Blast From The Past
No One Lives Forever was a 1960s spy thriller good for a laugh and a sequel
In November 2000 there was a very special blend of first person shooter and stealth from Monolith Productions that went by the name The Operative: No One Lives Forever. It was a campy spy thriller set in the 60s about UNITY agent Cate Archer thwarting megalomaniacal villains, and the biggest was H.A.R.M.
Already the entire setup screams levels of silliness you’d find in Austin Powers, which isn’t that surprising since two films in the franchise had released by then. However it goes a lot deeper than that since Monolith didn’t want No One Lives Forever to be just about the shooting or the stealth, but a blend of the two to give us the choice when on a mission as Archer.
There were plenty of choices to make as well, as not only did we get an arsenal of weapons from the 60s but some tongue-in-cheek gadgets in the style of James Bond. A variety of explosive lipsticks for example, that could help us dispatch uniformed goons. Oh yes, the bad guys were often in uniform. It’s what gave it that campy charm of never taking itself too seriously despite the threat of global domination.
”I can be subtle.” “Then how do you explain that shirt?”
In fact much of the fun in No One Lives Forever comes from listening in on minions chatting with each other, often complaining about another colleague (possibly giving you a hint) or just griping over the stupid stuff they’re expected to do for a paycheque. There’s plenty to snoop through too learning more for the sake of the story, or just to enjoy the humorous writing of Monolith.
We fight through dusty Morocco, East and West Berlin, the Caribbean, the snowy Alps and even take a jaunt into space aboard a station. Various games inspired Monolith to craft No One Lives Forever, like Metal Gear Solid, Syphon Filter, and GoldenEye 007. It’s why you can go loud at any time and blast your way to the end, or stay hidden and sneak your way through bases and hack systems. It was refreshing to be given the choice in how to approach things.
Just a brief look at any of the character models in No One Lives Forever and you know it’ll be something unique, especially with UNITY’s obvious British Intelligence flavour to stir up those earlier Bond films like Moonraker – when James Bond was a hell of a lot more camp itself. Despite its aged look by today’s standards, the game holds up pretty well and that’s in part thanks to its music which dynamically mixed to react to what’s going on in the game — pretty standard now but great for when the game was out in the late 2000s.
”…do you make love to strangers?” “Certainly not!” “Then allow me to introduce myself.”
The AI for enemies wasn’t dumb as rocks either because they could react differently depending on what’s got their attention. They can investigate something from screams of a fellow goon to suspicious footprints in the snow. They also work together to try and pin you down, and keep you busy while one of them sounds an alarm or directly calls for backup. When stealth goes wrong it can get pretty tense, which is why No One Lives Forever was considered perhaps the greatest first-person shooter since 1998’s Half-Life.
No One Lives Forever did so well when it launched that it go a 1970s set sequel, and even a spin-off that takes place between the two major stories. Unfortunately that’s where things end as the IP today is left in complete legal limbo as no one is really sure who owns the property anymore. No, seriously, they aren’t entirely sure who has the final say for the IP which is why any work on a re-release or remaster has never gotten anywhere. No One Lives Forever is stuck in red tape purgatory.
Where to get The Operative: No One Lives Forever today?
Outside of securing a physical copy of No One Lives Forever, or any of its sequels, you can’t get hold of the game and even then there’s no guarantee it will work, but there is a glimmer of hope.
The NOLF community got together and worked in a number of fixes for all three games, and it’s all free to download from their website nolfrevival.tk. They offer No One Lives Forever GOTY Edition, No One Lives Forever 2 patched to v1.3 and Contract J.A.C.K. v1.1. It’s not perfect but it’s the best anyone can do until someone declares themselves owner of No One Lives Forever.