The Operative: No One Lives Forever

aka: NOLF, Nikto Ne Zhivjot Vechno, No One Lives Forever, Wu Ren Yong Sheng
Moby ID: 2617
Windows Specs
Conversion (official) Included in See Also

Description official descriptions

Some time in the 1960s, a former thief Cate Archer is the only female agent in the service of U.N.I.T.Y.; a worldwide secret espionage agency. Having been relegated to menial tasks over the years, Cate is finally given a chance to prove herself when a terrorist organization called H.A.R.M. starts to knock off active field agents. Under the qualification of being available as a trained agent, Cate is given the authority to track down and investigate these H.A.R.M. activities. In missions around the globe, Agent Archer will find herself sniping assassins, stealing documents, and doing a host of other suitably sneaky, often deadly espionage tasks.

No Ones Lives Forever is a first-person shooter with stealth elements, often focusing on remaining undetected and obtaining intelligence data. The game combines stylistic elements of James Bond espionage stories and games (such as GoldenEye 007) with a humorous attitude. Cate will need to use her weaponry and gadgets to get the drop on enemy agents. Among the gadgets available are photographic sunglasses, a lockpicking barrette, body remover powder, a cigarette lighter which can be used for wielding, lipstick explosives, and a robotic poodle for distracting guard dogs.

Emphasizing sneakiness, the game not only gives extra points for not being seen, it also features alarms that cannot be shut off and guards that don't return to their docile ways once alerted to the protagonist's presence. Enemies follow AI routines such as knocking tables over and ducking for cover. However, in most levels stealthy approach is not mandatory: theoretically the player may almost always opt for dealing with the situation aggressively, having Cate shoot first and ask questions later, gleefully blazing through the levels. However, while the mission will get completed, Agent Archer will receive a lower score for taking the non-subtle approach. In addition, by acquiring intelligence items Cate will obtain various bonuses to her health, armor, ammo capacity, damage, or accuracy.

The game's artwork and music reflect the 1960s setting, from the loud outfits to the beatnik rhythms in the bars. In a homage to spy movies and series of that time period, there are plot twists, shootouts, close calls, set pieces, confrontations against villains, and a few over-the-top action scenes.

Spellings

  • Никто Не Живёт Вечно - Russian spelling
  • 无人永生 - Simplified Chinese spelling

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Credits (Windows version)

163 People (76 developers, 87 thanks) · View all

Additional Thanks to
  • MCA
  • 1500 Records
  • Avalon
  • Panasonic
  • Language Institute
  • ATI
  • NVidia
  • GameSpy
Recording Studio
  • Asylum Studios
Producer
Associate Producer
Fox Quality Assurance Supervisor
Fox Quality Assurance Lead
Fox Test Team
[ full credits ]

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 88% (based on 53 ratings)

Players

Average score: 4.1 out of 5 (based on 141 ratings with 10 reviews)

An outstanding FPS which did not age one bit

The Good
Full disclosure: I played with a fan patch which makes the game playable on modern systems and adjusts the HUD for higher resolutions.

No One Lives Forever was made by shooter specialists who used their own established engine and it shows: the shooter mechanics are flawless and the gunplay is very good (although some of them are redundant). One of the strengths is the possibility to play much of the game stealthy if desired. It is very fun to do a section with a silenced weapon and kill everyone with headshots and switch to a machine gun in the next moment.

This is a very long game, but the levels are so varied (both in optics and gameplay) that it never becomes boring. NOLF has almost perfect level design: some are linear, some are more open (but always simple enough that you don't get lost) and others have adventure elements and consist of talking and collecting items.

The graphics are fantastic. Don't get me wrong: I don't say they are good for a 20 year old game, I say they are good for 2021. Of course they are blocky and technically outdated, but they are made so well it doesn't show much. The levels and assets are built with love, the offices and such are all furnished individually, the atmosphere is perfectly implemented. This is a game which could not have been made outside of the early 2000s - in later graphic engines the assets for one level alone would probably cost more to make than the whole game. It also helps that the game is genuinely funny.

The Bad
NOLF was made in a time in which every FPS had to have at least one shitty stealth level. This game is no exception, but since stealth is baked into the main gameplay mechanics those levels are not as bad as in other games like Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Still, NOLF works best when it leaves the choice between stealth and action to the player and therefore the forced stealth levels are among the weaker sections.

As a James Bond parody, the game also has a lot of gadgets such as a lighter which can meld locks or a knockout perfume. Unfortunately their usage is lacking: you'll only use them at pre-defined places when a specific gadget has to be used to proceed, which speeds down gameplay without benefit. You'll never use the gameplay gadgets because they are useless and unnecessary. The only not underused gadgets are the vehicles which even have their own levels dedicated to them. Unfortunately, I might add, because they handle very badly and the levels are boring slogs (drive, dismount in order to dispatch some distant enemies, rinse and repeat) which don't even look as well as the rest.

I already praised the humor, but nevertheless conversation cutscenes between levels can be tiring because they go on for too long. I also did not like the conclusion of the story - of course I can't go into the specifics, but there are some final twists which are only explained in another way too long conversation.

The Bottom Line
There is no way around it: NOLF is one of the best shooters ever made. Despite my complaints above, the good parts greatly outweigh the negatives and make a very fun shooter which is still worth playing.

A few words about the GOTY version
Later a GOTY version was released which added a new mission after the ending. It lasts for about 30 minutes and is pretty fun, although there is another driving section included. However, if you already own the original, it is not worth hunting down the re-release.

Windows · by Patrick Bregger (303488) · 2021

A groovy, spy game where you get to wear tight outfits and shoot bad people.

The Good
NOLF is a very fun, highly engaging first person shooter. Essentially, NOLF is a Bond parody, much in the same vein as Austin Powers, Casino Royale, Flint etc. The main character, Cate Archer, is a spy in training who is thrust into the thick of things early on. Accompanied by some fellow agents, well supplied by Santa (NOLF's version of Bond's Q), and directed by Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith, Archer uncovers a plot that threatens the world. Would you expect anything less?

Actually the plot is about as silly as a Jackie Chan movie although there are some interesting twists. What makes this a great game is, that like a Jackie Chan movie, there are some incredible action scenes. You will freefall out of an airplane and engage enemies midair, scuba dive through a sunken ship that implodes around you, and duel with some of the wackiest terrorists ever imagines.

Also incredible is the enemy AI. Enemies will assault in groups, run for cover, flip over tables, and change weapons depending on range. Even better dead'uns tumble down stairs and fall over balconies, some even become shark bait.

Graphically this game has its limitations, but there is great music and sound effects. Some areas are populated by civilians, which lends an element of risk to getting into firefights. One great feature is the ability to pick up intelligence during missions in the form of briefcases, microfilm, etc. This is a seldom required activity but does increase your spy rating and is both humorous and fleshes out the storyline. One particular piece of intelligence makes a sequence much easier.

Finally, similar to Thief or Deus Ex, stealthy players can eavesdrop on conversations. This would be a high point for the game, as many are hilarious. Guards will philosophize on the banality of evil, compare notes with other criminal organizations, wonder why so many crates are around, and so on.

The Bad
If this game has one major failing, it would be how the developers chose to advance the story. Most gamers have a love/hate relationship with cutscenes. In the early days of gaming, cutscenes almost acted as rewards for completing a particular level. They were of much higher quality than the rest of the game and often used impressive special effects. Now with the graphics quality being what it is, cutscenes are no longer that impressive and some gamers would rather have the story advanced through gameplay. Okay how does this relate to NOLF? NOLF not only uses cutscenes but some are unbearably long. Minutes go by, and eventually I felt like I was no longer playing a game but watching a movie. Ever worse, one particular cutscene thrusts you back into gameplay with a enemy at pointblank range.

So that's the major failing, minor gripes: intelligence items add flavor to the gameplay but you are unable to review them after you pick them up you cannot use weapons or equipment on vehicles- while largely not that important, there is a sequence when it is almost necessary at the end of the game I would have liked the option to see combined mission stats, etc and the ability to replay certain levels and finally, while stealth is encouraged enemies seem to have bat-like hearing; the ability to lean around corners would have helped.

I do believe later patches correct some of my minor gripes.

The Bottom Line
One of the best games I've played in a long time. Great level design and varied objectives keep this game exciting till the end. Hope there'll be more!

Windows · by Terrence Bosky (5397) · 2001

A shooter of exceptional quality

The Good
There is really no other fps out there that can compete with NOLF in terms of quality. Sure, such game may offer better multiplayer modes, such other better graphics, etc. etc. but no other shooter game offers such a carefully polished and beautifully crafted experience as this one.

Throughout 60 fully detailed missions you'll be taken in a gameplay ride that combines superb shooter action, a solid sneaking angle, a light pseudo-rpg system (get shot a lot and your health gets boosted, go around sneaking and you become better at it later on, etc.), a well made spy feel that has you collecting intelligence items and using gadgets that later open up new areas in old missions, and exceptional action set-pieces like sniping sequences, snowmobile and motorcycle sequences.

The action itself is fantastic, with dozens of realistic weapons and an impressive set of enemy animations, your opponents fall from buildings, roll down stairs, and react to every shot and situation (like discovering a dead buddy) with a series of great motion-captured animations that take the whole experience to a new level, I never realized how dull other games where in the animation department until I checked this one out! And the AI is really impressive too, enemies attack with their brains most of the time, and they remain alert whenever they detect a disturbance.

The levels are incredibly well designed with a real posh 60's feel that lampoons the decade and it's cultural icons, furthermore on a game this long, it's important to avoid the Halo syndrome and provide a lot of variety, and NOLF delivers to a degree that none of the missions ever manage to feel old or repetitive. Express trains, space stations, terrorists facilities, underground headquarters, jungle outposts, executive buildings, cargo freighters and more await you in this game, and there's even a level where you free-fall off a plane and try to snag a parachute in mid-air!!

Of course, all those missions would be merely acceptable if they were just thrown loosely at you, but the game ties them up in a cohesive and entertaining storyline that has a unique comedy edge. One may initially think that it takes the Austin Powers route, but instead of focusing on gags and token catchphrases the story takes a more ironic route and wins by it's use non-obvious humor and it's dead-on take of the 60's super-spy movie genre. In fact, half the fun of NOLF's story is the fact that it could actually have been (save for some over-the-top touches) an actual 60's super-spy movie!!

Of course no review of NOLF would be complete without a nod to what has to be the game's crown achievement: Writing. This game has the best comedy writing in any game ever bar none. Each conversation in the game is funny in a truly smart way, with characters that trail off and start talking about seemingly mundane things and turn them into excellent comedy bits (sort of like a super-spy version of Seinfeld). The conversations you overhear during the game can go from guards asking each other about the medical plans of their terrorist organizations, the problems they have with their wifes at home, or discuss more serious issues such as how good was "Our man Flint" or if alcohol leads to a life in crime. In a word: priceless.

The Bad
There are very few flaws in NOLF, but I feel I have to point them for the sake of objectivity: First of all, while the writing may be wonderful not so is the editing if you will. Most cutscenes are of the "talking heads" type, and this is not an oversight since they are made with the game engine.

The other thing I could mention is that there isn't a proper graduation in the way equipment is given to you, you aren't properly eased into their use and as a result you will find that you just won't use a lot of those things... like the robotic poodle. How many people out there actually used it? Or what about the exploding lipstick? Did you actually judge when to take the timed, proximity, or impact detonators??

The Bottom Line
Do you like great shooters? Then pick this one up, because it's the grand-daddy of them all. In a genre so prostituted and overpopulated like the fps genre it's very hard to tell one that manages to be a jewel of a game and also raise over it's competition as "the one" but this one does. Does that mean that it's the best shooter ever? That's not for me to say, but I can assure you that no other fps has the level of quality and dedication this one has, and it is one hell of a game!

And don't fear it because of it's swinging-60's feel! Most people missed out on this masterpiece because of that ignorant prejudice!

Windows · by Zovni (10504) · 2002

[ View all 10 player reviews ]

Trivia

Development

The game evolved quite a lot from its original conception. Originally you didn't play as a woman, but as Adam Church, operative for Her Majesty's Most Secret Service (MI0) and the game was not as Austin Powers-Swinging Sixties but strived for a more serious humorous take on the James Bond films (Adam himself was a satirical version of Bond). Early screenshots from late 1999 can be found on the web or in old magazines where you can see the early incarnations of NOLF.

ESRB

A few months after NOLF's release, the ESRB changed its rating to M and its descriptors to Animated Blood, Animated Violence. The Game of the Year Edition has this rating, and it is listed as M on the website, but the original boxes don't. Inquiries to the ESRB about why this happened result in a canned "When the game was first submitted, we gave it a T, but then it was resubmitted with more mature content," which is obviously not true.

Germany

Several of the game's missions take place in German cities such as East Berlin, Bremen and Frankfurt. While the developers did make an effort to create a proper setting by making signs that are correctly written in German there are some errors. One in particular is a sign in the Stasi (state security ) compound in East Berlin which reads "Begriff -- Kein Trespassing". This would literally translate to "Term -- No Trespassing". Additionally, most of the articles on posters and Inge Wagner's banner are wrong since they use the wrong gender.

Another noteworthy issue are the villains accent's: Most of the villains are supposed to be German. However, some of their accents sound rather East European. One voice actor seems to have based his supposedly German accent on Arnold Schwarzenegger with a more Austrian note to his German.

German version

In the German version, all blood and death cries were removed. This also means that the "MoreBloodOption" cheat has no effect.

Guards

On nearly every level the guards, if you don't alert them, will carry on conversations with each other. Many of these are very humorous, as the guards discuss things which range from high brow topics like sociology in how it relates to criminals and alcoholics to how to let the guard dog relieve itself at the guard's post. Even if it was not part of the point system, being stealthy would be something players would strive for just to overhear all these talks.

Inge Wagner

The game features Inge Wagner, supposedly a grand-granddaughter of the famous German composer Richard Wagner. During your battle against her, a tape recorder plays Wagner's music.

Inspiration

The model and actress Mitzi Martin was the inspiration for the heroine of the story, Cate Archer.

References

  • In one of the missions, Kate receives a codename "Foxhound". This is an obvious reference to Konami's Metal Gear series., Mitzi Martin, was the inspiration for the heroine of the story, Cate Archer.
  • In one of the cut scenes in the mission "The Dive" you'll see a submarine that has the number 5675-309. This is likely a reference to a popular rock song of the 80's by Tommy Tutone, called "Jenny 8675309". Notice the similarities between the numbers?

Sales

The game initially sold poorly until the reviews and word of mouth increased interest in the game. Notably, the sales spiked a few months after the games release and enough positive reviews were printed.

Soundtrack

The second disc includes In the Lounge: 9 exclusive music tracks inspired by the 60s, plus 2 groovy music tracks from the Fox Interactive & Indiespace.com music search. The track listing is:

  1. Goodman's Surprise
  2. Santa's Workshop
  3. Be-boppin' Shoo-woopin' Along
  4. The Operative
  5. Elevator of Love
  6. No One Grooves Forever
  7. Suisse Chalet
  8. UNITY's Spy
  9. [untitled track]
  10. El Dorado (by Archie Thompson)
  11. Void (by Red Delicious)
Tracks 1-9:
Written and composed by Becky Kneubuhl;
Doug Norwine, Flute;
Joe Finetti, Trombone;
Lee Thornberg, Trumpet;
Lisa Kable, Vocals;
Chris Lee, Guitars;
Mixed and recorded by Gabriel Rutman at Asylum Studios

"El Dorado" (Track 10):
Written and performed by Archie Thompson;
Published by ArchType Music (BMI);
© 2000 Archie Thompson;

"Void" (Track 11):
Written and performed by Red Delicious (Steve Baca, Sara Wallace, Rob King);
Published by Stompin' Music (BMI);
© 2000 Red Delicious

Source code release

The publishers have released the source code for NOLF for anyone to modify. For anyone interested, they can be downloaded at the download section of the official NOLF webpage (link available at the related sites section).

Awards

  • Computer Gaming World
    • April 2001 (Issue #201) – Action Game of the Year
    • April 2001 (Issue #201) – Best Screenplay of the Year
    • April 2001 (Issue #201) – Villain of the Year (for H.A.R.M.'s Evil Hand Puppet)
    • May 2005 (Issue #251) – Introduced into the Hall of Fame
  • GameSpy
    • 2000 – Special Award for Story
  • GameStar (Germany)
    • Issue 02/2001 - Best Action Game in 2000
    • Issue 12/2008 - One of the "10 Coolest Levels" (for the level "Unexpected Turbulence". It is a short level of six minutes but manages to stay in the player's memory because of its original, funny and challenging main idea.
  • PC Gamer
    • October 2001 - #44 in the "op 50 Best Games of All Time" list
  • PC Player (Germany)
    • Issue 01/2001 - Best Action-Adventure in 2000

Information also contributed by dasfatso, Emepol, Entorphane,, Fire Convoy, Marko Poutiainen, Scott Monster, Szajd, Unicorn Lynx, Zovni

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Ray Soderlund.

Macintosh added by Kabushi.

Additional contributors: Kalirion, Unicorn Lynx, Solid Flamingo, Szajd, oct, Patrick Bregger, Xy Yz.

Game added November 14, 2000. Last modified June 9, 2024.