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by Monolith

alps_ss2_sm-01.jpg (7350 bytes)First-person shooters generally come in two flavors; there are those that serve the “frag on, dewdz” crowd and those that cater to the “thinking man’s” group. The first kind emphasizes blowing stuff up good, quick-twitch muscle groups, and endless nights of Mountain Dew-powered multiplayer gaming. Think Quake III and Unreal Tournament. The other emphasizes problem-solving, stealth, and solid—if not quite Dickensian—single player narratives. Think System Shock II and Thief.  Though both kinds of shooter make excellent games, both of course have their weaknesses. Games that emphasize running around blowing the bejabbers out of everything can be mind-numbingly dumb (think George W. Bush), and games that emphasize pondering arcane puzzles can be mind-numbingly dull (think Al Gore). With No One Lives Forever, Monolith successfully combines the best points of both types of shooter in one game. And the end result is terrific, the gaming equivalent of combining chocolate and peanut butter.

alps_ss4_sm-01.jpg (7118 bytes)No One Lives Forever lives unashamedly in the world of the 60’s spy genre. There are sly tips of the hat everywhere to James Bond movies, The Avengers, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but the game is clever enough not to take the genre seriously—it also plays off great spy spoofs past and present, like Get Smart! and the Austin Powers movies. You step into this world as Cate Archer, a Scot catburglar turned spy who works for a benevolent spy consortium named UNITY. And yes, she looks fabulous.Your problem (and the rest of the world’s problem) is a shadowy organization named H.A.R.M., which has been setting off a series of mysterious and powerful explosions. You job is to figure out who’s doing this, how they’re doing it, and why.

It’s a tough job, and you’ll pick up a lot of frequent flier miles—No One Lives Forever takes you to such settings as Berlin, Morocco, the Alps, the Pacific Northwest, and the tropics. Once in these locales, you’ll work your way through a series of “scenes”--No One Lives Forever never forgets its cinematic inspiration. Each of these scenes is like an episode from a Bond movie; you’ll be presented some sort of sticky situation, and you’ll have to find some ingenious way out of it.

caribbean_ss1_sm-01.jpg (3832 bytes)Well, ingenious some of the time at least. As I noted above, No One Lives Forever is a splendid combination of flat-out shooter and first-person stealther. In some missions, going around with and AK-47 and blowing away everything that moves will just about make everything all right. But even then, you’re going to have to be a little more savvy than usual. Circle-strafing will just make you dead pronto in this game; to succeed, you’ll have to use cover and switch weapons often. Other missions place a premium on avoiding detection and figuring out puzzles. From reading the message boards, I see one of the most common complaints about No One Lives Forever comes from hardcore fraggers who can’t take the tedium involved in working through the stealth missions, as if sneaking your way through a compound full of movie cameras and guard dogs were the equivalent of studying for an accounting exam. Ok, you guys, stick to Quake III. I’m sure Quake IV will be along soon, and it’ll be even prettier. Whoo-hoo!   But for anyone with an attention span exceeding how long it takes to read the last sentence, these scenes are a pure joy. First, they take place in unexpected settings—on a crippled jetliner, on a sinking ship, on a gondola besieged by helicopters and most of all in the spacious, colorful, outdoors. Secondly, these scenes have narrative-driven goals that make sense—not just “run around until you find the button that lets you exit, and oh yeah shoot all the crates that look a little different, because there’s stuff in them.” (In a real coup for a first-person shooter, there are no crates in No One Lives Forever—or at least none with stuff in them.) Finally, the missions are very enjoyable; with few exceptions, the puzzles themselves strike a nice balance—they’re just difficult enough to get you thinking, and you can figure them out by thinking.

caribbean_ss2_sm-01.jpg (8373 bytes)To aid you in your missions, you’ll be given a wide variety of gee-whiz spy technology circa 1966. Your lipstick collection, for example, is really a cleverly concealed variety of hand grenades. Sunglasses serve both to protect your eyes from the sun and as a camera, mine detector, and infrared vision device. Your barrette? A lock pick. Your lighter? A welding torch. Even your perfume atomizer dispenses a variety of useful gases. These items aren’t just window dressing; to negotiate the game, you’ll have to use them. The same principle is at work with the game’s weapons. Though you’ll acquire increasingly powerful weapons as the game moves along, they’ll not always be the best ones for the job. Unlike many other FPS’s, in which you blast away with the most powerful weapon in your arsenal until it runs out of ammo, in No One Lives Forever you’ll employ your humble pistol with silencer as much as your 9mm machine gun. And with one slight exception, there are no uber-weapons in this game. You don't even get a missile launcher. Again, this makes the "I can shoot my way out of hell itself" approach much less effective. 

germany_ss1_sm-01.jpg (5765 bytes)In keeping with the cinematic tone of the game itself, the cutscenes that advance the game’s narrative between missions are also very cinematic. They even tend to be a little on the longish side, a quality that may annoy some action mavens but which is great for exposition and character development. And character development yet again sets this game apart from others. Not only is Cate Archer a groovy-looking chick, she’s also got a personality and a set of issues that she’s dealing with--vice, say, Laura Croft. Even the villains in the game are real characters; surprisingly enough, you’ll probably find yourself liking one of them, and applauding his not-so-dreadful end. Hell, even guards have  personality in the game. As in Thief, you’ll often overhear guards before you see them, and often they’ll engage in hilarious (really, I’m not kidding, one of the great things about this game is how funny it is) conversations about their jobs, families, or the Beatles.

morocco_ss1_sm-01.jpg (6577 bytes)The game’s personality is also enriched by its graphics, which are excellent. The Lithtech engine is here put to its best use since Shogo.  The settings are rendered in brilliant color; No One Lives Forever is no dark and dingy dungeon crawl. The game’s graphics reflect the mod attitude of the swingin’ early 60’s spy thriller, and the game’s attention to detail is superb. From the architecture and French-language signs in Morocco to the flyers advertising Beatles shows in Hamburg (a bit anachronistic, but so what?), the game’s settings lend the atmosphere and character necessary for a cinematic suspension of disbelief. The game’s characters are also well-modeled and detailed. Guards are never merely generic, they always look like they belong in Morocco or the Alps or Berlin. 

Sound is also first-rate. As in other stealth games, you'll often hear things before you see them, and sounds can provide valuable clues. The music is really cool and provides instantly recognizable 60's spy film ambiance.

While No One Lives Forever’s focus is clearly its single player game, you can also play multiplayer. While you can choose from over 40 skins and many levels, the only game options are deathmatch and team deathmatch, and overall multiplayer implementation is merely competent. 

No One Lives Forever has excellent and detailed graphics, an amusing narrative, a wicked sense of humor, and tons of personality. More importantly, it has the most well-balanced and enjoyable gameplay we’ve ever seen in a shooter. Some have suggested that No One Lives Forever is the best first-person shooter since Half-Life. We’d suggest it’s better.

Rick Fehrenbacher


Ups: Like playing a 60's spy movie. Excellent graphics, atmosphere and gameplay.  Really funny. Cool music.

Downs: Merely competent multiplayer.

System Reqs: P-300, 64 MB RAM, 8 MB 3D card.


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