It’s been nearly two years since Fox Interactive brought us the original No One Lives Forever. That title went on to become a game of the year, leaving plenty of fans wanting more. Well, the wait is over, and No One Lives Forever 2 delivers more of the same campy humor, silliness, and solid game play that made the first game such a success. Sierra and Fox Interactive have teamed up to bring back Cate Archer and her fellow U.N.I.T.Y. agents in Monolith’s latest offering. They’ll have to work together to collect information and travel the globe to get to the bottom of H.A.R.M.’s latest diabolical plan and save the world yet again.
The graphics in the game are quite attractive and very well done, although some of the screenshots might not show it. The game is so intentionally cartoonish that it’s easy to over look a lot of the detail work. The game exists in a totally unique world that borrows a little from reality, but ultimately looks more like a caricature of it. Characters have exaggerated facial and physical features and are mostly based on comical stereotypes, and while the settings differ greatly from one location to another, they maintain a uniform feel, helping to immerse you into NOLF2’s world. While not everyone will appreciate the games bright colors, ridiculous characters, and playful style, it’s definitely an impressive creation. The lighting effects are beautiful and the models and textures combine to make some very smooth characters and environments. Character lips even move to match the words they are saying. While the graphics aren’t necessarily ground breaking, the level of detail and style have rarely been done better.
With characters as goofy as the ones presented in NOLF2, the voice acting can make or break the game. In this case it definitely made the game. Every character is given a voice as unique as their appearance and the voices fit every character perfectly. All of the voices are way over the top, again with comical stereotypes, but nothing else would fit a game like this. Each voice is unique and easily identifiable, which is even more impressive given that most of the voice actors voiced more than one character, with the majority of the major players being voiced by one actor in particular.
The music is also very well done. One feature which is particularly helpful is the change of music whenever an enemy is actively looking for you. While this is nothing new, it is especially well implemented in NOLF2 and is often very useful to tell when it’s safe to come out of hiding. The overall musical score is fitting but not distracting. It’s also ambient enough that you can leave it on without it becoming a nuisance. When you consider that the music serves to not only set the mood and provide background noise, but also to alert you to emergencies, it’s a good thing that even after hours of playing, most people won’t mind leaving it on. The stereo effects are exaggerated a bit, but this really helps to determine the location of enemies and is very useful for finding fallen comrades in multiplayer.
For those who are unfamiliar with the characters from the first game, you take control of Cate Archer, a top notch super spy within U.N.I.T.Y. The primary goal of U.N.I.T.Y. seems to be protecting the world from evil, and in this case, H.A.R.M. Word has it that H.A.R.M. is currently working on a plan known as “Project Omega” although no specifics are known. From the first level, you control Cate as she tracks down the trail of information to piece together the details of “Project Omega”. You start in Japan facing off against a clan of roof trotting H.A.R.M. ninjas armed with shuriken and katanas. Next you travel to Russia as you infiltrate an army compound crawling with machine gun toting Russian soldiers. And from there it’s off to India to face off against the local police, as well as H.A.R.M.’s Indian agents, who prefer to use large tulwar blades along with their machine guns. Of course who could forget the 350 pound French mimes sporting tommy guns?
These extreme variations in character design and interaction are one of the many highlights of this game. Most of today’s most popular 1st person shooters seem to rely on a standard theme for character design and often this leads to dull game play and ultimately, boredom. However, boring is one thing NOLF2 can never be accused of. The character designs are lighthearted and ultimately so goofy you just have to grin at them. They all have plenty of personality as well. As in the first game, you can often sneak up on guards and catch them in the middle of their always comical discussions with other AI. From guards whining about the colors of their new uniforms to mime’s discussing the proper way to pull an invisible rope, there are an abundance of these little touches and sub plots scattered throughout the levels.
The game combines the action based game play and female lead of the Tomb Raider series, the atmosphere of cheeky humor and the 1960’s references, settings, and fashions featured in the Austin Powers movies, and the spy gadgetry and espionage of James Bond The violence in the game is so campy that even though it’s actually pretty bloody, it’s so cartoonish that it’s never as truly gruesome as many other of today’s shooters. Humor is more important than gore to this game, and when you see a seven foot mime with sweat stained pits and food stains on his shirt pulling an imaginary rope to strafe out of the line of fire, you can’t help but laugh.
The underlying storyline is as silly as everything else in the game, but the interaction with other characters in cut scenes often carries over to missions as you find yourself teaming up with the other characters or rescuing them to complete missions. Although it’s pretty easy to guess what’s going to happen between some of the characters from the foreshadowing in the cut scenes, there are still plenty of surprises. In the last few levels pit you against some very strong and much unexpected opponents, but I won’t ruin that surprise here. I’ll just say that even up to the last level, the game play and characters continue to evolve as new items and enemies are introduced.
The most interesting aspect of the game play is the addition of a stat points system which should be very familiar to fans of role playing games or the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games. As mentioned there are a lot of side objectives and sub plots to be uncovered if you want to take the time to find them all. As a reward for the players who are patient enough to be thorough on each level, there are stat points rewarded based on objectives completed. Your character has 8 different skill groups ranging from armor and health meter upgrades to weapons efficiency and accuracy. Each of the groups can be upgraded with the stat points you’ve earned, allowing you to customize your character to make up for your weaknesses, or to compliment your particular playing style.
The levels are wonderfully designed to allow you to choose whether to rush in guns blazing or to focus on stealth and sneak about without having to engage most enemies. You have the option of turning off the lights in rooms or shooting them out to create hiding places. You can also pick locks on gates and sneak through windows and alley ways to avoid the main streets. Each level is excellently designed so that both playing styles will stand an even chance of success. Although the stealth paths are less obvious and require more patience, they can often be much easier than trying to blast your way through a swarm of enemies. The levels range from a small, enclosed underwater base to the icy Russian military base so large you’ll need a ski mobile to get around.
This is the game’s one weak point – for now. The only multiplayer mode currently available is a cooperative team effort to accomplish tasks directly related to the single player missions. Each mission places you in a setting from the single player missions as a fellow U.N.I.T.Y. agent following the plotlines established in the solo mode. For instance in one mission you will have to infiltrate the Russian base visited in single player after Cate has already destroyed several of the map’s key structures in the solo mission. So when you come across a place where Cate blew up a radio tower in solo, you will find the path blocked by the fallen tower debris in multiplayer. This adds even more depth to the level design and helps to establish a sense of continuity between the levels and the solo and multiplayer missions. However, many of the players online haven’t taken the time to familiarize themselves with the levels before going online and repeatedly training newcomers can get extremely irritating. You’ll also find yourself growing tired of running through the same motions on the maps time after time (even when you have good teammates).
This isn’t to say that the multiplayer modes are bad by any means. They are, in fact, a lot fun and very well designed. When you’ve finished the solo missions and find yourself wanting more, it’s very cool to have the extra missions to tackle. It can also be a lot of fun to run through a level as a team, versus being all alone. Monolith is dedicated to providing more online features though and is currently working on death match and new team based maps to be released over the next few months. This combined with the planned release of engine code and editing tools could add a great deal of replay value. I even saw a deathmatch match level being tested in a private room earlier today, so hopefully it won’t be too long before we can see what they have in store.
All in all Monolith, Sierra, and Fox Interactive have done an amazing job on this title. More than just a sequel to a big seller, No One Lives Forever 2 is a leap beyond the original in terms of graphics, level design, and new features. While fans of the original game will understand a few more of the “inside” jokes of the game, newcomers will easily find themselves at home with the game’s controls and likable characters. Is this title destined to be another game of the year? It’s hard to tell with competition such as Unreal Tournament 2003, but so far, No One Lives Forever 2 definitely stands out as one of the year’s best games.