear more of the conversation. It's all very well done even if the actors did have their tongues firmly in their cheeks while doing it. The remaining sound effects are pretty much what you would expect and volume levels for vocals, music and effects can be adjusted via the options menu. But it's in the gameplay that the real joys of the game can be found. Rather than constant level after level of charging through shooting anything that moves there is a little more variety to be found here. For instance on your first mission your job is to protect a VIP from a number of assassins. To do this you are located in a hotel window and need to kill any hostiles that try to shoot the ambassador. Manage this and you get to the next level. While an accomplice protects the ambassador you need to move to another room in the hotel and take up position to protect the VIP again. Manage this and the enemy storm the hotel you are in forcing you to defend yourself at close quarters.
Other missions vary between stealth and sniping levels as well as some the familiar run and shoot levels. There is even a level that sees you skydiving from a plane. Occasionally you get the opportunity to ride a motorbike or snowmobile, which again breaks up the constant running and shooting of other fps titles. Moving on to the controls, it's all fine and good if you're playing the PC version as the mouse and keyboard combination make aiming quite straightforward but this is one of the areas in which PS2 fps games usually suffer. It can be very slow and difficult to accurately line up targets, especially those in the distance, with only the analogue stick. To compensate an auto targeting option is available, indeed it's turned on by default. Even enabled you still have to be quick and fairly accurate but once you get your sights close to a target the system locks onto either a head shot (which usually takes out the target instantly) a body shot or a limb shot. This works well and tends to make things manageable rather than easy. No doubt some of you will have already cast your eyes towards the number of stars I've awarded this game. If so you'll have noticed I've given it three stars which indicates that despite these good points it obviously has its share of problems. While there are not many of them they do tend to have quite an impact on the game. Some may feel that being able to save your progress wherever you like in a game makes things too easy but this is one game that would seriously benefit from that ability. As things stand you can only save a game between levels and some of these levels are very large. The PC version allowed you to save whenever you like but if you are playing this on a PS2 and you get suddenly killed then it's back to the beginning of that level. This can quickly become very frustrating. To illustrate my point - one of the levels in the second mission requires yo
u to meet a number of contacts in order to piece together some intelligence information. So you start the game with one objective which is to meet your first contact. Once done you're given another objective to go and find your next contact. After rushing back and fore over the level you finally get an objective to bribe a security guard to let you through into an enemy complex. As soon as you approach the guard you get shot at and killed. So it's back to the beginning and you again have to run about the level meeting your contacts one at a time. OK, so it may only take ten minutes but it's rather annoying and as you get later into the game the size of the levels increase along with the number of objectives. And get killed you will, quite a lot. As mentioned the enemies do tend to be quite accurate even at a distance. Combine that with the fact that you have no way to replenish your health during a mission. Sure, you can pick up body armour but these are few and far between. This makes things very difficult because if you get a pasting on the first level of a mission then you'll have to complete the rest of that mission with whatever health you have left. You may be lucky enough to discover a body armour pickup but failing that any encounter that results in you taking a couple of hits will send you back to the start of the level. Any sudden death like this is quite frustrating but then there is the loading time to cope with. Most of the levels take around 25 seconds to load. This may not sound very long but you have this wait every single time you restart a level and occasionally you get a level so difficult that you'll spend more time looking at the loading screen than actually playing the game. This is not a good thing at all. Despite the problems I've mentioned, the fairly basic puzzles (press a button to unlock a gate) and generally straightforward gameplay would suggest it's one for the
casual rather than hardcore gamer. I'd probably go along with that but would add that a great deal of patience is essential in getting the most from this game. All in all it's a bit of a shame. No One Lives Forever has a lot of nice touches and is very close to being something special but is badly let down by a few, albeit major, problems. It certainly has it's fair share of moments and is often very entertaining but occasionally turns into a frustrating exercise of trial and error largely due to the lack of a quick save feature. There's no sign of any sequel appearing on the PS2 (although I believe there is one on the PC) but if it ever does, and assuming it manages to resolve these issues, then I'll certainly be happy to give it a go. As of yet it's not appeared on the platinum label so I'll have to quote the official price of £39.99 but, as it's been out for quite a while, you should easily be able to find it on offer somewhere. I picked it up on PLAY.COM in a two for £20 offer and at that price it's well worth the money, even with its flaws. Game Information ------------------------- 'The Operative - No One Lives Forever' by Sierra for Playstation2 1 player, Memory card - 150KB min, Analogue control compatible: analog sticks only ELSPA age rating - 15 Some websites worth a look ------------------------------------- This may be biased towards the PC version but it does give you an idea of what to expect from the game - http://www.noonelivesforever.com/ The official Sierra site where you can view a trailer or take a look at some screenshots - http://www.sierra.com/product.do?gamePlatformId=63 Thanks for reading © Nomad 2003