“Let's Reboot” takes a look back at a classic in need of a new outing or a beloved series gone stale and asks how it might be best redesigned or given a kick up the backside for today's gaming audience. The Rules: Assume a free hand, and a decent budget, but realistic technology and expectations. This week's sacred cow – an FPS with jokes by Mel Brooks and Mike Myers, gadgets by Q, and bulletproof vests by Mary Quant."
Confusion over the ownership of stealthy Sixties shooter No One Lives Forever might be bad for budget release prospects, but it's great for those of us who spend our time pacing around inside hollowed-out volcanoes, fondling fluffy felines and planning the fourth instalment.
Where do you take a series that has already explored most corners of the globe, experimented - fairly unsuccessfully - with a new hero, and shot more boiler-suited goons than 007, Austin Powers, and Derek Flint put together? How about across genre borders ? Forget about being Cate Archer - in NOLF4 you're Cate Archer's boss, the head of UNITY.. It's your job to see that HARM does no harm. Oversee agent postings, direct R&D, organise training, choose code phrases... . XCOM meets Evil Genius. How does that sound?
Yes, you're right. A NOLF game without Cate's leather-sheathed digits dispensing death from the bottom of the screen, wouldn't really feel like a NOLF game. Any sequel that sidelined Miss Archer, ludicrous gadgets, stealth options, Sixties flavour, or gossiping guards would be a sequel in name only. Let's examine 'Plan B' then.
It's 2013. Everybody's favourite Sixties super-spy is now in her sixties. She hasn't had any dealings with UNITY since that fateful day in 1969 when REDACTED *** REDACTED *** REDACTED *** REDACTED *** REDACTED . Still trim, still wry, still devilishly stylish, the closest contemporary Cate gets to danger is galloping her mare Isako across the rolling downland near her Sussex home (Those rabbit holes and brambled-obscured ditches can be lethal!); the closest she gets to confrontations are verbal skirmishes with over-zealous border guards and customs officials (she still regularly leads tours for Archer & Arrow, the independent travel company she set up in 1987).
It's on one of these exclusive jaunts that we first encounter our older, wiser avatar. Cate is standing at the front of a minibus with a microphone in her hand. The minibus is dawdling through the streets of Kalumni, the capital of the paranoid pariah state of Badistan. “If you look to your left now you will see one of the more spectacular of the city's 512 statues of the 'Beloved Founder'. The monkey sellers are particularly persistent in this area so we won't be stopping. Look to your right, and you will see... a man dressed as a crayfish being chased by a crowd of pistol-toting secret policeman!”
And so it begins. Quite by accident, Miss Archer finds herself entangled in yet another HARM vs UNITY escapade. For reasons that becomes clearer as the game unfolds, she's extremely unwilling to assist her old employers at first. HARM might be attempting to nudge the totally totalitarian/bankrupt/bonkers Badistan into nuclear war with a prosperous democratic neighbour, but that doesn't cut any ice with our retired hero. It's only when involvement becomes unavoidable that Cate slips metaphorically and - who knows - maybe literally too, back into the old leather catsuit.
Killing is like riding a bike.
Wearing baggy trousers and open-toed footwear can lead to accidents. You never forget how to do it. Our Cate might need specs to snipe now, and run out of puff when she's dragging corpses, but she still knows how to operate a mascara stun-gun, hurl a lipstick grenade, and deploy an exploding kitty mine. While many of the more unusual UNITY weapons and gadgets from the first two games will be reappearing in NOLF4, there will be lots of new twists and an entirely original enemy arsenal.
Badistan is so fiercely independent and insular it refuses to import or copy any foreign technology. In tech terms, this means it's a Sixties state and not a very sophisticated one at that. The few cars on the roads are all 'Gads' - tiny snail-shaped smoke-belchers with two-stroke engines and papier-mâché bodywork. All the firearms carried by the BADIs (The Badistan secret police. 40% of the population work for this sinister yet inept organisation which might explain why the remaining 60% reside in
gulags re-education facilities) are of domestic design. These locally-made weapons are laughably inaccurate and horribly prone to jamming, as you'll discover if you scavenge one during a mission. Dissatisfaction with, and faults related to, the BRP-6 (a water-cooled SMG) the BAP-8 (the world's loudest silenced pistol) and the easily blunted STAB-2 combat knife ( “Personnel are reminded that combat knives are not designed to be used for tyre slashing, pencil sharpening, bread or sausage slicing, ear wax or appendix removal, wall re-pointing or goat shaving.” ) provides the basis for numerous goon chats and official memos.
Of the new weapons and gadgets, my favourite would have to be the CT-180 Utility Launcher-compatible Montgolfier dart. In 1976 UNITY's equivalent to Q, Santa, discovered that the body-removing perfume/aftershave carried by every front-line operative was carcinogenic. The fluid was immediately banned. Two years later a replacement arrived in the bulbous shape of the Montgolfier dart. This helium-filled projectile can be fired at live or dead bodies. On penetrating skin it turns targets into fleshy balloons that float upwards disappearing into the wild blue yonder if outside, or into nearby lift-shafts, chimneys, or stairwells if inside. Need to create a dramatic diversion or silently KO a knot of gossiping foes? Wait for an inflated cadaver to drift into position (wind direction is significant in NOLF4) then cross your fingers and loose that crossbow bolt.
Less spectacular, but equally useful are the microphone darts and the PA system hacker. HARM and BADI drones love to chinwag, and listening in to these amusing and potentially useful conversations in certain situations in the new game will require the firing of a cockroach-shaped Wifi mike. Unlike the darts, the PA hacker has been specially designed for the Badistan operation. The regime uses an extensive public address system to brainwash and direct citizens. Badistanis react unthinkingly to certain familiar tunes and instructions. Locate a Tannoy pole, pluck the 'packet of breath mints' from your bulging handbag then select an appropriate mp3 message and you can have guards saluting, star-jumping, singing the national anthem or running for fall-out shelters in seconds. Genius!
According to the tourist board promotional video that plays continuously in the lobby of the Kalumni Lux “Badistan is a land of breath-stealing vistas where snow-helmeted mountains throw cool shadows on sturgeon-frequented lakes and camel-infested desserts. A land where the almond nut trees and the odorous rose bushes are as myriad as the welcoming grins of the gay proletariat.” Not mentioned are the hideous industrial complexes, residential suburbs, and militarised districts, and the many grandiose civil engineering projects left unfinished all over the country.
Cate will sneak and scrap her way through many of Badistan's “architectural gemstones”, “tourist glue pots”, and forbidden zones. I don't want to give too much away, but I can confirm that one mission takes place in the spectacular Krymučli Mausoleum when HARM attempt to steal the embalmed body of the Beloved Founder. Another is set in a perfect replica of the High Noon set (Badistan's president is the world's biggest and most sadistic Gary Cooper fan).
Those with fond memories of skydiving skirmishes and sword fights in tornado-plucked houses, are sure to enjoy the episode in which Archer finds herself handcuffed to an extremely rotund deputy in a village jail that's directly in the path of a 200ft wall of watery death (Despite her best efforts, HARM have succeeded in destroying Badistan's one hydro-electric dam). Homicidal frogmen, frantic oxygen seeking, gaming's least likely (and briefest) love affair... that mission really does have it all.
There may be the odd Gad ride or golf-cart chase, but vehicular action is unlikely to be a major part of NOLF4. (I'll never completely forgive Monolith for the ghastly snowmobile physics in NOLF2). Returning characters? The 40-year gap means many of Cate's old adversaries and colleagues and now pushing up daisies. Those wheelchair tracks and that discarded bloom in the soon-to-be-leaked teaser screenshot? Totally insignificant; everybody knows no one lives forever.