No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way Updated Preview
Take a look at NOLF 2's single-player in our updated impressions of this action-packed sequel.
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There will certainly be no shortage of action games for the PC this holiday season--not with games like Mafia and America's Army already out, and others like Unreal Tournament 2003 and Battlefield 1942 on the horizon. Adding to the already wide selection of impressive games will be Monolith's No One Lives Forever 2, the highly anticipated sequel to the classic Bond spoof that was released a couple of years ago. The original No One Lives Forever was good enough to walk away with our Action Game of the Year award in 2000, as it had a great mix of action, eye candy, and, surprisingly, humor. As enjoyable as NOLF was, however, it had its fair share of problems, the most notable of which were a lackluster multiplayer experience and a little too much reliance on stealth--anyone who's finished the game will attest to the frustration that was felt every time the game would end after simply being spotted by a guard. After the sequel's announcement last year, we were curious to discover if these issues would be addressed in NOLF2. It's taken a while to find out, but we were recently able to get our hands on a preview build of the game, and we're pleased to report that not only is the game a graphical improvement on its predecessor, but it also makes some significant changes to the original's basic gameplay mechanics. We've already reported on NOLF2's new multiplayer mode, but we've yet to provide hands-on impressions of the important changes NOLF2 will make to the series' single-player component.
As you undoubtedly know by now, in NOLF 2 you'll reprise your role as the superspy Cate Archer in her quest to undo the plans of the evil organization H.A.R.M. While details on the game's plot are still a well-guarded secret, our time with this early build of NOLF2 has revealed a few key facts. Specifically, H.A.R.M. seems to be working in cooperation with the Soviet Union in an attempt to take over a resource-rich part of the world in a move that's code-named Project Omega. Naturally, the UN-like UNITY isn't about to sit idly by and let this happen, and so Cate Archer is sent around the globe in an attempt to put a stop to H.A.R.M.'s plans. You'll make pit stops in Siberia, India, Antarctica, and even Ohio as you do battle with H.A.R.M. agents. Your first mission, however, will take place in Japan.
Unlike the original No One Lives Forever, NOLF2 doesn't have a specific training level. Instead of getting familiar with her weapons and gadgets at the UNITY training facility, Cate Archer will have to sharpen her skills in the field. In that regard, the first mission will serve as your primary proving ground. You're sent to the small Japanese village of Inotakimura to investigate a "criminal convention." Cate's goal here is to find the location of this high-level meeting and then photograph the attendees in the hope of giving UNITY some clues as to what these evildoers might be planning. You'll arrive on the outskirts of the town with only a crossbow and a few personal effects, none of which look very imposing--a tube of mascara, a key chain, and some lipstick. Upon closer inspection, however, you'll note that, in classic NOLF fashion, these items are gadgets in disguise. The key chain is also a flashlight, the lipstick is actually a pocket camera, and the mascara is a rather powerful stun gun. As you make your way to the outer gates of the town, you'll come across several notes and a few mechanical birds, all of which have been placed in key locations by UNITY headquarters, and all of which provide you with important tips about controlling Cate and interacting with the environment.
Before being able to photograph the convention, you'll have to meet up with UNITY agent Isamu Hatori, who'll give you the location of the meeting. Doing so is easier said than done, however. The entire town is crawling with female ninjas, and they show off NOLF2's enhanced AI quite well. While the almost absolute reliance on stealth in the original NOLF has been removed for the sequel, remaining undetected plays an important in NOLF2. In fact, the game now lets you actively hide in the shadows or behind objects. All the levels in the game have certain areas that allow you to conceal your presence from others, and they're denoted by a simple purple eye icon. It will take you a few seconds to hide completely, and naturally, you won't be able to make any sudden movements while in your hiding spot, but once hidden, enemies will have a much harder time detecting you than usual. That's not to say that the bad guys in NOLF2 are dumb--far from it. Cate's footsteps will make different sounds depending on the type of surface she's walking on, so even if you're around a corner from a sentry, you'll be heard if you're not walking on a soft surface. What's more, some enemies will even call for help before attempting to take you on alone. In Inotakimura, for example, the ninjas will almost always run away to sound the alarm and then return with help to attack you. Additionally, enemies will take notice of any bodies they run across, which means that you can't leave a path of destruction behind you if you plan on staying undetected.
To offset the smart enemy AI, NOLF2 will provide you with abilities that were not available in the original No One Lives Forever. For example, Cate will now be able to lift dead or unconscious bodies and hide them. In a clear homage to Looking Glass' Thief series, Cate won't be able to attack or move very fast while she's got a corpse draped across her shoulder, which adds a certain element of tension to the game. You can also search bodies for weapons or ammo, but this too takes time. Thankfully, you can speed up this process by upgrading one of Cate's many skills. This is another major change to the No One Lives Forever series, and it functions just like the skill system of a typical role-playing game. Cate has seven skills--stamina, marksmanship, carrying speed, armor capacity, weapons, gadgets, and search speed--that you can upgrade throughout the course of the game. Each of these skills costs 1,000 points to increase, and after finishing a level, finding hidden areas or items, or completing certain mission-critical objectives, Cate is awarded a few hundred points. At any time during the game, you'll be able to allocate these points into one of those seven skills, each of which will improve Cate's abilities in a specific manner.
This skill system is also available in No One Lives Forever 2's promising multiplayer component, which will strictly be a cooperative affair--no deathmatch or capture the flag here. There will be a handful of multiplayer missions, and they'll all let up to four players cooperatively play through slightly different versions of the levels you'll find in the single-player game. Before jumping into any given multiplayer match, however, you'll be able to customize your character's skills to your liking in much the same way as in the single-player game.
It's clear that the designers at Monolith have taken the criticisms leveled at No One Lives Forever to heart. The sequel boasts the requisite improved graphics, and the addition of an RPG-style skill system, a more forgiving stealth system, improved enemy AI, and new player abilities should make Cate's latest adventure much better than the original. Obviously, at this stage, the game still has a few technical issues that need to be worked out before release--most notably, loading times were painfully long in our build, and frame rates were a little low, even on a 1GHz machine equipped with a GeForce4. Monolith says that these are known issues, however, and they should be fully addressed by the time the game is released this October. Until then, be sure to take a look at the latest batch of screenshots and movies that we've added to our media section and image gallery.