Blast from the Past

The Operative: No One Lives Forever

by Monolith Productions

Today we have yet another Monolith game! Back before the days of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Monolith was one of my favorite game development studios. They were one of the most creative forces in the first person shooter genre, and this title is no different. Monolith had great shooters in the Blood games and Shogo, but this game is the one that really escalated them to cult classics. In fact, you’ll notice a pattern, Monolith has a knack for making cult classic games.

Enough distractions, lets get into this wonderful 60’s themed, James Bond, and slightly Austin Powers, inspired spy action thriller!


The tl;dr of No One Lives Forever (abbreviated NOLF) is that you are Cate Archer, a spy at an organization called UNITY. You’re a woman living in a man’s world, desperate to prove yourself to your superiors and move up the ranks. It’s the 60s and some men are still predujiced against women on the workplace, but that’s not going to stop you. Cate is usually given assignments that are “fit for a woman”, but these benign assignments start to show connections to a criminal organization known as HARM. Your missions continually end in failure, giving hint that there might be a mole in UNITY.

The bulk of the story is delivered through in-engine, pre-determined cutscenes. For the astute collector, there are several collectibles in the game in the form of intel. These pieces of intel will reveal more information about the world and events that lead to the what the player is experiencing. It’s a classic, but tried and true method of world building.

Occasionally, the game will give you a dialog choice during a cutscene. Your choice is generally inconsequential to the scene. In the screenshot below, your choice dictates whether another agent helps you out with this segment by calling out targets for you.

The story is fairly cookie cutter, but delivered in excellent fashion. NOLF offers lots of style and color and every locale has fun characters and dialog to discover.


At the beginning of every mission, you are greeted with a colorful, very 60s inspired, loadout screen. Here you select which weapons and gadgets you start with.

The choices you make are 99% whatever your personal preference is. As mentioned later on in this article, some missions attempt to be more stealth oriented, but other than one or two missions that force you to be stealthy, it’s inconsequential what gear you start the mission with.


NOLF is a bit slower paced of a game compared to similar FPSs of the era, namely Half-Life, Unreal Tournament, and Quake-based games. Movement is fixed speed, and there are no fancy speed mechanics for making Cate Archer go faster. She runs tad faster when moving diagonally, but that’s about it.


There is a healthy amount of weapons in the game, but most weapons functionally boils down to 3 archetypes - pistols, SMGs/assault rifles, and sniper rifles. There are some grenades and a grenade launcher in the game, but they’re not very prevalent. Weapons in each category more or less function identically. A handful of weapons have minor differences. In general, you will find yourself gravitating towards the same couple weapons in every level.


Damage in NOLF spread between two bars, health and armor. The way these two bars work is slightly different than other games. Instead of armor eating a percentage of your overall damage and passing the rest to your health, all damage is absorbed by your armor until you have none left. The reason for this is that NOLF does not have a way to heal yourself if you take health damage. Well, that’s not entirely true. Some levels have a health pack or two hidden, but you have to go out of your way to find it. In my casual playthrough, I only found one health kit. What this means is that you have to be very careful when taking health damage. Armor can be replenished, but health 99% of the time cannot.


Being a game about spies and secret agents, you gotta have stealth mechanics, right? Well, yes, NOLF does have stealth mechanics, but it’s pretty clear the game was not really intended for stealth. Stealth is an option for most levels, but it is cumbersome and frustrating to attempt. Unless the level mandates you use stealth, running and gunning is the preferred method of progression. There are no penalties or bonuses for using one method over the other, with the exception of hearing some NPC banter. You acquire a silenced pistol fairly early in the game, so even in stealth missions, you can shoot down guards as long as no alarms are triggered.


By today’s standards, NOLF’s gameplay is nothing special, but it is solid. Where it really shines is in its art direction and story delivery. It’s whimsical, but has moments where it discusses serious issues. NOLF has style, great voice acting (especially for the era), and fun gunplay. It’s implementation of stealth leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s a solid game that will always hold a special place in my heart.