Unlike many FPSes that had come out before the game, or since, this one has some of the most action-filled sequences, some of the best game dialogue, colorful world (graphically) and characters, and the mission locations are varied and as a result: really interesting.
No game that I know of has a sequence where you have a shoot out on a flying commercial aircraft, and later having that plane explode having you ejected from it and the proceed to shoot at skydiving assassins while steering your fall onto the back of another one to steal his parachute. Pardon the long run on (a common thing with me [stop with the self-effacing]), but as corny as they may sound to some (like me) in practice it truly is an awesome experience. The game is only filled with similarly action-packed moments (though they don't really top it). For example, one mission starts off calmly enough with you (playing as Cate Archer, the best heroine in a game ever) scuba diving and exploring the wreckage of a recently scuttled ship, fighting off the occasional and frightening SHARK, and finding some documents. Upon this, a team of Scuba divers (employed by the bad-guys: H.A.R.M.) are sent to kill you and the harpoon battle that ensues is simply delightful (to say the least).
Another awesome part of the game is when you sneak onto a space station used by H.A.R.M. for research to take the antidote (which needs to be suspended in a zero-g environment) to a biological weapon being employed by said international-criminal/terrorist organization. During this part of the game, expect to partake in an awesome laser-powered showdown against enemy astronauts.
I could go on and on with the number of memorable, and awesome moments of this game, but this leads to one of the problems of the game: while the game takes you too many interesting places to do battle, it is just that: to do battle. Is stealth an option? Aside from 3 instances where stealth is absolutely necessary (one of which you cannot kill/incapacitate anyone at all), the game is geared for just action. Fun as it is, considering how the character you play was once a cat-burglar and is an extremely intelligent person as well, it is kinda dumb that the only option present to you most of the time is the one that is not only overtly obvious and taken by pretty much all FPSes ever, but the only way to go about most missions requires killing.
Yeah, giving more options to a stealthy play style would have required an overhaul on nearly every map present, but in doing so would have improved the legacy of this game considerably. A perfect example: how often do you hear about the greatness of Dues Ex? Depending on the gaming circle you belong, it varies from between "constant" to at least "once in a while." No One Lives Forever? Doesn't compare really, and since the games originally came out at around the same time, Deus Ex got far more attention (though No One Lives Forever is by no means a bad game, and it stands out on its own merits).
Why gripe about this? Especially since this is a retro-review and to make too critical of a review would take the context in which this game was released... but this game has many similar elements, but they aren't executed as well:
Dialogue options: though they lead to often hilarious moments, aside from the mission where you have to give an interview, this is a forgettable feature as it affect nothing other than obtaining some extra "intelligence."
Stealth and Non-lethal means of dealing with enemies: though fun to employ, the chances to use these are few and far in-between. Judo-chopping an unsuspecting sentry guard in the back of the head isn't a 100% reliable, and the Stun/Sleep sprays have such limited ammo, you'll run out very quickly on a mission with more than 3 enemies (EVERY MISSION). Also, though believable if you take in account the idea of peripheral vision and the fact that Cate Archer is dressed in 60s era clothing (read as: attention getting), distant sentries even when distracted with a conversation will often see you creeping about in the shadows. Yeah, you could take out guards with a suppressed weapon without raising the alarm (ever) but it would be nice to be able to avoid the "need" to snuff out a life.
Weapon customization: Though kinda cool, it is limited to putting on a scope (only for rifles) or a sound suppressor on a pistol or sub machine gun, or the ammunition the gun you're using will fire. Scopes aren't all that necessary as they're all really accurate anyway. Suppressors, are neat and if used correctly they will not raise alarms. Ammunition the ammunition types though aren't interesting. There are the standard ball ammunition, and then there are dum-dum (think of them as hollow-tips), cyanide laced, incendiary and explosive. Standard ammunition behaves like any other gun from any other game. Dum-dum, cyanide, and incendiary ammunition have a delay effect, in that you can pot one or two rounds into an enemy, take cover and then they die within a few seconds after feeling the effects of the expanding bullets, the effects of poisoning, or the searing pain of being burned alive. More or less these three behave exactly the same but have a different impact graphic (though when you're shot by cyanide-laced bullets, you hallucinate and see floating transparent goats and the screen flashes in strange colors and the world becomes wobbly... a nice touch indeed). Explosive rounds are only available for the five-shot snub-nosed revolver and they're basically one-hit-kill. Cool, but nothing compelling. Maybe if less-than-lethal was implemented I'd be more impressed.
However there are certain elements that this game does best like gadgetry/tools. A simple lighter can set fires, and set off fire alarms, and later on you can use it as a blow-torch. You later get access to a belt buckle that doubles as a grappling hook which can get you to certain mission objectives and in multiplayer: sniper vantage points. A broach that doubles as a lockpick or as a poisoned blade. A robo-poodle that releases pheromones to distract guard dogs. A... you get the point by now (I hope), there are a lot of varied tools at your disposal.
Of course some things are relatively new as you have access to vehicles: a snow mobile and a motorcycle. They they handle exactly the same, and aren't all that fun to use, they are a nice touch and allow you to cover large distances over a short period of time as the missions they're featured in are large (some of the larger maps in a FPS of this era).
Maybe these comparisons were unnecessary? Regardless, lets talk about combat.
On one hand, it is great fun... on the other hand, A.I. isn't that good (but I guess we are talking about the year 2000 here). For one, there are a lot of enemies (a good or bad thing depending on your views). However they usually aren't too intent on staying alive themselves. Yeah, they often take cover, peek over corners and take pop-shots (when compared to all other games from this time: this one is the best in this regards), but more often than that, they will run wildly at you while firing away. The accuracy (and damage) of these shots are heavily effected by the difficulty in which you're playing, so it kinda detracts when you're playing hard (facing tons of enemies who can fire almost with pinpoint accuracy while running at full spend at ranges of 15 yards and beyond.). On the same coin, they're also really easy targets, so any difficulty can be easily solved with an automatic weapon (which are also very accurate, like all the guns in this game).
So the enemies are stupid, but they're much better than most other games. However the one thing that this game does with its enemies (that few others have done, like Deus Ex) is idle-talk. There are many instances you'll come across enemies talking about philosophical topics, why they chose a life of crime (it pass the bills and allows for them to support their families), and other entertaining topics. Not only are these discussion funny to listen to, the voice actors delivering them are spot-on, and though some could be seen as stereotypical (like the Germans), the content of what they say and the talent behind the voice only makes more valid to laugh at how ridiculous they sound. But it isn't just the nameless mobs of enemies that are entertaining, but pretty much every character you come across has just as much charm if not more.
Now, I could write a separate essay in why Cate Archer is simply the most likable heroine (but then again why differentiate gender? she is probably one of the best characters ever) from a game, but if you play this game (and the sequel) the reasoning behind such a strong assertion will become apparent quickly (unless you're just an idiot).
In conclusion No One Lives Forever, a brilliant game, is far from perfect, but its many strengths outweigh any weakness it has. Granted more stealth would be awesome (fixed quite a bit in the sequel), but I'm asking ten years too late for such a change. Of course the problems I outlined aren't necessarily problems for most players as high-octane action is a feature that sells titles, and maybe it is just me griping over a game that should "better" represent the main character. Guilty as charged. But enough reading this, go play this game if you haven't already.