FPS spy romp No One Lives Forever turns 20 today but alas Cate Archer is still confined to her room, unable to come out and play. The secret agent shooter has been tied up in legal gridlock for years. You’ll not find it for sale online aside from second-hand, but that hasn’t stopped RPS singing its praises all this time. A remaster still seems unlikely, but Nightdive Studios say they aren’t done trying to make it happen.
When No One Lives Forever released in the year 2000, my personal experience with FPS games was still dominated by GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64. As such, I’ll stand back and let those who know and love Cate Archer best tell you a bit about her.
“No One Lives Forever was basically the greatest,” Nathan Grayson said in 2013. “This is an incontrovertible truth of the universe. The unabashedly groovy stealth shooter (and its sequel; though not blah blah blam blam spin-off Contract J.A.C.K) was equal parts silly and smart, with a peeling back of the proverbial weaponized banana peel yielding everything from lowbrow stereotypes to startlingly nuanced dissections of sexism and the criminal mind.”
A dissection of sexism? In my FPS? Apparently it’s more likely than you think.
“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,” explained Brock Wilbur after sneaking in some playtime in 2018.
“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.”
“Seventeen years on, and NOLF is still absolutely bloody brilliant,” John Walker said in 2017. “Funny, smart, and most importantly, a really excellent shooter. Back when games were allowed to exist because they wanted to be funny.” Apparently the adventures of Cate Archer rise above comparisons to James Bond or Half-Life, making it a game worth finding a way to download anyway in his opinion.
As one of the best FPS games on PC, it seems plenty worthy of a remaster or re-release, but efforts on that front have died in the water over the past decade or more. Hit any one of those quoted links to get the evolving story, but the short version is this: Nightdive Studios, who want to modernise No One Lives Forever, don’t own the rights to it. More than one company might have legal claim to it, but none of them are terribly motivated to unearth stacks of paper contracts literally hidden in basements. They’re just sure they don’t want anyone else making money off it without them. So Cate’s all tied up in the super villain’s lair without a Deus Ex Machina to save her.
On that front, Nightdive recently told The Gamer that they aren’t done trying to make it happen. “It is a process that we’re continuing,” said director of business development Larry Kuperman. “We continue on with our mission to unearth and bring back these classic games.”
Maybe someone with a taste for a real spy heist should get themselves hired as a legal intern for Activision or Warner Bros. and have a good spelunking in some dusty old cardboard boxes filled with manilla folders. It seems quite a few people would thank you for your service.