Game 16 Complete!
No One Lives Forever
(Yeah, I didn't review UT99. I did play it a fair bit (if anything I liked it more than Quake 3) but didn't really take any screenshots)
Getting it running
I owned Nolf 1 and 2 on disk for a long time. However, now I just use the Revival installer. I don't feel guilty doing this given that no one seems to own the rights to the game anymore and you can't buy it new anywhere!
The Revival Installer includes the GOTY edition and widescreen patches. It will install fine on XP and Windows 10. The widescreen patch has its flaws; zooming in with scopes doesn't work very well on 16:9 monitors and text in cutscnes and intelligence pick ups won't fit on screen. Fortunately, I was playing at 5:4, which does need the patch but avoids the worst of the issues.
This is rather different to the games I played recently, where there is a focus on stealth, gadgets and being a cold war spy! NOLF has a split personality; one minute I will be running and gunning and the next I will be crouched behind crates, headshooting guards with a silenced pistol. This mix of gameplay works very well and which approach I take is (mostly) my decision rather than "forced stealth sections" like in modern games.
The stealth works pretty well. Guards will investigate noises, CCTV cameras will pan left-right predictably and there are many silenced weapons using which you can dispatch dudes. There is no light and dark visibility meter, but sound does play a role in being detected. However, the AI cheats perhaps little too much; I could be hidden crouched and stationary behind a wall and someone in the next room will hear me and raise the alarm. Guards will also instantly know where you are after one solitary scientist yells out in fright, and a lot of times I caught bullets coming out of a guards gun in a completely different direction to where the gun was pointing! I spent a lot of time doing what is now standard stuff, hiding under CCTV cameras, waiting for a guard's patrol etc, but considering this is one of the first games that does this (I think?) it does it rather well.
You'll spend a lot of time standing underneath cameras
Fortuntely you have range of gadgets at your disposal to even out the fight, and playing at regular difficulty I never found myself thinking "oh come on!" after being caught by a guard in separate room who can't see me. There are several unlocking mechanisms, from just shooting the lock, to requring a lock pick or a blowtorch on the combination lock. You have a zipline which is only used contextually but does add some verticality to the game. You have special sunglasses for taking pictures, or finding land mines, or an infrared mode for finding detection lasers. Unfortunately some of these gadgets are introduced prior to each mission and then forgotten about, such as the laser detection and land mine detector, which I used once. I also used the perfume sprays (with varieties that can poison, burn and kill, naturally) exacetly zero times after their respective training session before each main level.
I particularly enjoyed the silenced pistol and crossbow, both of which are satisfying to get silent headshots with. You do have to be careful who you kill as cameras will realistically pick up dead bodies and nearby enemies will go investigate why their buddy now has an air conditioned head (or come straight after you if they literally see someone in their field of view get shot). It makes a nice change from more recent games I've played where other NPCs are oblivious to their buddies mysteriously dropping like flies, not mentioning any
Mafia 3 I mean names...
You have a robotic dog that can release pheromones to distract guard dogs, but I don't have a)a torch or b)a lighter that stays illuminated longer than a second or so!
There are petty frustrations however. You don't have hotkeys for specific gadgets so you have to cycle through your various gadgets to pick out the right one which is frustrating when you have 10 gadgets (the cycle key also cycles through your weapons too). Whenever you switch weapon (or switch back from a gadget to your old weapon) it will always load its most fancy ammo. You have normal, phospherous, skin-piercing ammo, and it'll switch to phospherous even if you only have three bullets left. You also can't do two things at once, such a drive your skiimobile and wear land mine detecting glasses.
The running and gunning also works nicely. Unlike other stealth games, when you're detected you don't have to sulkily reload (quicksave is thankfully present and accounted for in NOLF) but instead can just go go full Rambo. A range of submachine guns, AKs, snipers ensure you can deal a lot of damage out in the open as well as when sneaky. I would often find myself stealthing for half a level before ballsing up and just going into massacre mode. A great feature is that levels are split into scenes each of which resets your stealth at the start. I would murder about 100 dudes on the ground floor, made my way up the 1st floor separated by a loading screen, start Scene 2 of the mission and I can try stealthing again.
The levels are quite linear, with some featuring a whole floor of a building for you to explore and some only having a very linear way forward. But hooray, no bloody keycards to find! There were however a few times I found myself backtracking to find a switch I need to pull or something, but it wasn't too bad and I only googled what I had to do next once.
Another aspect that sets this game apart is its tone - it doesn't take itself too seriously! Every character has the sort of accent the rest of the world thinks everyone in the UK (except Adele) has, but to me as a British person it's the 'posh Eton accent'; "rather! Jolly Good! Bravo!" etc etc.
You'll find intellegence items providing warnings to staff not to go into the lava because it is hot; you'll hear conversations between enemy dudes about thier old job at another evil crime syndicate talking about it as if it is just another normal boring office job at EA; and the characters are all larger than life stereotypes like the scottish kilt guy Armstrong, a fat lady who sings, and Mr Smith, your boss, being a fat middle aged man. It's all wrapped up in an over the top 60s vibe that makes it feel like Austin Powers The Game, although there are bits of On Her Majesty's Secret Service in there too. You go to a space station, you go to a shipwreck, you go to an freakin' underground lair...
One of my favourite characters
The game also doesn't hold back with its message on sexism. Every man you meet tells you you're sure to fail the mission because you're a woman. There is a nice character arc however, for the first time I've come across in these games, where your two old male bosses slowly start respecting you, and end up apologising at the end of the game that they shouldn't have doubted you. It's not subtley woven into the narrative (like, say, "the plot twist" in Spec Ops: The Line is), but it is not preachy. Cate has solid banter with her male colleagues whilst getting the point across that she is a woman in a mans world who has to fight for respect and is sick of it. It comes to a head near the end when Cate meets the actual Evil Boss... buuuut I don't want to spoil.
However, I feel it would not bne well received today for its message. Cate wears small dresses with big cleavage, which I think is equally about attracting the 14 year old boy demographic as it is making a point that attractive people can be more than the traditional Bond Girl. Every character and NPC in the game is white, there are no female henchmen etc... I usually do not care in the slightest about "representation" and "progressiveness" in my games, and this is no exception, it's just worth noting that by choosing to make a statement on femanism, the game shows its flaws that we have come to realise in our "enlightened times" in sharper relief. However, I should also say I'm a firm believer that we should not judge things created in the past by modern standards. But that is enough of that. Like I said, it doesn't bother me, as you can tell I'm quite happy playing Duke3D without needing a safe space to go to.
I can't see this going down well in this day and age...
Graphics and Performance
This game feels caught between what I'll call "first gen" (e.g. NfSII) and "second gen" 3D games (T&L games). On the one hand you have surprisingly high quality 3D models and small interior environments and on the other hand you have skyboxes which literally look like boxes. However, it is a rather big upgrade from the earlier games, and it was nice to be back in actual places after playing Quake 3. The sinking ship level was a particular highlight probably as it plays to the engine's strengths, and features rising water for some tense gameplay.
The game can look like this...
Unfortunately I didn't get quite as much sense of place as other games. Whilst the game takes place in actual places, instead of mazes or deathmatch arenas, and in more detail than any game to date, it think there is some "uncanny valley" effect going on; the graphics are better but the atmosphere has not improved over, say, Blood, which draws me into believing I'm in a real place. Performance wise, It ran at a flawless 60fps as you would hope! My P3 650 and MX440 128bit was getting about 25 to 30fps.
This is the first game on my list with extensive voice acting, and you can tell! It is quite stilted and abrupt, with limited flow of conversation. One thing that's bugged me in games for years is when a person interupts another, in real life, the interupter talks over the other person until the other person stops talking. But in games the person talking always seems to stop before the interupter speaks at all, as if having two people speaking at once, very briefly, is impossible. All of the conversations in NolF feel like that. However sound effects are quite good, withnice silenced gun sounds, lock picking and an audiable queue when a door is not openable at all.
The music however is great. The main theme is suitably funky, but what is impressive is the adaptive nature of the music, with "undetected" "searching/suspicious guards" and "shit just got real" versions of the same song. There are probably five or six songs in the game with 3 "modes". They also generally reflect the main theme music too.
Was it fun?
Should you play it?
750mb of BMP screenshots (converted to PNG 😉)
You're not one of the good guys when you have a lair...