I Spy A Sequel.
The fabulous and deadly British secret agent Cate Archer returns to stamp out the evil forces of H.A.R.M.! What exactly does H.A.R.M. stand for, anyway? Harsh Administrators of Regurgitated Menace? Hateful, Angry, Riotous Masochists? Hell, Acronyms R Meaningless?
They never tell you for sure, though that shouldn't keep you from checking out No One Lives Forever 2, the sequel to the first-person shooter sleeper of 2000.
This time around, the game highlights its varied gameplay. There's more than one way to get through any area - some areas may call for strictly stealth or outright offense, but most of the game requires a mixture of the two, thanks in no small part to the advanced AI.
The enemy AI exhibits the same deft awareness and unpredictability as the original. Rather than simply scripting a set location and action for a given H.A.R.M. agent, the enemy is given a number of abilities and an area to traverse. You might catch him taking a bathroom break or returning to his desk to file some paperwork.
Say you decide to shoot an enemy down. If another enemy is nearby, he'll catch wind of your villainy and rush over to his fallen comrade, screaming for retribution. He may then have time to hit the alarm, leading to droves of respawned angry footmen. It's quite cool.
However, the respawning at times damages the stealth play and the illusion that you're dealing with a set number of soldiers. Perhaps the ability to turn alarms off would have helped negate this.
If you are feeling generous, you can just shoot a tranquilizer dart, sending the H.A.R.M. agent to slumberland. Whether they are asleep or dead, enemy opponent's fallen bodies can be searched for essential items such as ammo and health. Try stealing their weapons and hiding somewhere. When the enemy agent reawakens, he'll cry out for his lost weapon and then run off, crying for his momma. Nice.
Sneaking also gives you a chance to eavesdrop on the quirky antics of the NPC's, who debate everything from the lack of women in crime to the pros and cons of armed monkeys. Eavesdropping was and still is one of my favorite features of this series.
While the game is still laugh-out-loud funny, it's not quite as humorous as the original, perhaps in part because NOLF 2 is so much shorter than its predecessor. The original took about 25-30 hours; NOLF 2 takes about half that time and has a tendency to reuse maps.
There are 15 chapters in NOLF 2, from the chilly north to the Middle East, and yes, even Akron, Ohio. Each chapter is comprised of multiple maps sewn together. Some chapters involve multiple maps across different times of days, while other chapters zip by with less than a handful. Blink and it's over.
The maps are loosely stitched together with lengthy load times on average rigs. While more memory may minimize these loads, the game cuts away to a yellow mission 'data/load' screen, which annoyingly breaks up the continuity
Cate has access to all the latest spy gadgets and gizmos, among which include tracking darts to indicate an enemy's proximity on her compass dial. Unfortunately, there's no indicator of which direction the enemies are looking or the distance their gaze registers. Guess we can't all have nano-technology shot up the yin-yang, but seeing the enemies' line of sight would have helped the whole stealth angle work better
Cate can also rifle through file cabinets and pick up pieces of information and evidence, just like a real spy. Points are awarded for finding useful documents and contraband; points are also awarded for meeting main and optional mission requirements, as well as completing chapters unscathed.
In an RPG twist, these points are utilized to upgrade Cate's different abilities. Adding points to her 'Search' function will speed up search times, while upgrading 'Marksmanship' will enable her to make accurate shots from greater distances. Some other statistics to adjust include her Stamina and Armor, as well as Cate's ability to use gadgets.
The snowmobile makes a return visit, but I would have liked a third-person view for vehicles. Since there has yet to be an analog keyboard, controlling speed is a little tough, boiling down to either stop or go.
Instead of your traditional Deathmatches, multiplayer offers up Cooperative missions where you play as one of a group of UNITY agents sent in to bail Cate out of trouble against whatever H.A.R.M. may befall her. These episodes work in between Cate's story. They can be fun, especially if you have a LAN setup, but there are only four maps. Deathmatches and Assault stages are promised as an addition in a future patch.
The voices are still expertly done. I enjoyed the French mimes, waltzing about uttering silly phrases like giant Pepe Le Peus. I also find it admirable that the many South Asian Indian voices maintain the deprecating humor.
The main musical track is catchy...at least the first couple times I heard it. Unfortunately, this track is severely overplayed every time the enemy detects Cate and chases her down. Otherwise, the rest of the music keeps up the jazz flavor and the sound effects fit the game to a tee.
In the first game, characters gazed outward with dead eyes, dull and lifeless. Now, the characters emote and act with lifelike animation, with genuinely vivid eyes and accurate mouth movements. The environments are beautifully rich and a significant step up from the original Lithtech engine. The game looks good.
However, you'll run into trouble if your video card is not equipped with Hardware Transform and Lighting, a feature found in current ATI and Nvidia cards. What makes this issue annoying is that Hardware T & L isn't a heavily touted quality among video cards. You won't find "Now with more Hardware Transform and Lighting!" emblazoned on the box; it's there in the fine print and sometimes not at all.
A Voodoo 5 has been documented to work with a Software T&L emulator, but only to varying degrees of success. Hercules Kyro owners, like I formerly was, are just utterly out of luck. Even though at some point software must begin to implement the newest hardware power, support for a wider range of graphic cards would have made it easier for a wider audience to enjoy this game. I'm not taking points off, but it's something to be aware of, especially if you are uncertain whether or not your card makes the cut.
NOLF 2 is a very good game, but the original No One Lives Forever still holds a warmer place in my heart because it was such a surprise of a game. Still, NOLF 2 meets my expectations with beautiful animations, well-written enemy AI, and a shorter but still engaging single player mission. Perhaps H.A.R.M. really stands for Humorous Adventure, Resplendently Made.