No one lives forever...unless they're ported.
This time around I'm Cate Archer, a sassy and skilled bit of crumpet from Britain who's just defected to the world of international spies after handing in whatever badge of office criminals carry. It's Sierra's first person shooter The Operative: No One Lives Forever, a breakout hit on the PC newly ported to the PS2. Though hampered by the now standard FPS-on-a-console control issues, it's still plenty of fun. Plus, it's got monkeys! Where and why? I'm not telling.
NOLF plays like your standard FPS. Kill all the fez-wearing bad guys and talk to NPCs for information which leads to more levels, more bad guys, and more NPC to shake down for even more info.
It's the late 60's and this is Cate's first big assignment with UNITY, an international organization bent on stopping your Cobra Commanders, your Dr. Claws, your Dr. Dooms and other self-proclaimed world dominating physicians and military officials.
For some mysterious reason, UNITY agents are turning up dead all over the world. How could this be? Is there a spy among you? Maybe it's because of H.A.R.M, an evil organization of ne'er do wells. It's up to you find out the connection between H.A.R.M., your recently deceased comrades and a notoriously dangerous assassin named Dmitri Volkov.
The story isn't very impressive, but the manner in which it's told is really entertaining, thanks in large part to the comical and witty dialogue of the NPC characters. Also, you're often given a few different ways to respond to key NPC characters. Minding your manners and being a polite little secret agent may win you more information or prompt a NPC to give up some "Confidential Documents." The number of classified documents you find figures into your end-mission rank to stroke your ego. Who could ask for more than that?
Well, we could, and an up-to-date graphic engine would be a brilliant start. Though the original PC version made good use of the Lithtech engine, this incarnation is no visual marvel. Character animations seem overly stiff and awkward while the models could use a few more polygons. The textures get the job done, but don't expect this graphic engine to pull any overtime - a couple guns have reflective surfaces, but not much else. There's no bump mapping; instead, cuts and grooves give way to jaggy, jaggy, jaggy anti-aliasing problems. The engine is simply dated.
But plenty of hilarious and brutal death animations coupled with a decent enemy A.I. makes NOLF a fun game to play. Enemies try to evade, ducking and peeking around corners to shoot you. They will even charge, shooting wildly to cover their approach, provided you try to hide after being seen and the odds are to their liking. However, they're not infallible; some will stop evading and stand firm while you shove a hot muzzle square down their yaw. But the AI is adept enough to keep the firefights interesting.
Plus, you get a slew of cool weapons and secret trick spy gadgets to use at your discretion. Cate will obtain a few different hand guns, submachine gun, full auto AK-47, grenade launcher, special binocular sunglasses, camera disabler, code breaker, a trusty lockpick barrette/poison dart, lighter/torch, lipstick grenade, pen dart and even decay powder for quickly discarding dead enemies. What's even cooler is a few of these weapons and trinkets can be modified or equipped with an accessory like a silencer or scopes.
There are 4 levels exclusive to the PS2, which is a nice touch, but that also comes at the expense of any sort of multiplayer. I'm not a huge fan of split-screen first-person shooting (unless it's Halo), but it should still be an option.
What really weighs heavily on this game is the stupid analog stick control and no support for mouse and keyboard. The sensitivity just isn't as intuitive as the old tried and true M&K duo. As a result, aiming is incredibly frustrating. Plus, cycling through your inventory with the D-pad has never been a favorite form of item shuffling.
The Operative: No One Lives Forever is a real rollercoaster of good and evil, but in the end, the solid firefights make for fun action sequences and the laugh-out-loud NPC dialogue really helps the progression of an otherwise uninspired storyline. She may not be Pussy Galore, but Cate Archer still has plenty of style.