Written by  :  Terrence Bosky (5476)
Written on  :  Jun 20, 2003
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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Mostly H.A.R.M.less

The Good

Early in NOLF2, we learn that H.A.R.M. (Good at Being Bad, Bad at Being Good) is still active and under the control of a martini swigging, cad with a bad comb-over and major maternal issues. Worse yet, H.A.R.M. is working in conjunction with the Soviets on Project Omega and it’s up to The Operative, Cate Archer, to stop Project Omega and, if possible, find out what Project Omega is… and maybe uncover H.A.R.M.’s new mission statement.

This second installment in The Operative series puts Cate on a globe-spanning mission to defeat the evil forces of H.A.R.M. Along the way, Cate is joined by new friends and old enemies and assisted by the gadgets and weaponry developed by Santa’s Workshop (UNITY’s Q-Branch equivalent). NOLF2 improves on much of the original game’s innovations. Intelligence Items- whether a slip of paper in a desk or an abandoned briefcase provided humor in the previous game with an occasional hint. In NOLF2, Intelligence Items take on an added importance. They still provide humor and hints, but now their recovery earns points for Cate, points you can spend to improve certain aspects of Cate’s character.

Though a well-trained spy, Cate begins the game with minimal abilities in Stealth, Stamina, Marksmanship, Carrying, Armor, Weapons, Gadgets and Search. As you spend points you can increase the length of her life or armor bars, decrease the time it takes to search a corpse, or increase the amount of damage you do with your guns. NOLF2 has a better interface as well, if you are in a dark area, a hide icon will appear to show that you are hidden. This takes away the guesswork some games require to determine if your surroundings are dark enough. Right-clicking interacts with the environment and if you are aiming at an area that requires inventory, NOLF2 automatically selects it. This is useful if you are being chased and need to quickly pick a lock.

While NOLF2 has a lot of weapons and gadgets, I felt that there were less available this go around. I didn’t feel cheated though, because it seems like the new system is more streamlined. In the original game, each mission was preceded by a visit to Santa’s Workshop where Cate could train with the new equipment. There was also an equipment selection screen were Cate could pick what she wanted to take. In a somewhat clumsy attempt to add to the replay value, there were levels in the game where equipment available later would be useful. Once the equipment was unlocked, you could replay these levels and explore new areas. Now Santa appears during missions (in the guise of a bird) with notes on new equipment and briefcases for Cate.

While I didn’t notice improved enemy AI (the original’s was quite good), a new feature of this game is that alerted enemies will run to an alarm. While the alarm is sounded and enemies remain aware of Cate’s presence, enemies will spawn and search the area. If Cate stays concealed, enemies will lose their enthusiasm (and disintegrate the bodies of their fallen comrades rather than deal with the paperwork). The enemies Cate faces are quite diverse and include sinister mimes and ninjas who leap from the street to the rooftops in a single bound. There are also Boss-type characters Cate must face.

Graphically, NOLF2 is incredible. I marveled over the water textures in Japan, the snowfall in Russia, and schools of fish beneath the ocean’s surface. Characters look great and they tumble like rag dolls when they’re killed. Music is still that swinging sixties sound, though modified to sound culturally correct depending on Cate’s current location. Voice work is top notch, both in game and in the mercifully short cutscenes (NOLF1’s biggest problem area).

The Bad

NOLF2 seemed short to me.

Part of this is probably due to the streamlined gameplay system, levels build on each other and there aren’t side trips to Santa’s Workshop. But what I missed most in this game and liked most in the previous one were the action set pieces. This game has a few memorable sequences, but nothing that matched the excitement of a midair gun battle at 36,000 ft or fighting off helicopters in a mountaintop gondola. The Boss fights also seemed less innovative and… well… easy.

I have no real complaints about this game, but I think the first one was more fun.

The Bottom Line

Cate Archer is back even if the heart isn't. This is still a great FPShooter/Sneaker where one wrong turn can lead you into a pit of petulant rabbits.