No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way

Let’s keep on getting first-person shooters off the Stack. No One Lives Forever is a rather good 1960s-spy-spoof FPS developed in the wake of Austin Powers, and its sequel has been waiting for me to get around to playing past the first chapter for some time now. The main twist that the first game put on the genre was that the super-spy protagonist is a woman, which had two primary effects: spy gadgets disguised as cosmetics, and encounters with blatant sexism, both institutional and individual, on the part of both enemies and her own colleagues — not that there’s always a firm boundary between those groups in the spy business.

Windows 10 is willing to install and run the game, but it hits problems pretty quickly: once you’re past the menu, the sound cuts out completely. What’s weirder is that there’s no lipsync, either — I guess that must be linked to the voice playback? At any rate, patch 1.3 fixed everything. Apparently the game used to do automatic updates, but the servers for that were shut off years ago. The patch doesn’t modernize the resolution, though. Apparently there are fan patches that do this, but I haven’t bothered, so I’m playing at 1024×768, which is a little rough for sniping enemies at a distance, but not unbearably so.

The first section of the game sends secret agent Cate Archer to Japan, to take surreptitious photographs of a high-level crime meeting in a picturesque old-fashioned Japanese village full of rice screens and wind chimes. Security for the meeting is being handled by an all-girl ninja clan. I hesitated to phrase it that way — I’m not in the habit of calling grown women “girls” — but this is clearly how the game wants you to think of them. You can overhear them gossiping like teenagers, humorously juxtaposed with talk of assassinations. Overheard conversations were always the highlight of NOLF.

Having recently played through Daikatana, I’m naturally comparing the two games’ depictions of Japan. NOLF2 has an advantage there, as it’s not trying to depict real Japan, but rather, movie Japan. Japan as received by the West. That’s a lot easier to get convincingly right. It’s still a little strange, though, because the game’s stylistic setting is specifically spy movies from the 1960s, and you wouldn’t see ninjas there. Ninjas only reached mainstream American awareness in the 1980s.

At any rate, I’m very pleased with how the game is handling combat vs stealth. When I play a game with both combat and stealth mechanics, my instinct is usually to either go full pacifist and never kill anyone (as in Thief), or to use stealth purely as a means of killing everyone (as in Iron Storm). I’m barely past the beginning of NOLF2 now, but it’s already presented me with both situations where pure leave-no-traces, raise-no-alarms stealth is clearly the right approach and situations where killing everyone is clearly the right approach, as well as situations where either is doable and it’s up to you to decide which you like best. It’s probably possible to do a no-kills run if you really want to, though. There are spy gadgets specifically to support it.

1 Comment so far

  1. malkav11 on 17 Jun 2022

    Great game. I never got into the original because the mandatory tutorial level had an instant fail stealth section and I find those intolerable. In hindsight, I don’t think the game proper does that, but how was I to know? This sequel, though, was magic. Pity you can get neither anymore.

Leave a reply