Who Does Number Two Work For?
HARM is an evil organization out to do nefarious evil deeds. Blow things up, kill ambassadors, steal candy - real bad guy stuff. HARM even has its own rogue gallery, complete with stereotypical Russian, German and Irish baddies. Damn evil Europeans, always out to ruin our fun. But where's Baron von Bigglewiggle, the Belgium Wafflemaker?
'Unity' is an international organization out to squish evil. Think United Nations, but with guns and gadgets. The organization has hired ex-thief Cate Archer to help stop HARM's latest scheme. Are you up for it, baby?
No One Lives Forever is a seemingly standard mission-based first-person shooter. But as it turns out, some cool features and subtleties push this game above its brethren. An interesting blend of stealth gameplay mechanics and light-hearted humor and style make for an entertaining romp. And all this comes on the newest iteration of the Lithtech game engine, the same engine that gave us the superior Shogo.
Cate Archer is equipped with a standard variety of guns and rifles, but since Unity's got her back, she's also decked out with enough spy gadgets to make Bond jealous. If you ever wanted to know where your tax dollars go, here's your answer -- Research and Development for secret covert organizations. Unity's R&D department, known as Santa's Workshop, has you set up with everything from exploding lipstick to belt buckle zip cords and robotic poodles.
Throughout the missions, Cate is assigned different tasks. For the most part, these tasks are nothing more than item searching. Whether it's taking photographs of secret documents or disarming scattered bombs, it's pretty much just 'find the thing'. But at least it's done in a way that retains the aura of being a secret agent.
Scattered throughout each level are optional "Intelligence Items." Envelopes, blueprints, microfilm...the more you collect, the better your score and rating; additionally, it adds a reason to replay stages.
HARM isn't just going to let you invade their hideout. They've got enemies with strong, realistic AI to fend you off and security systems to see you coming. You can't just jump into the fray with guns blazin' in plain sight. The alarm would sound off and you'll be quickly shot full of holes. Stealth is required to efficiently get through a stage.
The last thing we need is another Lara Croft, and I appreciate how Cate Archer isn't blatantly made the next digital pinup. Despite the box and Cate's penchant for outlandish outfits, the kinky factor is understated. Still, I doubt her effectiveness as a secret agent wearing that bright orange and white jumpsuit. She might as well paint "Shoot Me Now!" all over that vinyl. I do not understand the Sixties.
This is a funny game. Cate has plenty of sarcastic one-liners, complemented by a cheeseball schticky plot. Add a heaping of bizarre, offbeat humor and you just might find yourself laughing out loud. Wouldja like to buy a monkey?
The comedy is injected through in-game conversations. Not cut-scenes, but real-time conversations on which you can eavesdrop and interrupt. As you creep around the evil lairs of HARM, you might find two baddies chatting it up. Sometimes they have something useful to say. Other times, they'll just be ranting to one another. Full conversations of everything from joining a band to getting a little, uh, sumthin' sumthin'. Add some points for realism!
For example, one instance in the game has Cate escaping from a crashing plane. As she makes her way into the back of the fuselage, she can hear two henchmen arguing over parachutes. Turns out the one and only parachute left has already been taken by a third henchman already on his way out. Cate kills the two talkers and runs towards the tail of the plane.
As Cate catches up to Number Three, there's an explosion. Boom! And like that, the plane has been blown in two, Titanic-style. Watch as half the plane, Number Three, and Cate get sucked out into the stratosphere.
So here you are, falling through the sky without a parachute. And to make things worse, some paratroopers have dropped in above you to flail you with bullets. And somehow you have to catch up to Three before you catch up to the very green, very hard Earth. It's a great sequence that fits the nature of the Bond-esque style.
And what's cool is that there are more like it. As you walk into a room, a henchman flips a table in front of him to block your bullets. Kill an opponent on a staircase and watch him tumble down. Hope he had a medic alert bracelet. The single player game may be scripted and linear, but it's still very nifty.
All these sparks of personality and creativity unfortunately haven't found their way into multiplayer. It's decent fun, but nothing that you haven't seen before in the swarms of other first-person shooters out there. There are some vehicles to commandeer, such as motorcycles and snowmobiles, but essentially it's nothing more than a faster, less controllable walking speed.
The Lithtech engine looks pretty good. The characters are well-constructed and the environments parallel reality, so no excessive imaginary architecture. The insides of buildings resemble the insides of buildings. Large vast plains look like large vast plains. I thought that large indoor areas, like warehouses, looked especially good.
The music is done up in funky 60's beats. It's upbeat and fun and sounds like the soundtrack from an early Bond movie. The game's second disk even includes an audio CD portion so you can get your groove on long after playing.
Based on the way the game is titled (with "The Operative" as a pre-heading), I'd venture to say there are plans for a sequel. I hope so. The game grows on you the more you play it. It doesn't make any giant leaps, but it's still a blast. And it made me laugh. Hehe.