Thursday, April 12, 2007

Byte: You look like you need a monkey.

Since there's pretty much bugger all I want to play out either on Wii or PC until... oooh, at least the end of June (and that's undoubtedly going to slip until September to clash with Unreal Tournament 3), I'm taking a trawl through my increasingly vast PC games collection (200+ and counting) to try and find things I might possibly derive some satisfaction from playing.

I've been playing few the first few levels of No One Lives Forever again over the last couple of nights, and despite clocking on for nearly seven years old now, the game stands up surprisingly well. Sure, the models and textures are a bit clunky by modern standards, but the gunplay is still first rate. The animation is still great in places as well. Cate is super-slinky in the cutscenes, and the way the baddies hurl themselves about after being shot would make an Imperial Stormtrooper proud. The way corpses roll down slopes is a little ludicrous in these days of Havok physics and skeletal animation, but I remember being really impressed at the time that the dead bodies were capable of moving at all and didn't simply levitate like a board over the inclines, like the object clipping would have done in most games up to that point.

The best thing, however, is the quality of the characterisation and the writing. The throwaway conversations between the goons are a consistent joy - particularly the one that links beer consumption and criminality. Rather than being an out-and-out Bond-spoof, however, NOLF is more Austin Powers-meets-Jason Bourne. There's the humour and '60s styling of Powers, but very much the hard, lethal edge of Bourne as well. The variety of the game is pretty staggering and shames most modern shooters with its breadth and depth. There's an almost equal emphasis on stealth and shootery - the sneakier you achieve your objectives and the more intelligence items you gather from the game world, the better mission rating you get - giving you reputation bonuses and access to better gadgets - such as the lipstick grenades and guard dog distracting robotic poodle. A few of the later pure stealth missions are a bit wearing, but when you've got missions that take place in sunken ships loaded with great white sharks, or you're trying to escape from dozens of HARM goons by having a rooftop shootout in a chateau, it's easy to forgive the odd duff level. NOLF also had the best cheat codes ever. It actually played a sound file going "Dr Dentz!" if you used the 'mpdrdentz' code to restore you back to full health. How classy is that?

I much preferred the original NOLF to its sequel. Though the sequel was much better graphically, a lot of the humour felt forced and it didn't have nearly the same level of quirkiness or charm. It also tried to add in Deus Ex-style RPG skill elements, which it didn't need to do, as the skills were fairly superfluous to the actual mechanics of the game. It's not a game entirely without merit, but it didn't really live up to its parent's expectations, if you see what I mean.

I'd like to see another NOLF game at some point, provided that they go back to what made the original game so great and they don't bloody put in Bullet Time, or something stupid...
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