DOS Boot: No One Lives Forever deserves to live on

nolf

DOS Boot is just Brock digging into old DOS/Windows games and talking half-remembered cool and bizarre experiences that are only available on abandon-ware sites at this point. Weekends should be for having fun and by god, we’re going to have some wholesome gosh dang fun on RPS Weekends.

Nearly a month back, I proposed that we all play No One Lives Forever — a game we all hear is one of those All Time PC Greats. Unfortunately, NOLF is one of those titles trapped in forever ownership hell-limbo, and despite big attempts from publishers to bring the IP back, no one seems to know who fully owns the title at this point. Which is why… as a site… we’ve come to agree that if a game has no ownership it cannot be stolen. So I invited the RPS community to join me in finally hunkering down to play No One Lives Forever. And now I am back… to compare notes… this doesn’t sound as threatening as it did in my head. We did a game and it is fun.

Before getting started, again, here is our post with links to the downloads and patches for the games, should you want to dive right in.

In 1999, Monolith Games started showing off their new title The Operative. Two years after the industry had been reinvented by Goldeneye: 007, Monolith had a game about a swinging 60s spy and their gadget who they were shocked to discover that journalists were comparing to James Bond. “This isn’t James Bond, this is a different other kind of spy dude, what don’t you get?” Monolith wanted to know. If only there was some solution…

Thus was born Cate Archer, the first female spy in a secret worldwide organization called UNITY that prevents the rise of megalomaniacal dictators. Her male counterparts refuse to respect her as anything more than a babysitter, and her history a cat burglar gives her sexist colleagues a “reason” to fall back on. As Cate begins her career, the first few major story missions go terribly, and in a brilliant twist there is nothing you can do about this failures — nor are they your fault. But as a woman in a man’s world, you a blamed for the shortcomings of your entire industry as if your gender is obviously the fault. (Spoiler: one of your male counterparts, the one who leans into being outright cruel, is the mole selling out the organization.)

There was still a male lead for this game in 1999. It shipped in 2000. In the interim, the very small team making it completely shifted the vision to make it a game not just featuring a woman in the workplace, but just as much about equality as it is about shooting things in cool ways. And, tonally, shifts the game from being a swinging 60s bit of pulp into a laser focused satire of the very thing it was created to celebrate. For example, one mission features Cate approaching various people and delivering code phrases, to which they respond. Her code phrases are pick-up lines, and their responses imply that Cate is a prostitute. And then both spies in each exchange declare their hatred for the awful, regressive dialogue that the home office whipped up for them.

There’s a lot about what I’m saying (including the gear Agent Archer receives) summed up excellently by Ed Smith in a VICE piece:

There’s something to be said for the fact Cate’s gadgets are all disguised as female fashion accessories—her cigarette lighter is a blowtorch, her perfume bottle sprays sleeping gas, her lipsticks are grenades. It’s a smart touch, taking these artifacts of stereotypical femininity and turning them into weapons. The standards of beauty and emblems of womanhood pushed onto Archer by a visually stimulated male society are turned back around and used, quite literally, against men. More subtly than Bayonetta using her legs and leather to manipulate her pursuer-cum-admirer Luka, it’s Archer embracing, owning, and using her sexuality—at no point does it feel like, maybe instead of empowering women, this game is about titillating men.

Not to outbound-link all our traffic, here’s a 2017 RPS piece on why you should give it a spin and here’s one from Nathan in 2014 celebrating how the game is absolutely for sure getting a re-release.

The game has a few dated elements. No matter what weapon or attachments you choose, you can shoot enemies with perfect marksmanship from almost any distance. The stealth sections of the game are completely unforgiving and the moment you’re spotted it immediately returns to an action bullet spray run-and-gun, which is not NOFL’s strength. And uh… you know.. 1999 misses some of the marks between feminism and straight up sexism with no twist and some of that’s going to sneak through. Hilariously, I was taken aback but some of the exaggerated stereotype accents used throughout the game, but it turns out the game’s lead actor had to redo Cate Archer’s voice after a first pass as Scottish was considered “too low class.” So that’s… that’s not great.

Over the years, I’ve heard the title compared to Half-Life, and it very much is not that. The combat is fine but the combat is not especially fun. There is fun in the game world, where seeking out hidden bits of secret evidence goes beyond collectible hunting, and there’s even a Metroidvania approach to accessing sections of some levels. And of course, the first thing I even know about this game, was that all the little henchmen have incredibly funny dialogues if you wait around in the shadows. (Heck, today I waited long enough and one guy shot another guy because they had a disagreement. That was… that was pretty cool.)

I like that Cate Archer, feminist spy icon, was born of games journalists saying “Hey, maybe yet another Spy Man is repetitive?” I like that this game was still endearing to play through from start to finish, and has a set of character that made me believe Agents of Mayhem is its closest modern descendant. I like that I finally got around to giving this a shot so I don’t have to pretend I know what I’m talking about, moving forward.

For those of you that dived in alongside me: what did you think?

How many of you played the sequel and how much does that improve upon the original?

As a follow-up to all of this, absolutely read the postmortem in Gamasutra.

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33 Comments

  1. Babymech says:

    There are some silly typos in this article. If you edit them out and delete this post, you might win some sort of award for no typos in a blog article. It’s worth a try.

    • poliovaccine says:

      You say that like there aren’t a number of silly typos or grammatical gaffes in every other RPS article.

    • waltC says:

      Go here to get the versions that play nice with Win10x64: link to nolfrevival.tk I have both and they run fine under Win10x64. If you are a collector you owe it to yourself to get these–especially, if like me, you bought both original games which started to go ape with Windows 7 and later.

  2. Jason Moyer says:

    The sequel is good, but I wouldn’t say it improves on the original (and is actually worse in some respects, with respawning enemies being a problem in the Soviet missions). It adds a light rpg element but that’s about it. And leaning, which should be in every first person game that features stealth play.

    • Jokerme says:

      I can easily say second is a lot less enjoyable than the first. It’s slower, cumbersome, and generally less fun to me.

    • Sunjammer says:

      I want a nolf with nolf2 gameplay improvements. Nolf2 has some truly awful, bland levels paired with some of the best in the series, it’s completely inconsistent. Nolf1 has irritating shooting and extremely frustrating stealth.

      Man this series needs a threequel that plays like a light hearted splinter cell blacklist. Outside of Thief, has first person stealth really ever worked?

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      NOLF-the-first worked for me because it really felt like a ‘serious spy adventure’ with Pratchett-esque self-awareness. Despite being funny it had long sequences with characters talking about the difficulty of the job, and it humanised henchmen caught in these ridiculous plots.

      The second one weirdly took itself both more and less serious, turning it from a clever parody into more of a farce.

  3. poliovaccine says:

    I played it for a few days after that article you posted. Really is strange how modern some parts of the game are, standing right alongside totally anachronistic touches. Between the atmosphere and dialogue and weapon design, I could think I was playing a modern Unity game… then I shoot a character and the animations immediately give away what year this thing is really from.

    Was enjoying myself but not quite enough to finish the game. I did try NOLF2 again as well, which did have some mechanical improvements, but felt a good deal slower overall. Which I didn’t expect, cus somewhere in my head I’d gotten the idea that the sequel was the best one. Though I don’t know if I’d agree with that today.

    I think, in the case of a lot of older games, I’d prefer to just leave my memories of perfection intact, fallible as they are. The fact is, the game was way more fun when I was first discovering it… vs. trying to recapture that experience against the stark contrast of all the modern innovations and conveniences we forget we take for granted now.

    Plus, I’d forgotten the stealth sections… but they really are oddly unforgiving, considering that the NPCs have roughly zero peripheral vision… (Incidentally, why is peripheral vision so hard to represent in games? I’d think it would just be a matter of expanding their field of view..? Or is it just deliberately nerfed to make stealth easier?)

  4. Siimon says:

    NOLF were underrated games when they came out, and barely anyone in my circle of friends knew about them or played them. I loved them, despite quirks. Not sure how well they’ve aged though.

    No mention of Contract J.A.C.K.? :)
    I played that in 2008-2009 and it was a lot of fun, even if it wasn’t quite the same as NOLF it still had a lot of the same quirky humor and tropes if I recall correctly.

    • snappycow says:

      Unfortunately it was Just Another Cookie Kutter shooter :< The only reason I even remember JACK was because he was responsible for Volkov's skiing 'accident'.

  5. Kollega says:

    I liked NOLF 2 more than NOLF 1. The second part still holds up brilliantly graphics-wise, and its gameplay is less clunky. But what both games share is how, despite clunky gameplay, they have an unmatched sense of style. The only game I can remember that was similar in its 1960s spy-fi theming is Evil Genius – thank goodness that game’s somehow getting a sequel after all.

    And of course, the satirical approach has waned a little in the second game, but it was still there. Case in point: this conversation. I can hardly believe it was made in 2002.

    • KoenW says:

      I also prefer NOLF2. Maybe because I played that one first. Both games are in my fps hall of fame, together with the likes of Half Life, System Shock 2, Duke3d, Deus Ex and Wolfenstein TNO. All of these games made me forget I was playing a game. They completely pulled me in. I even prefer their kind of stealth over more “modern and gamey” implementations.

  6. Beefenstein says:

    “The stealth sections of the game are completely unforgiving and the moment you’re spotted it immediately returns to an action bullet spray run-and-gun, which is not NOFL’s strength.”

    No-One Forever Lives!

    Also the HTML header for the webpage in my tab thingy is ‘No One Live Forever’, without the S.

  7. pookie191 says:

    The half of the first level I got to play of the game was enjoyable before I kept running in to a crash that I couldn’t solve

  8. Phantom_Renegade says:

    Does RPS have stock in this game or something? I feel like every other week the game is plugged.

    • Stickman says:

      Considering that it’s literally impossible to buy new, I don’t think stock would do much.

      Two points:
      – It’s a fantastic game that anyone with even a remote tolerance for Unreal-era FPS’s should try.
      – 12 posts in 9 years is criminal *under*reporting.

      • Phantom_Renegade says:

        My stock remark was obviously facetious. How many PC games are there? A ridiculous amount, and yet NOLF gets a ton of coverage. But sure, it’s a good game, it deserves the coverage. My issue is more that these articles aren’t bringing anything new to the table. The same points keep getting brought up. Which is why it feels like he’s trying to sell it to me.

        Hell, write an article about NOLF every day. Every hour. But write something that hasn’t been written before.

  9. SimonSays says:

    For anyone with a VR headset – check out this mod for No One Lives Forever 2 that gives it proper VR capability:

    link to github.com

    Yes it is real and it works near perfect – I have played through most of the campaign already before I got side tracked by SkyrimVR.

    Seriously it is worth checking out! :)

  10. Scio says:

    I actually finished playing through NOLF2 just this Friday.

    It is defintiely more mechanically satisfying than NOLF1, and the levels are just as fun to play through, but a few points always stop it from being as good as NOLF1 (despite the mechanical advancement.)

    1) It’s hard to deny that the globe-trotting escapade in NOLF2 feels a lot more limited and somewhat repetitive compared to the fantastic itinerary in NOLF1.

    2) The ending is decidedly lackluster. Can’t help but feel that could’ve been fixed.

    3) They could’ve just put the Calcutta stages (and we keep coming back there don’t we?) in some undefined place in the middle of India and it’d actually make sense. As a person from Kolkata (or as it was still officially called back then in-game and out, Calcutta) I find those stages to be particular misses. Maybe a single building in the entire stage looks like its from the city, and the rest is just a mishmash of “India.” And Calcutta, especially from that period had a very recognizable architectural / urban identity. Such a wasted opportunity, as late sixties Calcutta could’ve been a fascinating place to set a campy-comic retro-spy game in. (I would like to refer the reader to a musical group called The Bombay Royale and see how they get so much out of almost the same premise in a series of albums with no explanatory elements that a game can afford!) Now, exaggerated stereotypes are NOLF’s whole aesthetic, but the many Calcutta levels get the shortest end of this shtick, and end up making the aforementioned “relatively mundane” roster of locales even more so.

    I do like the Calcutta police though. Very on-point :]

  11. Jernau Gurgeh says:

    NOLF.

    Sounds like a porn sub-category. Who doesn’t like a bit of NOLF action, eh?

  12. gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

    You folks keep talking about it, and I keep thinking I want to replay it. But I can’t get past that India level in NOLF2 without frustrating myself to a headache. And the respawning enemies in Russia pissed me off, it was such a change to the game, I kept knocking them out with darts, over and over, waiting for a clear path, and… then I realized they were respawning. It ticked me off.

    Still, they’re both such enjoyable and unique titles!

  13. Premium User Badge

    Waltorious says:

    I posted this back when Brock wrote about his intention to play No One Lives Forever, but I figured I may as well put it here too. Back in 2012 I also decided I should play No One Lives Forever, and wrote about the game on my personal blog (it’s in two parts, but the second part is linked in the first part):

    link to waltorious.wordpress.com

    As I said before, when I wrote that I still had an incomplete understanding of the issues surrounding female representation in games. Brock is far more eloquent about that in this post. But I think the rest of it holds up reasonably well.

  14. nifft.batuff says:

    NOLF and NOLF2 are not DOS games… Interestingly they are now easier to play on linux and mac, or in general on non-windows intel-based machines, since on these you can use wine (link to winehq.org) that is great to run legacy windows applications.

  15. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Playing through it now after your invitation (thanks for the spoiler, btw) and well… I don’t think it holds up, frankly.
    It looks and feels so good, and presents these setups where you want to play it like an Immersive Sim, but that… doesn’t quite work, to put it mildly. Game’s super old and its stealth feels plain broken at this point. Enemies will hear you randomly no matter how slow you go, there’s no leaning, it’s hold-to-crouch, levels are fully-lit with no way to lower your gamma… Really the only reasonable way to play it is to shoot everyone on sight – feeling like a total failure of a spy constantly, but that’s better than hours of frustration trying to ghost levels.
    I’m kinda hooked on the story at this point tho, so I’ll see this thing to the end.

  16. dethtoll says:

    I’m so glad a lot of the comments here argue that it doesn’t hold up well, because it really doesn’t. I tried to like it, I really did, I promise.

    But it’s awful.

    No One Lives Forever is a turgid Goldeneye knockoff with a 60s spy movie kitsch vibe that gets old 15 minutes in and humor so forced it’s criminal. Mix in early 2000s-era lopsided difficulty, a clunky UI, and an only half functioning stealth system, and stir. How this thing managed to sell well enough to get two sequels but still be considered a cult classic — let alone the fact that it’s considered a classic at all — is beyond me.

    Perhaps the most frustrating thing about it is the fact that I was led to believe, from people who I thought knew better and whose taste I trusted, that it was an “immersive sim” like Thief or Deus Ex or at least a close approximation of such. But no.

    Actually, I can think of one thing even more frustrating than that: the rampantly misogynist humor masquerading as feminist because of its wink-wink, nod-nod nature.

  17. Muzman says:

    The first game has really buff stealth mechanics. I’d call them on par with Thief and featured things you probably wouldn’t see for almost ten years.

    I was attempting to “ghost” some level, just for the fun of it really, and I had to get down this guarded hallway on the outskirts of some base at night. I was hiding outside the door, peering through the window occasionally to see if the guy was facing away and I time it wrong and he’s facing me. So I leg it across this yard and hid behind some stuff. After a while the guard comes out and looks around for a bit. Then he goes back inside. Thinking he’s going to sound the alarm I stay put. Instead he comes back with a friend, they pull out torches (which I didn’t know they even had) and conduct a search around this yard I was hiding in.

    As mentioned, the level design was often such that’d you’d probably never know such complex behaviours even existed (I didn’t). Once you set off the alarm the game was basically a shooter from then on. It’s a pity.
    Still a great game though. I don’t think it’s all that far in the shade of Half Life at all (that’s a game filled with baggy and unnecessary stretches, clunky mechanics and loads of stuff people have just forgotten about)

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