Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Game Review: NOLF Part 1

So I watched the newest James Bond installment this weekend. I think it was called "Quantum of Solace" or some such, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is that it sucked. And that it got me into a frisky spy mood.

So I immediately ran upstairs to my stash of old games and dug out a popular gem from the year 2000. "No One Lives Forever", developed by Monolith on their Lithtech engine (which powered other great games like Aliens VS Predator and other bad games such as Shogo: Mobile Armored Division) and was published in Y2K by Fox Interactive.

For the uninitiated, NOLF is a first person shooter set in a 60's spy environment. The story and all of its characters are equal parts spoof and homage to all things good and bond. You play as sexy spyette Cate Archer, a low tier agent in the British Secret Service who is struggling to gain attention and credibility in a very sexist environment. You should probably be aware that the game was released to solid praise, and is often cited as one of the better games of all time, including recently in a 10-best-games-in-the-decade list compiled by one of my favorite (NSFW) video reviewers "HotLezbianAssassin".

You should probably also be aware that my first playthrough ended after about two hours of boredom, whereupon I uninstalled the game and never looked back until last Sunday. Yes, I first bought the game while everyone else was singing its praises, and immediately hated the experience and quietly shelved the thing.

But now I am coming back. There has to be something to all the praise, hasn't there? Maybe now that I am ten years more mature the game will appeal to me in ways that it couldn't before. Of course, game design has also advanced ten years since the release, and with it my standards. But supposedly the game has withstood the test of time, and I will endeavor not to be too anachronistic in my criticism of the thing.

After having completed the first mission my thoughts are thus: Yup, I still hate this. Part of the reason for my blogging this review is that I don't think I can muster the will power to keep playing if it isn't for the blog.

But before I get to that, my initial thoughts were "holy crap there is a lot of exposition in this game". This is, in all fairness, some of gaming's (at least FPS gaming's) first stabs at trying to make a movie-like experience and tell a real story. But instead of bringing the player into the experience and telling the story around him with scripted sequences (like in Half-Life), this game opts to go with ten minute long cut scenes, wherein two or three characters stand in a room and talk to each other. The dialogue isn't particularly bad, and sometimes is even quite witty, but after the five minute mark I find myself struggling not to hit the skip button.

As for the meat and potatoes of the gameplay, NOLF likes to be something of a stealthy shooter. You are encouraged at all times to sneak around and cap enemies from the shadows. I hate this mechanic every time it is tried. And while it is integrated here better than in most games, I still would rather run around and blast things. Unfortunately, you really can't do that here because baddies are ridiculously good shots, often hitting you through the damn walls, and your health never recharges throughout a mission (though you can get new body armor) so conserving it is imperative.

Also, because of the stealth element the level design is more open than your average corridor shooter. Usually this is a good thing, but not ten years ago. Ten years ago there was no Halo, and so nobody had yet thought that if you have an open level design you should put indicators around the level that tell the player which way to go. In Halo, this was something as simple as green lights on openable doors and some arrows on the floor. But NOLF is before all that, so you are forced to try every door to see if it opens, and I often find myself running around the level looking for that one place I haven't gone yet. Again, to be fair a lot of games from this time have suffered from that, Half-Life included.

The palette cleansers, ah the palette cleansers. I could be wrong, but I think NOLF may have even invented these little devices. To explain: A palette cleanser in gaming is when you do something completely different for a small level of the game, and it is used to break up the monotony of the game's bread and butter gameplay. For example, in Gears of War this was the vehicle segment. So far NOLF has thrown a sort of gallery shooter at me and it was just sort of interesting to note that I can't really think of other FPS games at the time that did this sort of thing.

There will be more to come as I play through. I will probably only update the review on weeks when there isn't anything particularly fun to write about that relates both gaming and politics. Weeks like this one. Also, screen grabs.

Until then, have fun you sexy secret agent readers.

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