No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way Review
By Steven Conover |
You may talk of your Half-Lifes and HALOs but, for me, the original No One Lives Forever was the greatest shooter I had ever played. I say 'had' because this year has seen the release of some truly spectacular first-person shooters, each of which moves the genre in new and interesting directions. Aware on some instinctual level that other titles had supplanted her in my mind, Monolith decided to bring Cate out of retirement in No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way. And for those of you who don't have time to read the whole review, the sequel's as good as the original. Not only does it preserve everything we liked about the first game but it also takes a few steps in some rewarding new directions.
Cate Archer is still working for UNITY and trying to thwart H.A.R.M.'s latest plan, Project Omega. While it first seems pretty tame -- setting up a nice vacation spot for Communists -- it soon spills over into something larger with the USSR and the US teetering on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Over the course of forty missions set in more than a dozen locations, you're expected to sort all this out and save the world...again. Along the way you make new friends, meet new enemies and turn old enemies into allies.
You'll also run across many of your favorite characters from the first game. Bruno's back, this time with a big promotion, and you can still find the wonderful Dr. Schenker hard at work for the UNITY cause. A wheelchair-bound Volkov returns along with H.A.R.M.'s Scottish bad boy Magnus Armstrong. There are plenty of new characters to meet as well including H.A.R.M.'s aggravated new director and Isako, leader of the female ninjas. By far, the best of the new baddies is the leader of the fiendish mimes. In fact, that whole group is hysterical but I won't spoil it by telling you how or why -- although it really ought to be obvious.
Humor was one of the things that the original game was particularly good at and the same approach is apparent in the sequel. You're probably already aware from the demo that Cate fights a bunch of ninjas in trailer park while a tornado bears down on them. Once it gets going, the game is full of this kind of campy, tongue-in-cheek humor. Again, saying too much would spoil things, but there are outrageous death traps, tons of wacky gadgets and plenty of witty dialogue, all of which are faithful yet irreverent towards the stereotypes of 60s spy movies.
As befits a game featuring a secret agent, stealth is much more a part of things now. A new icon lets you keep track of how hidden and stealthy you really are. Move slow and low through dark areas and you'll be practically invisible. There's a lean in the game now as well, so you can get a peek around that corner before walking past it. And since there are now a few enemies that you won't exactly be able to kill, stealth becomes even more important.
The levels are also designed much more openly now, with two or three ways to get in and out of each area. And while you can take advantage of this to get around behind your enemies, they can do the same to you. The game compensates for this by giving you a new set of traps -- banana peels, bear traps -- to lay in places enemies might approach. Cool locator darts can be shot at enemies and let you track them around the levels. Cameras can be circumvented with yet another kind of dart, giving you a little more freedom to get around.
When you do cause commotion, you'll notice that the guards are much more alert to disturbances now and are better able to approach a situation in a rational manner. Whether on larger, outdoor levels or inside cramped buildings, the guards seem to work together to get at least a few of them in position to attack you from the sides or rear. I've laughed at guards as they ran away only to find out they were merely finding a way to sneak up behind me. Unfortunately, nearly all of the guards still have a tendency to run over and investigate dead bodies. As long as they can't see or hear you, they're biggest concern seems to be running up and standing right on top of the guy you just sniped. On some of the levels with good cover and low visibility, you can really rack up some snipe piles.
While the levels allow for a fair bit of flexibility, the missions themselves are very tightly centered on the collection of a seemingly endless stream of items. The whole urgency of the game shifts in to low gear once you've spent 20 minutes looking for that last briefcase. Then there are the classic instances where a whole chain of things have to occur in order to trigger a single event. To open a door, you have to restore the power, to restore the power you have to find the generator. Then you discover that the generator's missing a fuse, and etcetera. There's even a fair bit of backtracking in some of the larger levels as you move from one objective to another through areas you've already cleared.
You're led around now by a compass that indicates the direction towards your objectives or the various zone exits for the larger levels. There's no indication of the distance to the objective and the display is narrow enough in range that you can appear to be on top of something according to the compass but still be a bit off in the game world. There's also a much more convenient gadget system. If you're holding your pistol and try to "use" a coded note, you automatically switch to your decoder. Likewise, if you're facing a locked door, you'll automatically get your lockpicks or welding torch out. What makes this system work is that the "use" command that appears when these objects are encountered is grayed out, so you can always recognize when you'll need to use a different item. No One Lives Forever 2 also adds a lot more information to the objectives screen. Now you'll have access to all of the intelligence you've gathered at any point in a mission. You'll also be able to pull up descriptions of weapons or a list of mission objectives at any time.
I also like the improved skill system. While the original game hinted at some sort of ability advancement for Cate, this one brings it right to the forefront and lets you improve certain characteristics between missions. Spending points earned by completing objectives or accumulating intelligence items, you improve your efficiency or effectiveness. Boost your marksmanship skill and you suffer fewer aiming penalties from moving or firing bursts. But marksmanship also affects how quickly you reload and the stability of the sniper scope. Train in gadgets to defuse bombs faster, or train carrying to cart around more ammo.