This is the sixties, baby – and the action’s in full swing.

User Rating: 9.8 | The Operative: No One Lives Forever Game of the Year Edition PC

From the moment you step into the kinky boots of aspiring superspy Cate Archer, you’ll find yourself drawn into a world of international intrigue, sharp one-liners and psychedelic interior decoration. This is the sixties, baby – and the action’s in full swing.

NOLF brings to the first-person shooter what Max Payne lent to third-person action gaming: a riveting storyline, engaging characters, deadpan dialogue and enough plot twists to baffle a corkscrew. On top of all that, NOLF is extremely funny.

Recruited from a life of crime by the top-secret government agency U.N.I.T.Y., Cate must prove her worth by carrying out a series of 15 perilous undercover missions. Each mission is preceded by a cleverly integrated training level, in which Cate is presented with an impressive and often bizarre arsenal of weaponry and gadgets (these include exploding lipstick and a robo-poodle).

The good guys are fun, but the baddies are superb. The villains of the organization known as H.A.R.M. are a truly delightful horde of characters, ranging from a sinister one-eyed Russian to a corpulent, tone-deaf German diva – they are original, well-rounded and utterly hilarious. Mike Myers himself couldn’t have done them any better.

There are two basic gameplay modes available to our fledgling Operative: either sneak around on cautious tiptoes, or else kick in the door with all guns blazing. Sneaking is clearly what Ms. Archer was intended for, as much of the entertaining dialogue can only be enjoyed by eavesdropping on hapless goons as they take cigarette breaks or loaf around on guard duty. The artificial intelligence of H.A.R.M.’s flunkies is impressive; leave a body lying around or a door ajar and they’ll respond with appropriate and reasonable alarm. They can be distracted by a pretty face or the clink of money on asphalt, but when alerted to Cate’s presence they will seek her out with apprehensive determination.

H.A.R.M. and high-jinks lead our heroine around the globe and beyond, with assignments in 30 locales including Morocco, Germany, the Tropics, an orbiting space-station and good old Blighty. Gameplay is essentially linear, but choices made over the course of the game influence cut-scenes and the ultimate success of each mission. Cate’s cachet as a spy increases with the accumulation of intelligence, until the rookie ex-burglar becomes U.N.I.T.Y.’s most valued field operative.

In addition to the extraordinary single-player experience, the multiplayer mode offers an army of character models to choose from, as well as a couple of nifty vehicles and the full battery of weapons. Go head-to-head in a deathmatch or collaborate to steal the enemy team’s intelligence in a game of H.A.R.M. vs. U.N.I.T.Y. A Game Of The Year edition also features an explosive bonus mission and a groovin’ audio CD “In The Lounge”, which in itself is reason enough to seek out the GOTY package.

For varied, challenging gameplay with a sense of mischief and unrivalled panache, NOLF is outstanding and highly recommended.