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No One Lives Forever

Just when it seemed as if first-person shooters had run out of ideas, along comes No One Lives Forever to reinvigorate the genre. Two years after the release of Half-Life, a first-person shooter has finally arrived that's so stylish, so ingenious, so well written, so well acted, and otherwise so great that this review won't have to include the expression "it's no Half-Life" - except for right there. No One Lives Forever takes the impressive enemy artificial intelligence of Half-Life, the stealth features of Thief: The Dark Project, and the gadgetry of the console shooter GoldenEye 007 and then combines them all with a unique, colorful '60s setting and a great sense of humor. The resulting game's unrelenting inventiveness shows in virtually every aspect of its design.

click to enlargeAlthough you might expect that it's somehow inspired by Austin Powers, No One Lives Forever's inspirations actually seem to be drawn simply from the same cultural well as the Mike Myers comedy. The game's plot is part Avengers and part Our Man Flint, with a little Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs thrown in for good measure. The story itself isn't especially engaging: The good guys, an international antiterrorist organization called UNITY, attempt to foil the world-domination plans of the bad guys, a mysteriously well-funded group of homicidal lunatics called H.A.R.M. But this simple plot acts as a framework on which the designers have strung a great number of brilliantly absurd details.

Someone at Monolith had the bright idea to portray the cutscenes in the game using cinematic flair, rather than with bland camera angles typical of most games. By locking the camera down and framing each shot as if it really were from a movie, the designers have given the game a singular look that really sets it apart from the competition. The acting in No One Lives Forever is so good and the dialogue is often so sharp that it'll cast a pall over your memory of previous action games and might even ruin your experience with future shooters that are any less impressive.

click to enlargeThankfully, the gameplay in No One Lives Forever is every bit a match for the execution of its story. The game includes close to 60 levels spread over 15 diverse and often brightly lit and colorful environments. Expect to spend more than 20 hours finishing the single-player game. The action alternates between missions in which shooting at things is the primary goal and levels wherein the game's heroine, Cate Archer, must sneak undetected from one place to another. Some missions combine the two elements in surprising ways. True to the game's spy theme, stealth is always rewarded, even though it's not always strictly required. At the end of every level, you're ranked on your performance, and a large part of your score is based on remaining unseen.

Unlike many other shooters before it, No One Lives Forever never settles into a boring routine. After a few more-standard shooting or sneaking sequences, the game always adds an interesting twist. It's a testament to the game's ingenuity that to describe the setting or action of many of the levels would spoil a lot of the fun of experiencing these sequences for the first time. But to give you some idea of what to expect, here's a description of just the very first mission. You must protect a clueless yet surly ambassador from assassins as he stumbles around the streets of Morocco. First you'll stand at a window and snipe enemies as they appear at various spots in a building across the street. Then you must sneak to another room, without alerting any civilians to your presence, where you set up a new sniper nest for another round of protecting the ambassador. Once you've finished this sequence, your room is besieged by a group of thugs, and a wild, close-quarters gunfight ensues. This is all in the first level of 60.



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