Eurogamer: No One Lives Forever Retro

By John Walker on November 23rd, 2009 at 8:52 am.

I love this man's face.

Yesterday saw my No One Lives Forever retrospective appear on the mighty Eurogamer. Maybe you’d like to read a thing like that. A thing like that begins like this:

They say money makes the world go round, but this is somewhat inaccurate. Leftover momentum from the solar nebula makes the world go round. Money, in fact, is not responsible for rotation, gravity, nor indeed any number of other phenomena in the galaxy. It does, however, occasionally make games less interesting. You simply couldn’t make No One Lives Forever today. You couldn’t because it would be too long, require far too many assets, and most significantly of all, risk all the cost of development on a comedy game – a genre that no longer exists. Its international scale, its enormous volume of content and its emphasis on making you laugh add up to something that feels like it’s from another age – an age before an FPS lasted six hours and cost $250 million.

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79 Comments »

  1. Fumarole says:

    Ah, good old NOLF. More games need underwater and freefall levels.

  2. Lobotomist says:

    Great write up mate. NOFL is absolutely awesome game. One of most enjoyable shooters I had privilege to play.

    I just wanted to add that in article you mention some other Monolith games but you forget : Tron 2.0
    which is a masterpiece in its own right. Both visually and story wise.

    Indeed NOFL would make a great movie. And Tron 2.0 as well.

    • Lobotomist says:

      NOFL = NOLF

      ;)

    • Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

      NOFL = No Flying Lettuce… now that would be an interesting title for a game!

    • diebroken says:

      All that lettuce talk reminds me of Pickle Wars… mmm… =P

    • Karry says:

      Uh, no, TRON is interesting visually, but crap in gameplay. Its just too hard ! Enemy never misses from distance where you can barely see them, and infinitely respawning sniper balls are a nightmare ! And all those ridiculous timed sequences, ONE was too many already ! And jumping puzzles !!! Gah, that game was horrible, i didnt have it in me to finish it.
      Evidently, Monolith lost the touch to make good shooters about after NOLF2, because their most recent FEAR series is complete garbage, now both in visual style, storytelling, AND gameplay design, while having sky high system requirements.

      NOLF is awesome, though.

    • DXN says:

      No, he’s talking about No One Forever Lives, the Star Wars-themed expansion pack.

    • redrain85 says:

      @Karry:

      Uh, no, TRON is interesting visually, but crap in gameplay.

      No way. TRON 2.0 was pretty awesome. I do agree we could have done with less jumping puzzles, though.

      Of course, NOLF was also awesomesauce. NOLF 2 not so much, but still good. Contract J.A.C.K. was mediocre, though.

      And from F.E.A.R. onward . . . meh. The Monolith of old is gone now.

  3. Flint says:

    Funny timing, I just recently made a note to myself to replay this game soon.

    It’s easily one of my favourite FPS games, for pretty much all the reasons described in the article. It always offered something new and interesting and did it all with such a fun, colourful attitude that it’s a sheer joy to play. And the main theme rocks.

    The sequel was good as well, although what it gained in gameplay enhancements it lost in the colourful feel; some levels felt like your typical shooter zones, which never happened with the first one.

  4. nuno says:

    one of my favorites ever. sometimes i still remember some of those missions you had to take… and the silly dialogues of your enemies. i have to play this again.

  5. Utgaardsloke says:

    Loved NOLF. It was quite early with features like ragdolls, and selectable equipment before each mission. The conversations between the grunts was the best, however. Made it really worth playing stealthy!

  6. Optimaximal says:

    The sequel originally left me a little nonplussed because I’d pretty much just finished a run-through of NOLF in anticipation of it release. Too step into it and find they’d trimmed nearly all the customisation out was a bit annoying. This was before wholesale console-retardation, but in retrospect they did improve the game where it mattered.
    I’m still not sold entirely on the sequels plot – it was shorter, self-aware and silly for the sake of silly, rather than the tongue in cheek that drove the original.

    NOLF3 – where are thee?

  7. Bobsy says:

    Along with Grim Fandango, NOLF is one of those games I feel uncommonly guilty about not having played at the time. Considering they are now more or less unattainable this makes getting through the long hours of the day that much harder.

    • Vinraith says:

      It’s one of those games where I tried a friend’s copy, liked it, made a note to buy it, then got around to it. Somehow, that makes it worse than just having missed it outright.

      This is a good candidate for GOG if ever there was one.

    • NoahApples says:

      Yes please on the GOG front. This is one of those games I’ve been actively waiting on to show up there.

  8. arqueturus says:

    I always felt slightly guilty that I thought both NOLF’s were utter shite. There hasn’t been a game before or since that left me so puzzled over their inexplicable popularity.

    I hated the setting, the engine looked and felt awful and it just wasn’t funny. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to play both in fact I think I bought the first on release and took it back and then bought the second and took it back AND then bought it again on it’s budget release and still took it back.

    I really tried to like them :(

    • Vinraith says:

      That reminds me of my own experience with Planescape, which I bought and subsequently sold three times over the years. It just never worked for me, no matter how much it seemed like it should, no matter how much I wanted it to, and no matter how much praise was heaped upon it. It just goes to show what an individual (and sometimes mysterious) thing game taste can be. If something doesn’t hook you, there’s nothing much you can do about it.

    • Urthman says:

      It’s 2009 and we are swimming in too-many-great games to play.

      You are Officially Allowed to not like a game that lots of other people like.

      Now run along and play a game you enjoy.

    • arqueturus says:

      I’m refferring to 2009 though, I’m going way back to closer to when NOLF was more up to date as I’m sure Vinraith is for Planescape.

      Also, we’re talking about the cult classics of gaming here, it can be pretty frustrating to hear of everyones wonder for a game that just leaves you cold.

    • Urthman says:

      What I meant was that, in 2009, the number of great games just released that I haven’t played (Batman: Arkham, Torchlight, Risen) and great classic games I haven’t played yet (Beyond Good & Evil, Planescape, DeusEx) is so huge that it’s a relief if there’s a game on the required reading list that I can just say, “nah, I’m not into that one” and move on.

    • Sonic Goo says:

      You, sir! You look like you need a monkey.

  9. Ragnar says:

    Its international scale, its enormous volume of content and its emphasis on making you laugh add up to something that feels like it’s from another age – an age before an FPS lasted six hours and cost $250 million.

    And it was an alltogether better age. Nowadays it feels like all computer game genres are in decline in my not so humble opinion.

  10. Metal_Circus says:

    I thought I was the only one who liked NOLF. I had no idea it was held in such high esteem. It’s a good’un, to be sure. NOLF 2 is an even better game. Shorter, less in it, but very good nonetheless. I’d like another NOLF, but in all honesty, with current trends I can’t see it being too good.

    I still love dropping a robo kitty outside a russian barrack and watch it blow up a soldier, and then mowing down all the guards that come to inspect the noise with the AK. Or placing a banana skin on some steps so a patrolling guard trips and tumbles down the stairs and dies. Great games, they were, and it’s rather cliche to say it but they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

  11. Metal_Circus says:

    I also seem to recall a level where you could get on a train, and it’d cut to a scene of you travelling across the globe before returning you back to where you were. Little flecks of humour like that really made the game IMO.

  12. neolith says:

    Ah, good old NOLF – I am still hoping for another sequel…

  13. Dreamhacker says:

    NOLF! An acronym that conjures up pictures of way-ahead-of-it’s-time-tech and an admirably failed stealth system!

    Nowadays, I see it more as a comedic proto-FEAR crossbred with AVP2.

  14. The Dark One says:

    Sure, the sequel might not have had all the charm of the original, but it did have very impressive almost-lava.

    Plus the rail shooter level on Magnus’ shoulders.

  15. Lars Westergren says:

    “NOLF learned the lesson that Half-Life had to teach, that almost no other games took notice of. It knew to be quiet at the start. The opening sequences, introducing characters, opening up the plot[...]”

    That is my problem with war games. I think I could like one if there was ever one that built up an atmosphere, where you got to know three dimensional characters and cared about them (Realistic, human, vulnerable characters – not meeting the shouty drill sergeant type from Full Metal Jacket or Aliens the millionth time).

    But it seems it is the law now that every war game must start with the D Day landing at Normandy with the action and the cool bombs and the blood and the manly screaming of GO GO GO. There can never be more than 5 seconds into the game before you start shooting people.

    That aside, that was a great article John. I really want to play NOLF again.

  16. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    Great write up, that game was first class. It really does leave one wondering what good could come of someone armed with the creative talent and the financial backing to create something as stellar as it. Evil Genius did gave off that vibe but lost its way too soon.

    I’m not so sure comedy, as a gaming “genre” or theme, is dead. Was it ever something that established itself before the current trend of gray, washed-out, all-too-serious games we tend to get on PC? Armed and Dangerous, Grim Fandango, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, NOLF and others are fine specimens, but I’m left wondering just how much comedy could be considered a mainstay. Comedy is hard to pull off and it’s a tricky proposition. I’ve seen humourless games or even trivial situations in games being considered incredibly funny – “funny”, “humurous” and “comedy” are different, true, but when inquired most people I’ve talked to considered them to be pretty much the same thing.

    I’m only asking this because it seems comedy was something that gamer, by large, never really got into. They can appreciate their Portals and now their new-fangled Brutal Legends, but something tells me these are exceptions in a theme that was nearly always just a string of good (sometimes excelent) exceptions to begin with.

  17. Shadowcat says:

    NOLF was certainly good. Not as fun as Shogo (which made it something of a disappointment to me at first, frankly), and I recall having to become accustomed to absolutely insane mouse sensitivity when steering vehicles for some reason, and it really wasn’t as funny as it thought it was. But all in all it was, for the most part, a really fine piece of work.

    Interestingly enough for a “comedy game”, I’ve rarely felt as utterly brutal in a FPS as I did shooting people in the back of the head with a silenced pistol in NOLF.

  18. Casimir's Blake says:

    I do believe NOLF2 was the first game I saw (and perhaps “ever”) with characters that had moving eyes. A seemingly small detail but used so effectively in the game it made the characters seem a damn sight more life-like. I believe they used motion capture as well though, which also helped tremendously.

  19. Muzman says:

    Good stuff there. A game that shouldn’t be forgotten. I’m a little sad they messed up the stealth in the second one. The first has truly awesome stealth mechanics. There aren’t many games from the era besides Thief(s) where the enemy will catch a glimpse of you and then come looking for you with a torch/flashlight. It was just a bit too realistic and unforgiving for most people to see the nuances though, so they tried to nerf it (but then introduced respawning guards to really ruin it).
    I always forget just how huge it is too. The snowmobile bits go for ages, and then you’ve got to raid the castle and so on. It’s not full of spectacle and set pieces, but a big sense of adventure.
    The gags you stumble upon are often the best ones; like at the start you overhear some henchemen talking about Volkov’s managment and his threats to gouge out the eyes of the tardy with a rusty spoon. Later, if you find Volkov’s briefcase the contents are something like ‘Address of the hotel, microfilm of the ambassador, rusty spoon’

    Good point about Austin Powers too. Even though the tone of it doesn’t gel with a lot of people, NOLF is the true inheritor of The Avengers and that spirit of sixties spy silliness (which covers a lot of dark themes and black humour and is played fairly straight, but is just so huge and cartoony). I’m fairly sure Mike Myers thinks he invented it.

  20. ZIGS says:

    It saddens me that in today’s gaming world, a game like NOLF is just not feasible. It almost makes he happy that another sequel will never happen because if it did, it would be a complete travesty.
    Now if only someone would make a time machine so we could go back to 1998-2000 and experience REAL PC gaming…

  21. EBass says:

    I don’t know how but I’ve somehow lost the discs of both NOLF games. Wonderful wonderful games, if put on GoG I might even buy them for a run through if I was in a slow period.

  22. Wizlah says:

    It was my first exposure to stealth mechanics. Didn’t play it until 2003 when I started getting back into gaming. I found it punishing but kept coming back for more. I’d love to play it through again, but right now I have little time for games. Deffo on my replay soon list, though.

    As for cate’s accent, I thought her posh tones were down to being from Edinburgh, if i remember right. Which always impressed me for realism.

  23. PanicProne says:

    NOLF & NOLF 2: Two games that have been shamefully forgotten. They were the only two games that were witty, serious and funny at the same time. I think NOLF ranks at the top of my list of played PC games. The gameplay was genius, the story was brilliant and the characters and their humurous dialogue make these 2 games worth playing even if almost 10 years later!

    Seriously.

    I wish someone revived this Franchise.

  24. RLacey says:

    Ah, NOLF. One of the best games on my netbook (on which it runs flawlessly with maximum details. Yay for old games!).

  25. Anthony says:

    Loves me some NOLF.

    “Molten Lava! Very nice, very nice!”

  26. Buemba says:

    I hate stealth. Mandatory stealth that instantly gives you a game over screen if you get caught is just about the most annoying thing a game can have in my opinion.

    But I didn’t mind that in NOLF. Since being stealthy rewarded you with a steady stream of humorous conversations I made a point to *never* get caught and didn’t feel a speck of frustration doing it even though I got stuck in a few levels for days. Forget achievements, jokes are the best reward a game can give me.

    Also, the series has easily the greatest set pieces ever. Freefalling firefight? Sneaking into the commie side of Berlin to extract a scientist? Escaping a space station that’s on the verge of destruction? Fighting ninjas in the middle of a tornado attack? How do you top that?

  27. LionsPhil says:

    The NOLF series was outstanding; right up there with Deus Ex and System Shock, but spreading its love for ’60s spy thrillers rather than cyberpunk. Monolith’s derailment into Contract JACK and FEAR has been a great tragedy, as if Valve suddenly decided that they really wanted to do a game about gruff space marines with recharging shields.

  28. Radiant says:

    $250 million only 50 of which was used to make the actual game!

  29. LionsPhil says:

    Ah, yes, Evil Genius. Proof that lashings of beautiful stylings and music and a really solid central theme can prop up a rather flawed management game. (Bloody suicidal valets…)

    @Optimaximal: “To step into it and find they’d trimmed nearly all the customisation out was a bit annoying.” Oh? NOLF2 had a Deus Ex/RPG-style upgrade system I found pretty neat. In fact, I played them out of order, and was miffed at NOLF1 lacking it (for about five seconds).

    In fact, if memory serves, NOLF1 had augmentation-style customisation (equip fuzzy slippers: reduce movement noise), and NOLF2 had skill-style (XP and upgrades).

  30. Lilliput King says:

    I… I lost one of the install discs.

    I’ve never forgiven myself.

    Excellent write up though, makes me want to play it again.

  31. bill says:

    Loved those games. Monolith was much more interesting back then… their engine might not have been quite up there with ID/Unreal, but they sure made up for it with a range of original games. (SHOGO, NOLF, AvP2, Tron2, etc…).

    It’s a shame that they don’t make games like this anymore… but i guess these days every game has to be gritty and realistic. And it probably would cost a fortune to make.

    But it feels like we’ve taken a step backwards when the cost of producing game assets means we can’t make games that are as ambitious as before. It’d be nice if you could release a NOLF size game, and maybe not have all the shaders and textures of MW2… and people’d cut you some slack because your game had more content, originality and style.

    But i bet the blogs/forums would just be full of people bitching about the graphics…

    • bill says:

      However, if ever a game was made for episodic distribution, it’s NOLF.

      I wonder if a truely episodic FPS (like telltale games) could get away with lower poly counts, as long as it was well written and played well?
      Heck, I’d buy an episodic NOLF using the original engine and assets…

    • Sonic Goo says:

      Games like Team Fortress 2 and World of Warcraft have proven that style is much more important than polycount. It also makes it seem less outdated later on…

  32. Zaphid says:

    I played through the sequel about a month ago, count me among those who say “They don’t make games like that anymore”. The enemies, the levels, the bosses, the notes, the awesome xp-collection system, the supersoldier you try to run get away from…

    I played wolfenstein right before that and if something, it made it look really terrible. It was like somebody raped your favorite genre, Indian Jones style.

    Arbitrary collectibles for rpg elements? check
    Respawning enemies ? check
    Gray, brown and green? check
    Paper-thin serious characters ? check

    Oh, shooters, how deep have you fallen ? The only shining star is team fortress 2.

  33. Urthman says:

    As always, Old Man Murray said it best.

    Being the only website who cares about you has its drawbacks. For instance, if a developer we’ve attacked mercilessly for three straight years manages to make a good game, we’re honor-bound to eat the poop and tell you about it…We don’t want to make a bigger deal of this than it deserves, but No One Lives Forever is a Lithtech powered game by Monolith that – in a whole bunch of non-trivial ways – is better than Half Life.

  34. Kez says:

    This retro just made me sad. It’s true–those wonderful Monolith games would never get made today.

  35. Guhndahb says:

    Great games, the both of them. While I agree there’s little chance to be a proper NOLF 3 – which I truly lament – I, perhaps naively, remain hopeful that games of its ilk may grace us again someday.

  36. Vitamin Powered says:

    Gotta agree with all the NOLF love. “YES! No more singing for two weeks, no more singing for two weeks!” “Perhaps, in hindsight, I am being too harsh…” The tricycle scene in number 2. And the mancubes…

    Because no one lives forever….

    But evil never dies.

  37. GammaRay says:

    I would kill little animals to see this game on GOG.

  38. Wooly says:

    Funny I should read this, as I *just* started playing NOLF. For the first time, too! Thus far I’m loving it!

  39. Gabbo says:

    Does Monolith/WBi or Actiblizzion own the NOLF name at this point? I fear what Kotick and company would do to the game if they ever tried a sequel.

  40. matte_k says:

    http://www.cex.co.uk/products/Gaming/PC%20Gaming/PC%20CD-ROM/index.php?sku=3348542164581&name=No%20One%20Lives%20Forever%202&mode=buy

    You can get a second hand copy here :)

    Fantastic games, both. Was surprised to find out that the voice actor for Bruno is the Husband of GLaDOS- Thank you, wikipedia!

  41. yourgrandma says:

    Not only is humor hader to find in games now days the stealth genre is pretty much dead. Splinter cell is the last game left and they are turning it into an action game

  42. sarble says:

    You look like you need a monkey

  43. the wiseass says:

    Mr. Walker thank you so very much for a review about a game that simply gets not enough praise. NOLF surely is up there with grandeurs like Half-Life and System Shock. It’s a beautifully written, humorous an colorful masterwork.

    Although I mus admit that I didn’t like NOLF2 as much as I did the original. but I so wish Monolith would make another try instead of another FEAR sequel. And while they’re at it, what about another SHOGO? Puh-lease make it happen dear Monolith.

    But I guess NOLF is an FPS-Fossil from a golden age of computer games, that has long since withered away. It’s a shame really and it makes me a little bit sad.

  44. Maj.Havok says:

    Love NOLF and NOLF2, great humor and story. One of the best coop games out there.

  45. Risingson says:

    It’s funny to bring this game back for two reasons: first, because it can be compared to Modern Warfare 2 and it makes the same thing (james bond-esque scripted missions) in a so much better way and second… because it brings back that “humor ” article written in RPS some time ago which showcased the amnesia of this site’s regulars.

  46. Crush says:

    I loved NOLF 1 and 2 they still are some of may favourite FPS games to date. As all the others have chimed in its such a shame a title like NOLF wouldn’t get made anymore.

    Monolith dont own the rights either so even if they wanted to they have to go through the dreaded Activision to get it.

    While on the topic of feminism the person in charge of Monolith is also a women not many game studios can lay claim to that.

    • Dave L. says:

      DO ActiBlizzard still have the rights to NOLF, though? I can’t imagine that they’d give up the rights to the FEAR name, which had a recent and fairly successful game released, but hold on to the NOLF IP, when the most recent game in that series came out in 2003 and bombed horribly.

      And thanks John for remembering that the series was meant to be ‘Cate Archer is The Operative in…’ It always disappointed me that NOLF2 was NOLF2 and not ‘Cate Archer is The Operative in A Spy in H.A.R.M’s Way’

      @Wizlah is also correct about the accent. Cate was not only from Edinburgh, but she was the orphaned daughter of a Scottish lord (and I thought that Kit Harris was scottish, too, but I can’t find any evidence backing that up).

  47. EaterOfCheese says:

    Love to see this series revived with humour intact. Loved NOLF1 & 2, and there was a mod floating around for co-op action, but I never managed to get it working.

  48. Grape Flavor says:

    I wish Monolith would do something interesting again. If not NOLF 3, which would be fantastic, then a creative new IP. I mean FEAR was all right, a pretty well executed couple of games. But like almost all horror games they’re terribly generic (spooky little girl, etc) If there are ANY people left in Monolith, whether developers or management, from the NOLF/NOLF 2 era, please, use your creative instincts once more.

    Oh, and EaterOfCheese? (reply doesn’t work for me) I believe NOLF 2 has co-op right out of the box. NOLF 1 I wouldn’t know since I never played it.

    • Sonic Goo says:

      There’s a number of specific coop missions that came with the game, though I believe there was a mod that allowed you to do the entire game in coop.

  49. whaleloever says:

    “Your failure is emphasised to you throughout, in a quite unrelenting fashion.”

    As much as I love NOLF, I did find this a little off-putting. Especially in the first mission, where you can’t help but fail and everyone has a go at you in that plummy British way. Modern Warfare does exactly the opposite, constantly rewarding you like you’re a millionaire kid in a sweetshop. That’s the only reason I can see for people liking those games.

    NOLF2 didn’t have the NOLF magic. But it did have the funniest double-whammy of a joke in this level:

  50. Alex/Occasionally Daffs says:

    Right, this article has inspired me to buy a copy. Is it not available on any of the digital distribution services? Certainly can’t see it on Steam…
    And should I buy NOLF 1 first or just go straight to 2?

    • Vitamin Powered says:

      I played the second one then the first one. I suppose really you should take a look at number 1, and if the graphics seem acceptable definitely start there. If on the otherhand number 1′s graphics are too painful, perhaps it would be okay to skip it.

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