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The Operative: No One Lives Forever (Windows)

90
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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.1
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Jim Newland (53)
Written on  :  Jan 11, 2002
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars

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Summary

Right on, man. Hip cats'll dig the groovy vibe of this game.

The Good

First things first, daddyo. How 'bout we deep six the annoying hippie jargon, ok? Ok, that's better. The thing is, NOLF makes you want to talk like that. While it's nowhere near that far over the top in practice--for one thing, its take is British, not American--it just exudes '60's style to the point that you want to lose yourself in the spirit of the era. You might say that NOLF is to the '60's what Interstate '76 was to the '70's, only more so.

It is perhaps no accident that NOLF was published by Fox Interactive, which has one foot in the movie industry. Those connections really show here, as the writing, the animation work, the sound effects, the music--everything--is top notch all the way. The player really *becomes* British secret agent Cate Archer, and is made to feel as if he or she is actually starring in a '60's era Bond-style action movie, complete with hilarious side plots and dialogue. Indeed, half the fun of playing, even though you're nominally the main character, is listening to what the "nobodies"--the extras--around you are saying. This is not throw-away stuff. It's really, really good and really, really funny. As you proceed through the game, you will find yourself initiating conversations with NPC's you'd never give a second thought to in other games just to see what they'll say. More often than not, they'll have you laughing.

As for the gameplay, it's mostly standard fare, although there are some fun twists. In true FPS fashion, you run, jump, and sneak through levels using a variety of weapons and clever special objects (such as poison barettes, robotic poodles, and a ton of other neat gadgets I don't want to spoil by preannouncing). However, many of the levels offer special treats, such as the opening scene, in which you have to dispatch a bevy of Moroccan assassins who are after the hilariously deaf American ambassador to their country. This amounts to simply standing at a window and picking them off as quickly as you can, Duck Hunt-style, but the whole riff is wonderful, and turns out to be a great way to start off the game. In another scene, you must jump from a plane without a parachute, and nail all the bad guys on the way down. This is much easier said than done, but again, the novelty of the scene makes it into much more than just another level.

NOLF is, quite simply, a triumph of writing, acting, and gameplay in the interactive genre. It has no peer in this regard. Even other highly regarded games like System Shock II and Thief must bow to its superior artistry...and I don't say that lightly, as I am a huge fan of both of these. (I do not, however, mean to say that NOLF is in every way a better game than all the rest. I simply mean that the quality of the ingredients is, in the main, higher all around. It must remain for each individual player to judge how successfully the parts have been made into a whole.)

The Bad

My biggest frustration with NOLF has to be the control scheme, or more specifically, the lack of a couple of controls I've come to regard as essential. The first is the ability to lean. In a game that involves sneaking around as much as this one does, it seems inconceivable to me that such a function would be omitted, but it has been. What you have to do instead is pop out from behind corners for a brief second, and then pop back. The designers have tried to make this the functional equivalent of leaning, by making the bad guys not notice you until you've been exposed for more than a second or so, but in practice it is very unintuitive and clumsy. Moreover, it means that when you shoot you always have to have your whole body exposed to the enemy. In first- or second-generation shooters, such things might have been acceptable, but after games like Thief the rules changed forever. I just wish Monolith had realized that.

The second fatal omission is the ability to toggle crouch mode. There is a crouch function, which can be assigned to any key you want, but it still only works for as long as you press the key. Once you let go of the key, your character stands up. Why is this a big deal? Because a) just as in Thief, you make less noise while crouching and can often slip by enemies this way, and b) available cover may be only waist-high, requiring you to squat to take advantage of it. The problem is, since you can't lean around corners, you will often need to crouch and move either laterally or forward and backward at the same time, which turns out to be a very tough thing to do no matter where you assign the crouch key.

Beyond these not insignificant shortcomings, my only complaint is with NOLF's somewhat convoluted and confusing menu system, which on the one hand seems hardly worth mentioning, but in the interest of full disclosure should be acknowledged.

The Bottom Line

Playing NOLF is like starring in a big-budget action movie and is loads of fun. It features probably the best acting, and hands down the best dialogue ever heard in a computer game, and it's uproariously funny to boot. While there are a couple of fairly serious control issues, these should not dissuade you from experiencing this gem of a game. Work of this quality simply does not come along every day. It would not, in fact, be too much to call it art.