Wednesday, 24 March 2004

FPS Survey I

Listening to:

Bach, Well-tempered clavier, book 2.

No-one Lives Forever 2

The first first-person shooter game I ever played was No-one Lives Forever 2 (GameSpot’s review). I’ll compare it to other games I’ve played subsequently, and the others will be found wanting in a number of ways, but rather than mention their failings here, I’ll concentrate on NOLF2’s strong-points. (I’ve mentioned NOLF2 before incidentally.)

NOLF2’s strengths are humour and variety. When I first bought the game, I was a little worried by this humour aspect: would I be being encouraged to laugh at the death and destruction that I knew would be an inevitable part of the game? No. I found that the humour derived from the game not taking itself too seriously. The good and bad guys alike are often rather ridiculous. There’s one cut-scene set in the good guys’ HQ, and half of the staff seem to be jiving in a retro way to some sort of naff 60s pop.

As for variety, this comes in both trivial and interesting ways. At the trivial level, there’s a nice cosmetic variety in places and opponents. The game takes you from Japan, to Siberia, India, the Antarctic, an underwater base, an underground base, a trailer park in the US, and a Mediterranean island. These locales occasionally have an impact on the plot development too (in India, the underwater base, and even the trailer park). In these cases, the geography is not just a different set of coloured obstacles to negotiate or hide behind. All of this looks pretty good too.

There’s a corresponding, cosmetic variety in bad guys: ninjas, Russian soldiers, secret evil organsiation soldiers from the US and India, and gangster mimes (!). They look different, are armed differently, and have different bits of amusing dialogue, but they’re all pretty interchangeable in terms of behaviour and intelligence. Later in the game, you meet “Super Soldiers” that are quite different, and there are also four “boss levels” that feature specially tough opponents, but no extra variety. (One of the boss levels is also exceptionally annoying in its stupid difficulty.)

More importantly, NOLF2 features variety in its missions, which calls for different behaviours on the part of the player. While the Japan mission allows a fairly gung-ho approach, the Russian mission really calls for a stealthy approach when infiltrating the base and killing the bad guys. (In this mission you also get to drive snow-mobiles which is pretty cool.) The mission in Ohio and the various chapters in India are more varied still. This is really good. The stealthy approach is well-supported too. You can lean around corners, walk, run and sneak, and there’s a nice interface that tells you if you’ve hidden yourself successfully The simple RPG-like method whereby you can invest earned skill-points in skills such as marksmanship, searching, gadgets and the like, is also appealing: it gives the player a method of tailoring their alter-ego to suit their playing style.

Less good bits:

  • That annoying boss level (featuring a jack-in-the-box opponent);
  • In some missions, an infinite supply of spawning opponents. This makes it difficult to be perfectionist about taking everyone out in a stealthy way (as one might do in Thief), and is a slight count against in the realism stakes.

Forward to FPS Survey II →