You are losing the swing Cate!!
It's been 2 years since we first took the role of Cate Archer and foiled H.A.R.M.'s plan for world domination through exploding people. No One Lives Forever was a super-shagadelic blast to play and one of the best fps of it's day, so talk about a difficult act to follow for Monolith... having won critical acclaim in practically every PC mag. out there only added to the pressure, but that isn't going to stop Monolith from releasing a sequel to any title!
The basics are still there: this is an action-heavy fps which combines aspects of sneaking and gadgetry to create an exciting spy-shooter gameplay mix. With everything taking place in a tongue-in-cheek version of the 60's that lampoons all of the super-spy movies of the decade. However new additions improve the already solid formula: if in the original you could get special items that increased your abilities and had a light rpg angle in this one you now have a full-fledged skill system whose points are gained by collecting intelligence items (which are still as wacky and funny as in the original). Gain enough and you can increase any of Kate's abilities such as sneaking, marksmanship, equipment efficiency, etc. adding much more depth to the already solid gameplay.
While the use of gadgets and special items was a key factor in the original, in this one the items themselves are refined, excluding the wacky but totally useless gadgets of the originals (now replaced with wacky but USEFUL gadgets) and the rest receive small but efficient improvements. Additionally, dead or K.O.'d enemies are now treated as items in themselves, and searching them for equipment or ammo is an action gauged by a "searching" bar that fills faster or slower depending on the level of your ability. Hiding is now a much easier affair as a pop-up "hiding bar" appears whenever you try to sneak, and practically all of the guess-work involved in knowing how much cover does this or that offer is removed, plus the bad guys now have the sense of hitting alarms and infinitely re-spawning baddies, so sneaking around is an essential feature in a lot of cases.
Technically speaking the game also takes a number of major improvements, with the graphics receiving a complete overhaul resulting in a striking new look, with texturing detail and model poly-count that makes the original look like a Doom-clone. In fact, the difference is so much that some players might have a problem with the super realistic models and textures, which lose the cartoony look of the original. I had no problem enjoying them however, and as far as I'm concerned the increased graphical quality add a lot to the game.
Plus, as all LithTech-based games, you have realistic hit-detection for more interesting gunplay and spectacular animations like the now famous "rolling-down-the-stairs" bit and similar spectacular mo-capped moments.
Unfortunately it seems that the guys at Monolith concentrated a lot on the technical and mechanics upgrades, and while that is good it comes at the price of a somewhat neglected scripting and storytelling, cornerstones of the original game.
Basically the sequel, while still a comedy-filled fps, comes nowhere near the original in terms of wit and but-gusting comedy. The story is pretty much a bore, having practically none of the fun of the original (except for the inclusion of a group of evil mimes that are the game's coolest opponents) and worse yet, it's yet another plot about some bad guy making a breed of super-soldiers... good god, by now I think this has to be the FPS cliche #1, I mean... c'mon!! Did badguys ran out of ideas?? Does it's always have to be about some form of super-soldiers??!!
Anyway, the game is also substantially shorter so the story doesn't drag so much, but unfortunately this also means there's less of the wonderful conversations between guards and assorted wackyness...
The level design while hardly terrible is considerably worse than the original with only an indian area to remind players of the genius Morocco level (but with none of the chases, sniping sequences and cool stuff) and some levels are a downright bore to play through (ie. the early Japan areas and the later volcano HQ)Worst of all, the scripted action pieces that were such a cool element of the original are almost completely left out of this one, with only a battle vs. a group of ninjas in a trailer park (as a hurricane strikes) and a tricyle rail-shooter sequence against the mimes as the only standouts in the whole game. And nothing that even remotely comes close to the sky-diving fight in the original or the climactic boss fights.
Also, as another reviewer noted, the "interlude" sequences have been ditched in favor of in-mission briefings and hints, which may work to streamline the action but lose all the charm these sequences had... Yes they were long, but I cannot understand why would anyone want them out.
The Bottom Line
If NOLF2 took the original and improved many of the gameplay features, enriched the rpg-angle and gave it a major graphic overhaul we would be talking about a perfect sequel here folks. Unfortunately while the sequel does all that it is at the expense of a lot of the wonderful creative material that made NOLF such a unique experience. I don't want to go into the ultra-bitchy "A sequel ain't never going to be as the original" mode, but as sad as it is to admit the obvious result is that NOLF2 ends up being a lot more generic than it's predecessor... rest assured that it's still a worthwhile shooter and a definitive recommendation for action fans, but fans of the original won't be able to shake the feeling that the original was much, much better despite the fact that Cate looks much hotter.