Have You Played… The Operative: No One Lives Forever?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Perhaps the reason the rights to make a No One Lives Forever game are permanently stuck in limbo is because everyone keeps looking for them under ‘N’, forgetting that the name by which everyone refers to this fabbo FPS was only ever the post-colon tagline.

Seventeen years on, and NOLF is still absolutely bloody brilliant. Funny, smart, and most importantly, a really excellent shooter. Back when games were allowed to exist because they wanted to be funny.

As I wrote in 2009 for RPS’s new dad, Eurogamer,

“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.”

It’s such a giant shame that the adventures of Cate Archer ended after only two splendid games, with Warner buying Monolith, and no one really knowing who properly owns the rights to it. Activision thought it might belong to them, but weren’t sure, because Vivendi bought Fox Interactive, and then that all got called Activision/Blizzard, or something, honestly I find it hard to care. And in all that muddle, no one can find anything saying it’s theirs to sell. That’s good, isn’t it? Isn’t everything brilliant.

Then in 2014 there was a buzz of excitement. It was noticed that Night Dive, they who somehow found and claimed the rights to the similarly buried System Shock, had registered trademarks for it. We were sure that meant a re-release! Except no re-release ever happened, and that was the last we ever heard of it.

Of course, the surest way to find out who really owns something is to start selling it and see who sues the loudest. Maybe it’s time to try that?

And you know what? I’m barely kidding about the whole “The Operative”/”No One Lives Forever” thing. Has anyone actually checked to see if it’s all in the ‘O’ drawer?

62 Comments

  1. gbrading says:

    No I haven’t played No One Lives Forever, and I’d like to. It’s a real shame that I can’t unless I seek out and old copy of the game on eBay. It’s a real crime that the game and the sequel are still digitally unavailable.

    • Askis says:

      NOLF is sorta digitally available.
      The source code was released in 2001 and while the official site is gone, it’s still available on ModDB.
      If you know how to compile it, there’s your digital version.

      You can also find the entire series on at least one well known pirate site and since the rights are in limbo, no one is going to care.

      • Premium User Badge

        Indigo says:

        It IS available :)
        No need for torrent or any P2P, really.

        link to nolfrevival.tk

        Quote from the site:

        You cannot buy a functional version of No One Lives Forever any more. As a result, in an attempt to keep the community alive and attract new players, No One Lives Forever Revival Edition is available to all for free and is a breeze to install and play on all modern operating systems.

        • Askis says:

          Just got NOLF from there and it works fine, although I’m getting some weird stuttering when moving around.

        • Eawyne says:

          I own both games, but can’t make’em run properly ! This is gold ! Thanks =)

          Woudln’t there be something akin to this for Contract JACK ?

        • Premium User Badge

          reitrop says:

          Thank you a million times (and maybe a few more)! I was desperate to find a way to play these two marvelous games again.

        • Scandalon says:

          Oh wow, thanks! (Assuming it doesn’t have some malware hidden inside.)

          Anyone that downloads, please use BitTorrent and keep seeding!

          I used to own the first one for Mac, but it was always in a weird in-between either the hardware that I had access to was marginally too slow to be enjoyable, or later “too fast” when PPC emulation was phased out…

        • Devan says:

          Wow, thanks for the link! I have both games but last time I tried to get Nolf 2 installed and patched with widescreen support it didn’t work right and I ended up with no sound. I’m really glad someone’s done all that work (and more) and wrapped it in an installer.

        • voidmind says:

          Thank you so much for sharing this link! NOLF has always been my favorite game of all time (right until Horizon Zero Dawn was released) and I never thought I’d get to play it again.

        • Premium User Badge

          steves says:

          Hot damm! Thanks for that. I’ll even forgive the autoplaying music from that link, ’cause it’s ace music.

          I actually have discs for NOLF2 somewhere, but bollocks to trying to get that working in 2017.

        • Nibblet says:

          Thank you so much for that link sir. :)
          Next time we meet i am buying you puppies and pie.

        • Boingo 420X says:

          To Indigo….thank you so much for the link….these games bring back some fond memories

  2. rambo919 says:

    Do not MOCK me woman! It stings….

  3. Philopoemen says:

    NOLF and Soldier of Fortune sum up some what was meant to be my Physics degree. Counterstrike and Sacrifice sum up the rest…

    • GepardenK says:

      Oh god Sacrifice. I’m reasonably sure I could have been an astronaut if it weren’t for the hours wasted on that gem

  4. Ejia says:

    Silly Horace, did you notice me sniffing around the No One Lives Forever tag? I was just thinking earlier about how I’d like to see it for myself, but I don’t know who should be selling it.

  5. Michael Fogg says:

    I still hope Night Dive will deliver this. Their reissues of classic games are ace.

    • Jalan says:

      Their release of Shadow Man is depressing (to name but one of their misfires).

      As much as I enjoy some of their releases in general, I find that too often people (and at one point this included myself as well) are placing them up on a pedestal and buying into the gimmick they push of “we’re just diehard fans” a bit too much.

      • Michael Fogg says:

        I based my opinion on their editions of System Shock 1 & 2 and Strife Veteran Ed. What’s the problem with Shadow Man?

        • horrorgasm says:

          I’d guess it had something to do with Shadowman not being that good of a game to begin with, and people apparently expected Night Dive to fix all the problems that they forgot existed back when they originally played it.

  6. Jalan says:

    Both NOLF games were great (yeah yeah, and Contract J.A.C.K. was alright as well). Unfortunately the entire series is complacent to live up to its title and we’ll likely never see anyone sell the games again. Seems to be a running theme of “never gonna happen” syndrome as far as Monolith goes. We’ll never see an open source release of Blood (and no, the reverse-engineered, engine conversion BloodGDX doesn’t count – good as it may or may not be) and we’ll never get to experience the real Archer’s adventures without resorting to… other means or succumbing to gouged mark-ups on the secondhand markets.

    • voidmind says:

      Your payers have been answered in a post above your:

      « Indigo says:

      It IS available :)
      No need for torrent or any P2P, really.

      link to nolfrevival.tk

      Quote from the site:

      You cannot buy a functional version of No One Lives Forever any more. As a result, in an attempt to keep the community alive and attract new players, No One Lives Forever Revival Edition is available to all for free and is a breeze to install and play on all modern operating systems. »

  7. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    ” Except no re-release ever happened, and that was the last we ever heard of it.”

    I mean, it wasn’t like Night Dive just went dark. They did a whole postmortem interview. link to kotaku.com

    • JR says:

      This this this this this this. This really should get stickied.

      TL;DR:
      Night Dive didn’t go dark, they were told “No” by Warner Brothers, who weren’t entirely certain they had the right to say “No” but at least they didn’t accidentally end up with someone making money on something that may have sortof been theirs at one point.

      I’m really happy Night Dive at least figured out the System Shock licensing, but I think I almost would have preferred them to find the NOLF licence in an obscure insurance firm, rather then SS.

  8. Merry says:

    Both 1 and 2 are readily available on CD on eBay for a few pounds.

  9. kud13 says:

    Surely, you’d then be checking the “T” drawer, since it’s “The Operative: NOLF” ?

    No wonder it’s such a mess…

    On a more serious note: yes, I played NOLF. Never managed to get far in NOLF 2, though, I think I just lost interest soon after the initial ninja compound.

    • Askis says:

      So you never got to the part where you’re riding on the back of a tricycle, which is being steered by a burly Scotsman, while Mimes attack you? ;)

      • Devan says:

        ..while shooting an unlimited-ammo machine gun at a midget riding a unicycle, all in an attempt to uncover a plot to use supersoldiers to spark nuclear war?
        Yeah, it’s definitely a game worth playing all the way through.

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        I got to that level, but it’d never end. The Scotsman would just end up peddling his unicycle in place forever. I never saw what came after..

    • fish99 says:

      Same here, finished NOLF but never got more than 10 minutes into the sequel. I don’t really know why.

      • voidmind says:

        Enemies that respawned totally killed the immersion for me. It made no sense.

        • fish99 says:

          It could have been that, I honestly can’t remember. I seem to remember the game didn’t have much of an intro, just dumping you into said village with annoying ninjas and forcing you to fight with a crossbow or something?

  10. tbs says:

    Criminal sociology is a hobby of mine. Whether we like it or not, we are shaped by our environment.

  11. Javier says:

    The longer Eurogamer retrospective captures a bit better than this brief mention of the game what made it so special. I have the feeling most people who never played this game would expect a good, average, funny shooter from the early 90s, and it’s so much more than that, really. Not up to speed with the whole ownership situation, but I can’t but hope for it to be rereleased on Steam at some point and for more people to discover what they’ve been missing out on.

    Few games released today are as creatively succesful as NOFL was back in its day. Very few.

  12. robotslave says:

    Mandatory FPS Sewer Comment

  13. Urthman says:

    If Bond Films Were Named Like Cate Archer Games

    Dr. No
    Dr. No 2: From Russia With Love
    Dr. No 3: Goldfinger
    Dr. No 4: Thunderball
    Dr. No 5: You Only Live Once

    And people would say things like,”The third Doctor is my favorite.”

  14. poliovaccine says:

    I still have a physical copy of NOLF 2. I’m no collector by any means, but it’s one of my most prized material possessions!

  15. zarnywoop says:

    My god, I could listen to the theme non-stop for hours. I really loved the setting of this game, 60s spy cliché …with the robotic (love) poodle for the guard dogs, sleeping perfume, lipstick explosive. The sequel was great too, with the tornado at the trailer park and the exploding angry kitty trap. …and not to forget the classic slipping on a banana skin. It’s a shame Monolith vanished into mobile games.

    • MacPoedel says:

      I am keeping that nolfrevival link from an earlier comment open for the rest of the evening because it has that theme song on an infinite loop.

      Monolith hasn’t really vanished into mobile games though has it? They last made Shadow of Mordor and are now doing the sequel. That game didn’t have drop of comedy in it unfortunately (well the Nemesis system could be hilarious, I thought my main nemesis looked extremely dumb).

  16. RobbieTrout says:

    I bought it when it was more or less new, and STILL haven’t played it. One of these days…

  17. eeguest says:

    I don’t remember any details except I played both parts and they were G.R.E.A.T.

  18. ariston says:

    My favourite game of all time. NOLF 2 had a different voice actress for Cate, which was a huge disappointment at the time. The wry humour and good-natured irony courtesy of Kit Harris was unparalleled. And the script was amazing… funny, with bits of seriousness and even tragedy skilfully merged. Played it about ten times.

  19. Stingy.Duck says:

    Last year I tried to replay NOLF 2. Everything was going quite all right, but I had to stop because I couldn’t stand the constant crashes to desktop and bugs, like the background music not looping or the graphics not being rendered when quick loading a game.

    A shame really, because NOLF and NOLF 2 are among my favorite games from way back. I would PAY to get source ports for these games (and since it uses a similar engine, lets put TRON 2.0 in the list. Yes, the vanilla game runs just fine, but it could use it’s little share of improvements). While we are at it, let’s also get a full featured source port for Dark Forces.

  20. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    Small correction: The one that NDS rescued after a tortuous odyssey in 2013-14 was System Shock 2, not 1.

    But yeah, I think we all spent a season at the edge of our seats when they attempted the same with NOFL because that had been an amazing accomplishment, and this couldn’t possibly not be another lovely success story where a timeless classic got rightfully rescued from oblivion… And then it big fat wasn’t. And we all cried.

    Funnily enough, I remember having read: “the surest way to find out who really owns something is to start selling it and see who sues the loudest” somewhere at the time –probably more than once. I guess everyone had the same idea after that heartbreak.

  21. elevown says:

    Twice now – today and yesterday, I have had a critical firefox update page pop up – that was clearly a phishing scam of some sort – shortly after coming to rps. I guess it is one of your adverts triggering it?

    • poliovaccine says:

      That sort of reasoning is what they call “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” after it, therefore because of it, and it’s denoted by a special name because it’s a fallacy of logic to watch out for in particular. What you say is not impossible by any means, but the only way it would even begin to be likely is if RPS represented your sole use of the internet.

      That being said, do you use AdBlock or anything like that?

  22. baseless_drivel says:

    Easily one of my favorite games of all time, up there with the likes of System Shock 2 and the Ultima Underworld games.

    I even have a physical copy of the game… somewhere. But I sure had a hell of a time trying to get the damn game to even run. I couldn’t figure out a way to get it to run on Win7, and while I managed to at least get it to run in a VM, sound was a no-go.

    Might have to give it another shot one of these days.

  23. Premium User Badge

    Carra says:

    I remember a fun scene in an airplane. Never finished the game and only played it ten years after it came out.

  24. gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

    Still one of my favorite FPSs. I wish someone had been able to port the PS2-only prequel levels from NOLF to the PC!

    Also I wish I could mod the stealth India levels from NOLF2 to not be nerve-wracking.

  25. Frank says:

    Tons of fun, along with NOLF 2. They’re tops for me among games I’m missing in digital stores.

  26. Premium User Badge

    Waltorious says:

    I played No One Lives Forever for the first time in 2012 and loved it. I wrote a pair of posts about it on my personal blog, in fact; the first one is here:

    link to waltorious.wordpress.com

    My impressions were much the same as John’s, namely that a game as big and varied as this simply could not be made today, and that’s a shame. I highly recommend others check it out. For those trying to get the original CD version working, there are some tips at the end of my post about that.

  27. WJonathan says:

    Yes, wonderful, well-balanced shooting action. Great variety of weapons and gadgets, and very often the gameplay itself was funnier than the somewhat overwritten script. Perfect soundtrack, and the art style and color-palette were knockouts. On the downside, the outdoor environments look awful now, and the stealth gameplay never worked quite right. But it’s undoubtedly one of those games that made me glad I picked up PC gaming in the 90s. One NOLF makes up for 10 other disappointing titles.

  28. Det. Bullock says:

    I played both games more than once, they are THAT good.
    Over the years I started to like it even more as I got better at understanding the jokes, when I was a teen I could only get the basic gist of what was happening and nothing else for most fo the time.

  29. Konservenknilch says:

    What a great game (the sequel, too). I’m not even an FPS player, but I played both of these start to finish several times. If one could finally get a copy nowadays, I might just start them up again.

    All the tropes are realized so beautifully here, which is especially great for a guy whose favorite Bond is Roger Moore. Also, looked pretty great back in the day.

  30. BooleanBob says:

    They were fun games for sure: weird, quirky and rewarding of experimentation.

    Did nobody else find the humour a bit forced though? It seemed to ape Austin Powers to an extreme degree but the engine struggled to replicate Mike Myers’ range of rubber faces or comedy pratfalling. Some good voice acting though, including an early(?) appearance from the guy who did TF2’s Snoiper.

    Definitely a net benefit to humanity though, and a part of what made the late nineties/early noughties such a golden era for PC gaming.

  31. Premium User Badge

    fegbarr says:

    I had forgotten that The Operative was the official title. Which made the sequel The Operative in: No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in HARM’s Way.

    Surely a contender for longest game name?

  32. Freud says:

    I played NOLF 2 and it’s a fantastic game. It perfectly captures whimsical 60s agent movies/television.

  33. ThisNameStinks says:

    Ownership of IP that is not commercially available or used should expire quickly. The whole intent is get people to create more by allowing them to profit off their creations, not to squirrel things away where nobody can use them. It’s a shame that works like this are stuck in purgatory instead of being enjoyed by people.

  34. Nightcrowe says:

    I played NOLF 1 and 2 several times each as they were so funny, and I was also a regular combatant on the multiplayer server.

    I still have the original discs and am wondering whether they’d work on Win 10 or whether to download from the link to nolfrevival.tk ?

  35. Boingo 420X says:

    Very funny, but it’s Dr.No: You Only Live Twice