The Operative: No One Lives Forever

Posted by Robert Michaud.
First posted on 03 February 2006. Last updated on 17 July 2010.
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The Operative: No One Lives Forever
From the menu to the cut scenes, the graphics reflect perfectly the era in the game.
The Operative: No One Lives Forever
No weapon can beat a sniper rife for a quiet clean kill.
The Operative: No One Lives Forever
A machine gun is great for rapid kills!
The Operative: No One Lives Forever
Cate is a reformed felon who is now a spy.
The Operative: No One Lives Forever
From deep water to outer space, the abundance of different game environments is a highlight.

I am the first to admit that I am a sucker for a good spy yarn, especially of the super spy variety. I have loved them as a kid and still cannot resist a James Bond film on late night television to this day. There is something wonderfully escapist about the girls, the gadgets, the explosions, and of course, the villains and their ludicrous plans to rule the world. I have also enjoyed the Austin Powers movies that poke fun at all the conventions of this genre.

When the rumors surface about a new action/adventure game that takes place in the 1960s with a swingin' spy chick, I am worried. Satire is a hard thing to nail, and I do not want to look at a female Duke Nukem in bellbottoms. Not to worry. The Operative: No One Lives Forever captures perfectly the tongue-in-cheek humor of the super spy genre, all the while allowing you to blow your enemies up to your heart's content. As can be expected from the title of this game, if you are not fleet of finger with your mouse and a gun then you probably are not going to get very far.

Cate Archer has grown up in a life of luxury, until the day her father commits suicide after slowly losing the family fortune to years of drinking. After bouncing from orphanage to foster homes, young Cate turns to a life of crime and becomes a thief of extraordinary talent known as the Fox. When Cate tries to steal the wallet of Bruno Lawrie, an agent for an international antiterrorism agency known as UNITY, she is caught in the act. While handing back the stolen loot to Bruno, she has instead made off with his watch, not knowing that a tracking device is planted inside it. Impressed with her skills, Bruno tracks Cate back to her home and offers her a job with UNITY. Now, 9 years later, Cate Archer is a bottom rung spy at UNITY, waiting for her chance to shine. Being a woman spy in that era is tough. Cate is relegated to doing grunt work while her male counterparts travel the world to fight evil, until her fellow agents start being picked off by unknown assailants. It is up to Cate to find out what is going on, and it is not going to be an easy task.

Even as an action title belonging to the genre of First Person Shooter (FPS), which is known for its ever increasing jaw dropping graphics, this is an incredibly gorgeous game. A problem I have with most other FPS titles is the repetitiveness of the levels, but this is never a problem with this title. The game uses an overhauled version of the infamous LithTech engine and is the first game to be built using the LithTech 2.5 3D Operating System. There are 16 chapters in total, each with 2 to 5 levels. All the levels look amazing, immersing you into the game universe even further. The environments are huge and detailed, with little touches added to make them even more realistic. For example, pick off a sniper and go to his post, you are going to find a thermos and a full ashtray there. Shoot up a mirror or chalkboard, they are going to show different types of damages. The character models are detailed and the character animation is smooth. Motion captured animation is used to model the game's characters. Not surprisingly, the looks of all the characters are very convincing, from the lumbering of an obese opera singer to the swagger of a drunken businessman. From the opening video/song parody of the James Bond movies to the shag carpeted elevator in the game, this is a title that truly lives its time period. Visually, it is among the most fun games that I have ever worked my way through. All these extra tidbits have helped to make a good game a great game.

The voice talents hired for this title is incredible. Since the game takes place in a wide variety of settings, the sheer number of different character voices may make a gamer think that there has to be at least a dud in there somewhere. Simply stated, I cannot find any in this game. The enemy voices are all appropriately campy and over the top. Cate's voice is also perfect for her character, full of smarmy wit and wink-wink attitude.

The music in this title can have come straight out of the great lounge LPs that you may find in a garage saleswinging lounge sounds of the 1960s that fit this game like a glove. Sound effects are also handled well. Different weapons produce different sounds depending on what you are shooting. As with all games that contain stealth plays, synchronization between the sound and the environment is critical. Guards are constantly on the move, and it is very easy to tell from hearing the sound of conversations whether you are about to round the corner into a group of enemies or an empty hallway.

Despite its heavy FPS gameplay, this game has plenty of adventure elements to the extent that you can avoid much of gunfire by using stealth. While you can dial down the difficulty setting, it is still a very hard game. Regardless, there are at least 2 puzzles that can only be handled with quick reflexes rather than stealth or thought. Notwithstanding the action element, the gameplay is amazingly well done. Care is taken to make sure that Cate always has the tools at hand to do the job right. In fact, this is a step that I wish more games in the future follow—even if you do not pick the right tool from the mission screen, you can still find the tool you need for the job somewhere in the level.

The game is broken down into missions that are further broken down into sub-missions. For example, in a mission in which you have to get your hands on a doctor to extract some information, the game breaks down into 3 mini missions—getting into the base, finding the doctor, and escaping with your target. At the beginning and end of each mission, a cut scene is played to move the plot forward. A highlight of this game is that each mission takes place in a different location with different types of guards and different tasks that need to be accomplished. This keeps the game fresh and free from a lot of the "been there, done that" feel of other games from the same genre.

Between chapters, Cate reports to the Gadget lab for training with a new gadget. These range from lipstick bombs to a missile launching briefcase to a female robotic dog capable of distracting male guard dogs with pheromones. The thought of what gadgets are going to come up next has really kept up my interest in getting through some of the harder and frustrating areas. The gadgets are absolutely hilarious and fit the scheme of play perfectly. Another gameplay element that really adds to the replay value is the gathering of confidential information. As Cate works her way through each mission, she also gathers file folders, microfilm, briefcases, and other items that contain different information. The information ranges from plans to take over the world to pop culture references to frivolous advertisements to even "Dear John" letters.

Missions vary greatly throughout the game. They include information retrieval, disabling communication equipment, escorting important people through gunfire, and even stopping multiple assassination attempts on a deaf politician trying to hail a cab. Each mission can be handled in a number of ways. In some missions there is no option but gunfire. In most missions, it is easier to sneak through a level hiding from the cameras than to trip a camera and engage in gunfire with an escalating hoard of guards. This is a nice touch that lends itself well to enhance the replay value. I have played through the game with guns blazing and sneaking around on tiptoes. It is a blast either way (no pun intended).

From the perspective of an action title, the story is incredibly deep. It starts out strong, sucks you in, and does not let go until the end. While this is already remarkable even for an old school adventure game, it is phenomenal for an action/adventure hybrid title. If you are an adventure gamer who is not keen on action, then you are going to have a hard time making it through this game. There are a few puzzles that are overly reflex oriented, so you may spend long amounts of time working through these rooms. This, however, in no way takes away from the overall experience of the game.

James Bond is exciting to watch and fun to listen. The same praise can be said for Cate. The designers have really gone all out all the way in this game—cheesy pickup lines used as code phrases, male spies talk with unabashed bravado, and offbeat conversations you can eavesdrop when sneaking around. Some of the conversations between guards have me laughing so hard I cannot even aim my gun properly, not to mention an encrypted message that, when decrypted, proves to be a famous Beatles line. The Game Of The Year edition of this title include a second game music CD that is worth the price of purchase in itself. Overall, The Operative: No One Lives Forever is among the best, most addictive action/adventure games that I have played in years. It is a must have even for gamers who are not diehard fans of the hybrid genre. James Bond, eat your heart out!

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