Hands- On: No One Lives Forever

Fox and Monolith bring groovy spy action to the PS2.

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Young Cate looking quite fetching.
Young Cate looking quite fetching.

The PlayStation 2 has received a number of first-person shooters within the single year it's been on the market, and several more are due out within the next few months. One of particular note is the PS2 port of Monolith's excellent spy-themed PC first-person shooter, No One Lives Forever. Marked as GameSpot PC's Action Game of the Year for 2000, No One Lives Forever excelled due to its ability to effortlessly blend aspects of several other outstanding games into one cohesive package. GameSpot PC said it best in last year's Game of Year Awards: "No One Lives Forever has elements of stealth like Thief: The Dark Project, scripting like Half-Life, the high-tech gadgetry of GoldenEye 007, and the massive levels of Unreal. Ultimately, No One Lives Forever delivers the most satisfying single-player experience of any action game this year." We recently spent several days playing a near-final build of the PlayStation 2 version of the game, and we have much to report.

In No One Lives Forever, you play as Cate Archer, a rookie female operative in the service of the British spy agency U.N.I.T.Y. When several senior agents are assassinated by the evil organization H.A.R.M., Cate is sent into the field to investigate. If that sounds like the premise of a '60s spy movie, there's a good reason for that. No One Lives Forever is modeled after spy films such as the Sean Connery-era Bond and James Coburn's Flint series, and it comes complete with a cast of high-booted, short-skirted characters, as well as an impressive lounge soundtrack.

Clearly this is an evil dude.
Clearly this is an evil dude.

As a camp secret agent, you routinely use gadgets such as a hairpin lock pick, a belt-buckle zip line, perfume knockout gas, a blowtorch cigarette lighter, and spy-camera sunglasses. More often than not, you spend your time shooting enemy agents with weapons from the game's extensive and varied arsenal, which includes a Hampton Carbine .45-caliber sniper rifle, a Sportsman EX crossbow, a 9mm semiautomatic pistol, a Hampton MPL 9mm submachine gun, an AK-47 assault rifle, a Morris Model 14 speargun, and more. When you're not confronting enemies directly (and you really shouldn't, if you're any good), you're sneaking past them, avoiding detection from searchlights and security cameras (which, unlike in GoldenEye 007, you can't shoot out without someone noticing), and taking pictures of sensitive documents. Unlike first-person shooters that involve level after level of endless corridors, No One Lives Forever places you in many disparate environments such as outside an airplane at 20,000 feet without a parachute, underwater inside a sunken ship in which you're scuba diving, on the back of a motorcycle in the Swiss Alps, and a German night club.

The developers at Monolith have done a nice job mapping the many different mouse and keyboard commands onto the PlayStation 2 controller. Movement is controlled by the left analog stick, and aiming is controlled by the right. The shoulder buttons control jumping, sneaking, and shooting, while the D-pad cycles you through your weapons and items. As in THQ's Red Faction, once you've aimed your weapon in an enemy's general vicinity, an automatic lock-on feature centers your sights onto whatever body part is closest (head, chest, or leg).

The biggest difference between the PC and PlayStation 2 versions of the game is the inclusion of two new flashback levels, in which you play as a young Cate Archer, who was a thief before becoming a spy. In the first level, you roam the streets of London stealing purses and briefcases while avoiding patrolmen. In the second, you break into a pub to crack its two safes while the owners close shop. At this point, neither of the two levels is as polished as the other levels in the game, but they're at least an amusing diversion. Expect to come across them whenever you're rendered unconscious in the main game.

Taking out the bad guys.
Taking out the bad guys.

No One Lives Forever moves along at a smooth and respectable frame rate (30fps and up), and the graphics often look comparable to the PC game running on a fairly high-end PC--save for the new levels, which look quite muddy. The PC game's exceptional soundtrack has made the transition to the PlayStation 2 unscathed, as has the game's incredibly well written and hilarious voice work. (Enemy encounters never get old in the game because your opponents are almost always engaged in some sort of conversation complaining about non-union help, talking about putting a band together, berating other terrorist organizations, or the like.) No One Lives Forever's often severe difficulty level has not been noticeably dumbed down for the PlayStation 2, so it takes a considerable amount of time to play through the game's numerous levels.

The build of the game we played appeared complete except for a few minor bugs and the omission of the previously promised 10 split-screen multiplayer levels. The game seems to be on track for its recently announced February release date, and certainly seems worth waiting for.

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