NOLF2: Giving Up For Now

Reluctantly, I’m putting No One Lives Forever 2 back on the shelf for now. The save issues have continued, and in the process of searching for solutions online, I’ve come across some mentions of more serious issues in later levels under Windows 10. So I’m thinking I’ll save this one for when I get an XP machine set up again. Which I’m definitely doing at some point; this isn’t the only game in my “to play under XP” list. I have the hardware; the only thing that stopped me from getting it going last time was the lack of a valid registration key, and I’ve since learned of a key that’s well-known online, albeit one that only works if you don’t install any of the service packs.

I say “reluctantly” because I really was enjoying it, when it worked. As a substitute, I’m thinking of going back to Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, which has a certain amount in common with NOLF2: the player character is an ultracompetent British woman whose adventures take her all over the globe and who murders people a lot; the game adds a skill upgrade system that wasn’t in its predecessors; in some chapters you can go freely back and forth between maps. Angel of Darkness even adds some mechanics to support stealth gameplay (something that some of the previous Tomb Raider games attempted in places, but never did very well). I feel like the two games are in dialogue, anyway. NOLF is definitely influenced by Tomb Raider, and the designers of Angel of Darkness certainly had their eyes on NOLF.

NOLF2: Entering Siberia

After Japan, we get sent to a remote Soviet outpost in Siberia, to plant bombs on things and get shot at by Russian soldiers and snoop-read comical files complaining about Soviet bureaucracy. It’s worth noting that the shooty bits change significantly on the basis of what weapons and ammo you can scavenge from your fallen foes. Ninjas carry katanas and shurikens: quiet precision weapons, ideal for stealth kills. Soviet troopers carry AK-47s.

I also find it notable how sparse the enemies are. In part, that’s to help justify the use of a vehicle, a snowmobile that you can drive around the hills and valleys, making an awful racket. I find the snowmobile unpleasantly difficult to steer, and so have been leaving it behind a lot when is isn’t absolutely necessary, which presumably enhances the sense of sparseness. But even bearing that in mind, a lot of the player’s time is spent exploring, searching for things, and interacting with the environment in various ways (such as picking locks or blowing up bridges to discourage pursuit), rather than fighting.

Unfortunately, I’ve started to hit problems with saves. Sometimes I’ll go to load my quicksave and it’ll just produce an error popup, and I have to exit the game and restart it to snap it out of it. More insidiously, sometimes the act of saving starts failing silently, so that I don’t know anything’s wrong until I die and discover that my last successful quicksave was 20 minutes ago. Restarting the game fixes that as well, but I can only restart so many times before I give up in frustration. I tried fiddling with compatibility settings a bit, but that just made the game refuse to run at all. After sleeping on it, I’ve decided to give it another try tonight, after a system reboot and without so many other programs running in the background. I could easily believe that all the problems are really memory issues. We’ll see if it helps.

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.