The Operative: No One Lives Forever (or NOLF for short) is one of those games that made a huge splash when released, drawing favorable comparisons to Valve’s genre-defining Half Life, but then suddenly vanished without a trace. Nowadays, whenever you hear someone talking about the greatest shooters of all time, you’ll undoubtedly hear Half Life and Goldeneye immediately mentioned, but never No One Lives Forever. That’s a huge mistake, though, because NOLF is every bit as memorable and amazing as those two games.
It’s the most charming shooter you’ll ever play
The few years surrounding the turn of the millennium were great for spy spoofs. From Austin Powers to No One Lives Forever, old spy movies were suddenly fodder for all kinds of clever jokes. NOLF, however, isn’t as outwardly outrageous as Austin Powers; despite much of the game’s dialogue being hilarious, there are undertones of seriousness that perfectly complement its humorous elements. Because of that, it doesn’t come across as something riding on Austin Powers’ coattails so much as something inspired by the (perhaps unintentionally) hilarious and cheesy Rodger Moore-era James Bond films.
The characters make the game great
If you were to ask a group of gamers about their favorite female characters in gaming, you’d no doubt see No One Lives Forever’s protagonist Cate Archer mentioned at least once. Despite NOLF having all but faded away in the minds of many gamers, the strong-willed, 5’7 superspy of Scottish-English descent has left an indelible mark on the collective gamer subconscious. That being said, she gets knocked out by enemies like 3 or 4 times over the course of the story, which somewhat undermines the aura of spy imperviousness that makes her such a great character. Apart from that, however, she’s a great character, and she has equally great villains, from the Scottish stereotype Magnus Armstrong to the tone-deaf singer Inge Wagner. The no-name villains are the ones who steal the show, though, engaging in conversations with each other about art, villainy, how correlation doesn’t imply causality, and even cars. You simply never know what you’ll overhear next, though there’s a good chance that it’ll have something to do with goats. Scientists experiment on them, you see them in hallucinations when you’re poisoned, and there’s even this:
What’s a spy without stealth?
While there are some missions where you can go in guns blazing without facing any consequences, stealth is necessary for completing others. Luckily, NOLF does stealth better than most games of the era. While there’s your typical avoid-security-cameras fare (and you can’t destroy them without setting off an alarm, complicating matters somewhat), luring enemies out of the view of cameras and finishing them off with a silenced pistol or crossbow is incredibly satisfying. This is even truer when you take into account the fact that different weapons create different levels of noise, so while a crossbow is almost entirely silent, using a silenced pistol can alert enemies to your presence if you’re not shooting from far enough away. You also have to take into account the surface that you’re walking on when you’re trying to be stealthy; hard surfaces like tile and wood can easily alert enemies to your presence, while surfaces like carpet are much more forgiving.
One of my favorite parts of stealth in No One Lives Forever is how effectively you can use the sniper’s bait trick. All you have to do is shoot someone from far away without anyone else hearing (or any cameras seeing the body) and wait for another guard to see the body lying there. They’ll instinctively run toward it out of concern, ending up right in your line of fire. If you do this with a crossbow and focus on shooting at the head, you can end up taking out up to four guards without a single one of them ever realizing that you were there.
Sometimes stealth fails
Unfortunately, the game’s not perfect and sometimes shows its age. This is never more apparent than when you’re in a level with bushes; because of the way older games handle bushes, they appear opaque to the gamer, obscuring any enemies behind them, but enemies can see through them as though they aren’t actually there. Because of that, you can’t rely on them for cover and will occasionally be detected before you can even see an enemy. Though this only happens rarely (we’re talking once or twice in the entire game since there aren’t many levels with bushes), it’s nonetheless frustrating.
There are also a few equally-rare timed sections that you have to contend with. While they’re not poorly done or overly difficult by any stretch of the imagination (I only failed one, and even then, only that one time), I really, really don’t like timed sections. However, even if they’re a deal-breaker, I want to stress that the ones in NOLF aren’t bad at all, especially since the PC version of the game has a quicksave option that helps remove a lot of the stress.
Do you remember back when James Bond had exploding pens and other ridiculous gadgets? No One Lives Forever has the same kinds of bizarre gizmos, from guard-dog-distracting robotic dogs to exploding lipstick. There’s even a lighter that doubles as a lock-destroying torch. Later on in the game, you’re given the freedom to choose your weapons and gadgets before each mission, allowing you to bring whichever crazy weapons and devices you’ve grown fond of.
This may be an older game, but its colorful and unique areas and characters have helped its graphics stand the test of time. While the character models can tend to be a bit blocky, the art design captures the colorful quintessence of the 60s so well that it manages to be timeless. It’s a surprisingly pretty game, really.
The music is amazing
Everyone knows the Bond theme, just as everyone knows the Mission Impossible theme. Spies and catchy themes go together like peanut butter and hospital visits (when you have a peanut allergy), and despite my huge love of many of the Bond movie themes, I can’t help but think that the No One Lives Forever theme song is more catchy and appropriate than anything from Rodger Moore’s Bond era:
The in-game music, while not quite as memorable as the main theme, is equally appropriate and mood-setting. Even better than that, the music changes when you’ve been detected, so you can actually use the music to determine whether or not you’ve been heard. It all comes together amazingly.
Here’s what you should do: