Living is the operative word
Originally published in March 2001.
Historical note: This one of my favorite games of all time - it was funny, challenging, and smart.
Name: The Operative: No One Lives Forever
Genre: First Person Action/Shooter
Developer: Monolith Productions, Inc.
Publisher: Fox Interactive
Requires: Microsoft Windows 95+, Pentium II 300 MHz, 64Mb RAM, 400Mb hard disk space, 4X CD-ROM drive, 8Mb 3D Accelerator Video Card, 16-bit sound card.
Retail Price: $39.99
Street Price: $29.99
Ever since Sean Connery uttered those immortal words: “Bond … James Bond,” modern culture has been inundated with images of suave, sophisticated, and debonair spies combating evil, getting the girl (or guy) and generally saving the day. As with all cultural icons that begin to take themselves too seriously, the James Bond persona has become a favorite subject for parody. Austin Powers is the most recent parody incarnation, but before that there were the classic spoofs portrayed in the Avengers, Matt Helm and the-like.
Mrs. Peel, the female lead in the Avengers series, is probably the best match you can find to describe the female lead in Fox Interactive’s first-person-shooter (FPS) The Operative: No One Lives Forever. Like Mrs. Peel, Cate Archer is a stylish, attractive heroine with leggy features, cat-like reflexes and a dangerous attitude. This is one “hip chick” in the 1960s tradition of the term.
Ms. Archer is part of an international spy network sanctioned by the United Nations know as UNITY and operating in the depths of the Cold War circa 1967. Previously relegated to mundane administrative functions, Cate finds herself pressed into field work and the dangerous adventures she has always coveted. She’ll have to deal with villainous spies and with the male chauvinist attitudes of her superiors in order to be successful, but with the player’s guidance, she is up to the task.
Taking cues from the best-selling FPS-games of recent years, No One Lives Forever (NOLF) is plot driven rather than kill-everything-that-moves driven. A terrorist organization known as HARM has systematically eliminated UNITY operatives until there are only a few remaining. Much to the chagrin of the pompous UNITY leadership, they must send a woman into the field to do a man’s work. As the game progresses, Cate proves herself again and again as more than a match for the villains and thugs that get in her way as she uncovers the evil plans of HARM. Of course, as with any good spy yarn, the circumstances are dire and millions of lives are at stake.
The things people say
The game interface for NOLF follows the usual control scheme of the FPS genre. Most of the important activity revolves around the mouse and the keyboard shortcut keys. Players can change the configuration to suit their whims but the way that is accomplished is more difficult than it should be, requiring many mouse-clicks and too much trial and error. The reconfiguration of controls seems to be the last thing producers think of when developing a game, which is a shame because it is probably the easiest game aspect to actually code.
The game ships with a shareware version of Microsoft’s SideWinder Voice Technology called Game Voice. I was not impressed. I believe that voice recognition will become an important part of game interfaces in the very near future, but we are not there yet. I give Monolith high marks for the try, but, for now at least, the mouse-keyboard combination is much more efficient.
There is one game-characteristic in NOLF that sets it apart from other action-oriented games – the dialogue. The overall tone of the dialogue is witty and quite funny, especially the conversations that take place between guards and other thugs while you sneak around levels. In many cases, I found myself quite content to sit in a corner and wait for the conversation to end before resuming the pursuit of my mission objectives. Like Deus Ex, it is not really critical that you kill each every bad guy on a level to complete your mission. In fact, judging from some of the conversations, these thugs are pretty pathetic and could do with a little mercy.
It is obvious that Monolith has put an extraordinary amount of effort in designing NOLF to be a complete spy-parody experience. All of the levels are highly detailed and the environments and predicaments Cate finds herself in are varied and intriguing. These environments run the gamut from underwater scuba diving, underground tunnels, trains, airplanes, and even outer-space. The animation, the quality of the artwork and the precision of the sound effects are all top-notch.
Another unique feature of NOLF is the extra CD-ROM that ships with the game. This CD contains several purely audio tracks in addition to some game data. These music tracks are playable in any CD-player. The tracks are psychedelic, acid-tripping, 1960s-inspired music pieces that bring back memories of black-lights and lava lamps. Very kitsch and very cool.
However, this high-level of sophistication does have its price. Several times during play, the game has crashed my system to the point where I was required to cold boot. For the uninitiated, a cold boot simply means turning the computer off while still in the game and in Windows. This is a very bad thing. Several patches have been issued to help solve these problems and they are available on the website.
NOLF carries an appropriate ESRB rating of Teen. The game does contain violence and players will be required to shoot human bad guys during the course of play. However, if your children have been able to handle the Austin Powers movies with no ill effects, I believe they will be able to handle the cartoon violence of NOLF.
For fans of the first-person shooter, The Operative: No One Lives Forever is not a game to be missed. Continuing the precedents set by Half Life and Deus Ex, NOLF creates and interactive world in which the game player is required to make decisions that will determine how the plot unfolds. While NOLF does not reach the pinnacle set by those other games, it does hold its own when compared to the current less than stellar competition. At a price that is almost half the cost of many other games, No One Lives Forever is a bargain. Don’t pass it by.