The name’s Phreak. Linkphreak. Okay, so it isn’t as cool as James Bond, or anywhere near as established in common vernacular. Yet while the opportunity to walk into a European casino dressed to the nines in a tux with exotic women and professional killers eludes 99.99% of us, the imagined thrill of international espionage appeals to the thrill-seeker in everyone. Maybe it’s the whirlwind travel from country to country that beckons an inborn wanderlust. Possibly it’s the lure of unbelievable, fantastic gadgets and cars that are freely dispersed for our use and abuse. Or perhaps it’s the ability to have tons of promiscuous sex without consequences. Whatever the reason is, Sierra tapped into a gold mine with their Austin Powers-like spoof of the spy genre in No One Lives Forever. Two years ago, NOLF stole the hearts and keyboards of computer gamers, winning game of the year awards, and now, it seeks to ensnare PS2 owners in the adventures of Cate Archer.
For those of you who might not venture into the realm of computer games, here’s a quick recap of the storyline. In the late 60’s, the world was threatened by a criminal organization called H.A.R.M. Filled with assassins, thugs, and other assorted villains, their schemes of world domination would succeed unabated were it not for the ever-vigilant eyes of UNITY, a clandestine group dedicated to protecting the world. Luckily, UNITY’s agents managed to thwart every plot hatched by H.A.R.M. However, the latest plan seems to finally be working in the bad guys favor. You see, someone keeps killing off UNITY’s best men. The main suspect behind the assassinations is Dmitrij Volkov, a professional killer and ringleader within H.A.R.M. With most of the active spies in the organization liquidated, UNITY’s administration has no choice but to put Cate Archer in the field for her first assignment.
A former thief and cat burglar, Cate is regarded by most as a brash, talented young agent. (If you need an image, think about a female Austin Powers, complete with the go-go boots and the sarcasm, but much prettier and without the need to continually get her shag on.) As the only female spy within UNITY, Cate faces inherent sexism from most of the men in her company, with the exception of her mentor, Bruno Lawrie, a legend within the intelligence field. Arriving at headquarters one day, the two spies are quickly dispatched to solve the murder of their fellow agents. Soon after arriving at their rendezvous point, Bruno is murdered in cold blood by Dmitrij, leaving Cate to track him and H.A.R.M. down for justice and revenge.
Fortunately, Cate won’t be forced to rely solely on her thieving skills. Trained in numerous firearms, Cate frequently finds herself relying upon a silenced Shepherd Arms P38 9mm pistol or her signature weapon, a Petri .38 airweight revolver. Of course, these are not the only side arms that she’ll use. Over the course of numerous missions, she’ll wind up using everything from silenced sniper rifles to grenade launchers. But, thanks to the geniuses in UNITY’s laboratories, affectionately known to the agents as Santa’s Workshop, she won’t have to face the hordes of H.A.R.M. solely with guns. In the vein of James Bond, Cate receives numerous gadgets, such as explosive lipsticks, sleeping gas perfume and her barrette that doubles as a lockpick and poison injector.
These gadgets come in handy on your numerous missions, as you run, shoot, and sneak in and out of numerous locales all around, and even outside, the world. Yes, that’s right, you’ll get a chance to go where few men and women have gone before. (Quick digression: How is it possible for evil organizations to continually get things like spaceships and space stations and NASA can barely launch shuttles? Wouldn’t someone notice this stuff? Anyway…) However, Cate is not solely tasked with taking out every single H.A.R.M. henchman. She’ll find herself protecting or saving innocent bystanders from wayward bullets, and searching out intelligence items detailing H.A.R.M.’s plans and schemes for world domination. While most of these seem like the typical spy fare, (film reels, confidential packages and the like), others are downright strange, such as a running series of love letters and informational notes. The original game had over 60 levels stretched out over 15 missions. The PS2 version recreates every level from the PC, while adding 4 new missions to explore.
While the gameplay from the original NOLF is definitely enough to enthrall gamers, and has managed to transfer over decently to the PS2, there are a few flaws. First of all, the control scheme seems to have diminished somewhat. The left and right analog sticks control movement and looking around environments, but it’s disappointing to see that the option of plugging in a USB Keyboard and Mouse to control Cate isn’t provided. Secondly, the multiplayer option provided in the PC version allowed for massive battles between UNITY and H.A.R.M. agents, but the PS2 port is solely a single-player experience. Finally, there are certain aspects from the original that seem to be radically missing. For example, there are certain intelligence items and gadgets in the PC game that are continually found in specific places. In the PS2 game, however, some of them are either missing or seem to randomly move from place to place. For example, I never found a coin or decay powder in the Moroccan missions, and I know where to find those items in the PC version with my eyes closed.
The graphics seem to have taken a major hit. Granted, the PS2’s rendering isn’t going to necessarily equal or surpass that of high-end, or even some medium graphics cards. But the translation from the PC to the PS2 seems to be not only an indication of how dated NOLF’s Lithtech engine is, but how much better the PC version is. Texturally, the graphics in the PS2 version appear to be a faded, low-resolution copy of the PC game. Rendered characters appear to have a muted, blocky appearance, giving the impression that the polygons used for the models were diminished in the translation. Similarly, the amount of clipping, aliasing flaws, and transparency issues makes this version seem like a shadow of its former self.
Thankfully, the sound quality is somewhat retained from the PC version. The music found in NOLF has a very Quincy Jones “Soul Bossa Nova”-like feel to it. And while that song became synonymous with Austin Powers, it’s not hard to see where the parallels for the game’s theme song, and the subsequent tunes follow. With a flavor of the ‘60s floating heavily throughout all the music, it’s not hard to picture Cate dancing in a nightclub to the soundtrack. Additionally, one of the most important facets of the original NOLF was the spoken humor found within the title. Everything from guards discussing everything from what Cate looks like to torturing prisoners has a tongue in cheek delivery that at times makes you replay a section just to hear the joke delivered again and again.
Overall, the PS2 version of No One Lives Forever fails to fully hit its intended mark. While it’s great to see a classic PC title ported over to the console for more people to enjoy, and the promise of additional missions seems appealing, the degradation of graphics and gameplay diminishes how great this game truly is. Fans of the original who don’t feel like cranking up their computer, or players who’ve got a spy jones will probably love playing this on their PS2. Otherwise, some of them might be better served picking up a copy of the game for the PC.