jrclem's No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way (PC) review

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An instant classic, NOLF 2 should not be missed

It's a rare game that will make you laugh out loud while playing it (in a good way), but No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way is such a game. The sequel to 2000's excellent The Operative: No One Lives Forever, NOLF2 is an improvement over its predecessor in nearly every way.

You once again play as covert agent Cate Archer, a member of the clandestine organization U.N.I.T.Y., whose mission is to save the world from certain doom at the hands of the megalomaniacal H.A.R.M.. This consortium of villains is bent on killing Cate after she foiled their plans for world domination in the first title. The enemies in the game are over-the-top caricatures of Bond-film bad guys which include a female ninja assassin, her effeminate evil-genius boss (with mother issues), an ex-KGB hitman in a wheelchair, and a French crime lord who commands a horde of mimes.

The adventure begins in Tokyo where Cate is attempting to infiltrate a ninja dojo to drop some eaves on a meeting between the H.A.R.M. higher-ups. From there you will travel to exotic locations like the frozen wastelands of Siberia, beautiful Akron, Ohio, the streets of Calcutta, a remote research station in Antarctica, an underwater fortress, and more. 

The first chapter (set in Japan) is a very well-made series of levels that introduces you to the game's emphasis on stealth and the importance of silent weapons. The next chapter takes place in Russia, where Cate battles the Soviet military as she tries to uncover information about the shadowy Project: Omega. Although these Russian levels are fun and challenging, this section feels like the low point of the game, with lots of fairly standard gun battles taking up most of your time. 

After Russia, NOLF2 really begins to shine. The sneaking objectives in Calcutta and the sword fights with female ninjas in Akron (during a tornado!) are some of the funnest levels in a first person shooter to date. Monolith even included a brilliant level that recreates the setting and creepy mood of John Carpenter's 1982 sci-fi classic "The Thing." And if you don't enjoy a chase scene involving a unicycle-riding French mime and Cate on the back of a tricycle driven by her Scottish co-spy, there's probably something wrong with you.

The depth of the gameplay in NOLF2 is above and beyond most games of the genre at the time of its release. Cate will have to sneak past guards, unscrew lightbulbs, and search through desk drawers for secret documents. A nice change of pace from the FPS standard of flipping switches and finding keys. In fact, NOLF2 is probably better compared to a Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell game rather than any other first person shooter. Another deviation from standard FPS mechanics, some RPG-inspired elements will allow you to increase Cate's proficiency in different skills (aiming, lockpicking, reloading weapons, etc) by allocating skill points earned throughout the missions.

The graphics of NOLF2 are simply stunning. The characters are incredibly detailed and well animated, while the environments have wonderfully rich colors and are full of layers of texture. The Jupiter engine created by Monolith was truly great for its time and provided some of the best-looking renderings of water prior to BioShock. Going back and playing NOLF2 today leaves me feeling that the engine has aged incredibly well. In fact, I would argue that Jupiter's facial animation system has only recently been outdone by current generation technology.

The sound effects and voice-acting in NOLF2 are both top-rate, and the musical score is superb. Some of the best moments in the game are snippets of conversations you will overhear between H.A.R.M. minions, as you sneak past undetected. The writing in the game, as a whole, is absolutely brilliant. Practically every single joke is actually funny, with only a few causing me to shake my head at the over-baked gags.

NOLF2 is an instant classic and a game that raised the bar for the FPS genre at the time of its release in 2002. If you enjoy a great action title and could use a good laugh, look no further than No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way. 

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