Written by: Rik

Date posted: November 2, 2008

Despite having a few rough edges, the original No One Lives Forever was a decent enough game without necessarily being something to rave enthusiastically about. To be honest, I hadn’t expected anything more than that, because as it happens – and apologies to anyone who thought we maintained a magnificently self-disciplined distance from all magazines and gaming sites in the name of objectivity between the time of a game’s release and it being eligible for coverage on FFG – I’d actually read a couple of reviews that said that it really wasn’t all that good at all.

My expectations for this one were a significantly higher, for exactly the same reason – someone paid professionally to play games and put their thoughts down on paper (with a big number at the bottom of the page) said it was much better than the first game. So I, er, expected much better, see? However, as a crafty glance to the left will confirm, “much better” isn’t really an accurate description of NOLF 2 when compared with its predecessor. In fact, even “slightly better” is sort of pushing it.

There’s some serious artillery at your disposal – just what you need for gunning down rotund French mime artists.

In game-land, of course, we’re used to lazy sequels being rush-released onto shelves in a state eerily reminiscent of the original title, but even that isn’t the case here. NOLF 2 is actually quite a different game – not different in that it’s now a billiards game featuring farmyard animals and a clown, but different enough as first-person shooters in the same series released within a couple of years of each other go. Quite a few things have changed, but only some of these changes are for the better, making it a curious beast to evaluate.

Tradition dictates, however, that evaluation goes at the end of a review, and being quite a traditional (and lazy) sort of chap myself, I’m not about to buck that trend. Instead, we’ll go for a quick description of the plot, which involves the return of most of the characters from the original game, including, of course, ass-kicking female super-spy Cate Archer. Once again Archer and her bosses at UNITY are up against the sinister H.A.R.M. organisation, who are who are, as ever, planning something dastardly, this time involving the Soviets, the Greek island of Khios and a whole host of baddies including ninjas, cyborgs and mimes.

As before, there are plenty of cut-scenes between and during missions, although in general they’re shorter and less frequent than in the original game. Those who enjoyed the lengthy exchanges between Archer, Smith and Jones in the first game will be disappointed by the relatively paltry offerings here. Elsewhere, the self-indulgent excesses of the original have been toned down, and, thankfully there are far fewer ‘amusing’ conversations between henchmen to endure this time around.

Fighting it out with ninjas in an Ohio trailer park that has a tornado headed right for it…one of the game’s more memorable levels.

In general the acting is more acceptable, although those with memories of the original relatively fresh in their minds will be able to detect a few changes of personnel in this department. Much more immediately obvious is the improvement in the graphics. NOLF 2 is a very good-looking game, even by recent standards, and country mile ahead of the faded, angular visuals of the first game. Character models are much neater and sharper, and there are plenty of shiny effects to marvel at throughout.

So far, so good, you might say. There’s no doubting that overall NOLF 2 is a leaner, more focused and better looking game than its predecessor, and as someone who found the original game a little messy and full of poorly implemented or superfluous features, I can certainly get onboard with what Monolith were trying to achieve here. My main problem is how they’ve gone about things: instead of retaining those features and trying to make them work better, they seem to have decided it would be easier to just omit them altogether this time around.

Various elements of the first game have been stripped out: there’s no wandering around UNITY HQ prior to a mission, or testing out gadgets in the lab prior to using them on the next level, for example. Speaking of the gadgets, I was no great fan of them last time around, but although the implementation was slightly awry, the idea of having gadgets in a spy game was fair enough. Here they are only used on a handful of occasions, and the option to select which ones (along with weapons and other equipment) you took on each mission – which also had potential – is now missing.

Taste the power of my mascara stun-gun, fiend!

Also absent are some of the more interesting level setups, such as the one which famously saw your character leaping out of a doomed aircraft without a parachute; even the vehicle-based missions have been cut to a single outing for the snowmobile early on (no motorbike this time – boo!), moving the game even further into ‘standard FPS fare’ territory. Where the original mixed a handful of interesting levels with some extremely drawn-out and dull ones, NOLF 2 neither scales the same heights nor plumbs the same depths. There are some stinkers, though, and at various points I was considering how long to wait for things to get better before banishing the game to the cupboard and doing something more constructive, which is never good.

I have two main complaints with the gameplay. Firstly, I’m not too sure about the emphasis on stealth, which is occasionally forced upon you. At the risk of repeating myself, I don’t particularly have a problem with a game trying to make you sneak and be quiet rather than gunning down everyone in sight, but it’s got to be implemented in a way that’s as realistic as possible while at the same time allowing the player to overcome ridiculous odds to progress. In my book the best way to do this is normally to make it clear to the player what the rules are – even if it means employing some kind of artificial device to let him or her know what’s going on. As with the original, stealth in NOLF 2 is a hit and miss affair, and avoiding detection is generally a case of blundering through as best you can.

If you do happen to alert any guards and become engaged in combat, you may come up against quite formidable opposition, which brings me to my other major gripe – respawning enemies. Several times you’ll be sneaking around, taking out a few bad guys as quietly as possible and, confident you’ve cleared the area, start running around with gay abandon looking for ammo, health and other goodies, only to be confronted seconds later by a whole new gang of bad guys who’ve suddenly appeared from nowhere. Of course, if you’re infiltrating an enemy base, it’s not inconceivable that reinforcements may be available to call upon, but in this case it seems like a lazy and heavy-handed way of punishing you for not sneaking around like you’re supposed to on certain levels.

The UNITY brains trust at work, complete with cigar-chomping American general conforming to the usual meatheaded warmongering stereotype.

It’s not all bad, though, and after a saggy and tedious middle section which never seems to end (the levels set in India particularly spring to mind) NOLF 2 redeems itself with some more high-octane action which mainly involves, ironically enough, bullet-ridden stand-offs with huge numbers of enemies armed with machine guns, rocket launchers and the like. And, aside from the graphics, there are some other improvements over the original – while the plot is forgettable, the script is less long-winded and the ‘comedy’ more easily digestible; there is now an RPG element to the game, meaning you get awarded ‘skill points’ for achieving certain objectives, or finding bonus items, which youcan use to improve your shooting and sneaking skills; and notes, maps and other bits of information you come across are logged so you can refer to them later. Little things, perhaps, but good little things nonetheless.

The main differences between this game and its predecessor can be summarised thus: while NOLF tried to add a whole load of different things to the usual FPS template without necessarily implementing them all terribly successfully, NOLF 2 dispenses with most of the innovations in the hope of delivering a slick and original (but more straightforward) shooter. It’s hard to say which game is better, much easier to conclude that neither approach has been totally successful.

Ultimately, whether you get drawn into constant comparisons with the original game or are happy to judge it on its own merits, NOLF 2 is a decent but not essential title. While there are good bits (the fights with ninjas in the trailer park, escaping a cyborg super-soldier in Antarctica, the shoot-out on Khios) there are a lot of crap bits to wade through along the way. I remember tapping out a similar combination of words not too long ago, which can only mean that despite Monolith’s best attempts, we’re still left with a game that rates on the good side of average rather than something that represents an essential part of a gamer’s collection.