The Operative: No One Lives Forever (PC) Review

By Athanasios 12.10.2022

Review for The Operative: No One Lives Forever on PC

Monolith Productions has always been big on diversity. Gauntlet "clones" the likes of Get Medieval, quirky strategies like Gruntz, mysticism-meets-sci-fi in the RPG Sanity: Aiken's Artifact, plus licenced titles delving into the world of The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, Alien versus Predator, Tron, and even Batman. Oh, and don't forget the upcoming Wonder Woman game, which looks tasty already, just from its tiny teaser. The same "motif" of constant change could be seen in the developer's first-person shooters. Starting with Blood, the ultra-violent journey down the realm of the occult, the team later crated the anime-inspired mecha shooter Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, and later brought forth the cult horror gem known as F.E.A.R.. The most distinctive release, though, was surely The Operative: No One Lives Forever, the homage, and thinly veiled satire to spy films of the late '60s. While a perfect 10 when it comes to style, is there any other reason to return to such an old piece of software? Time to slip into a foxy disco catsuit, and shout "Yeah Baby!"

As a member of UNITY, the international organisation tasked with fighting dangerous megalomaniacs, Cate Archer should be anything than bored - but that's exactly the case here. While more than capable to join active duty, she has the misfortune of being a woman in the '60s. As such, she only does tedious desk work, catalogues intel, etc. Lucky for her (well, sort of), a sadistic, assassin by the name of Dimitri Volkov wiped out almost all of UNITY's operatives, forcing her superiors to finally send her on a mission. Thus begins an adventure around the globe, from groovy German nightclubs and fancy travel resorts in Morocco, to industrial complexes and secret underground lairs, and even motorcycle rides, freefalls from 20,000ft, or journeys to space stations.

Variety, thy name is No One Lives Forever! Monolith bundled together more than half of James Bond's filmography and its clichés, be it locations, character archetypes, or overall plot, and in one neat package. This has strictly picked from the spy films of the '60s and early '70s for its inspiration, and as such it all feels like it's a parody along the lines of Austin Powers. Surprisingly, this was never supposed to be such a thing. According to the developer, this is a homage to the aforementioned films. It's just that the comedic aspect of it all is so freaking strong that it's almost impossible to believe that claim. And that's a compliment. Cate Archer's quest to save the world is bloody hilarious.

Screenshot for The Operative: No One Lives Forever on PC

This has an actual story to tell, involving a very dangerous group of people that threaten the world, traitors hidden within your ranks, and so on and forth - but make no mistake, this is mostly about the laughs. Apart from the many cut-scenes, were all kinds of colourful characters say all matter of colourful things, while Cate tries to sneak past by the stupid goons that serve as cannon fodder she'll hear them talk about… well, everything! Music, criminal sociology, pets, romance - even when they talk about their mission their discussions can be very funny. The writing is generally of very high quality, something that lets Cate Archer shine as one of the best female protagonists in the world of video games. This lady isn't just James Bond with a different set of chromosomes.

Cate begins her quest as a somewhat typical film heroine. She is confident, ready for action, and quite skilful in the art of British sarcasm and double endedr…, endetr… endr… innuendo. Throughout the game, however, she'll show her full range of emotions, which will paint a complete character that feels real, and is easy to like and empathise with. Particularly well-handled is the way she deals with the overabundance of sexism that's used against her, especially when compared to the… well, kind of woke manner in which modern developers use when handling issues of gender. Cate Archer is a very good role model - quite surprising for a game as "silly" as this.

Screenshot for The Operative: No One Lives Forever on PC

Generally, this is almost flawless in terms of presentation. Sure, the character and facial animation isn't exactly very good (it's a 2000 game after all), but the writing is great, with tons of fantastic quotes, the voice-acting is excellent, and the game as a whole a visual treat. The music is dynamic as well, transitioning very well from slow and mysterious when sneaking around, to tense when bullets start raining. Particularly satisfying is the small sound clip that plays when doing a silent kill. Sort of like the "POW!" of Adam West's Batman. The cut-scenes do overstay their welcome, though. Dialogue sequences slowly begin to drag on and on, with the skip button bypassing the entire thing, rather than a single line as is customary. There's even a "level" that's nothing more than a painfully long conversation. With no. Way. To skip.

Generally, the pacing is… well, it's bad! Aside from the cut-scenes, the levels themselves are annoyingly numerous, and last for way too long. Not the stages themselves, to be exact, but the chapters they belong to, with some of them having the right length, while others not knowing when to stop. On the bright side, there's a pretty good variety in terms of scenarios. Apart from the typical shooting and sneaking, Cate will have a chance to *DEEP BREATH* disable explosives, kill a barrage of hitmen from a sniper nest, escape a crushing plane and steal a parachute on the way down, scuba dive to explore a sunken freight ship, take photos with her sunglasses/camera, escort kidnapped scientists, infiltrate space stations, and ride motorcycles while choppers chase her.

Screenshot for The Operative: No One Lives Forever on PC

The biggest problem with No One Lives Forever, though, and the one that keeps it from being a genuine classic, rather than the flawed gem it is, is none other than stealth. Theoretically it's great. Cate's foes are sensitive to sound, so she must walk in softer surfaces like carpet or soil. She can hide in the shadows, or lure enemies with the drop of a coin, and she must make sure to hide bodies, or kill them away from patrols or surveillance cameras. Sadly, the game is extremely inconsistent with its mechanics, and as such make the whole adventure a trial-and-error kind of deal.

Sometimes enemies see you from a mile away even when you are in a dark spot, sometimes they can't although you are much closer; avoiding spotlights is an almost useless tactic, as enemies can often see you even when you are away from the light beam; cameras tend to have super-wide fisheye lenses… and sometimes they don't. All this translates to lots of quick saving and quick loading, or, if you eventually lose your temper, it translates to Cate becoming Doomgal, and slaying enemies without any regard for her safety. It doesn't help that this offers you a general selection of weaponry, and plenty of bullets, which goes against the game's supposed focus on stealth.

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There's one simple reason for the lack of polish in here. This isn't a complete product. Members of the developing team have admitted that this was released in a hurry, and without much - if any - playtesting. Take the various gadgets, for instance. Exploding lipstick, acid-spraying perfume bottle, erotic-hormone poodle robot that stuns guard dogs, lockpick/poison dagger hairpin. Exciting as these might seem, they don't exactly have many chances to shine throughout the game. It's not like Deus Ex where there are multiple paths to follow, with different obstacles that require different solutions. Cate's trusty silenced gun is all you need here 90% of the time, and that's a shame.

All these things mentioned so far mean that those willing to try this out must be ready to be a bit disappointed. The Operative: No One Lives Forever is a unique game that is great in many areas, but almost bad at many others. It's a cult classic that deserves plenty of love (and maybe a remaster/remake?), but it just so happens that it's practically an incomplete piece of software, which hasn't spent much time in the oven. The good news? This is basically abandonware right now, as no one really knows to whom the IP belongs to, so you can at least try it out for free.

Screenshot for The Operative: No One Lives Forever on PC

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

The Operative: No One Lives Forever is a stealth game were stealth doesn't work that well, has plenty of neat gadgets that won't really get many chances to shine, and the adventure as a whole takes about five or so hours more than it should. And yet, it's still hard not to fall in love with its strong '60s spy film vibe, clever and funny writing, cool and sexy protagonist, and fast-paced and varied gameplay. Strictly viewed as a game this is flawed, yet as an experience it has a strange charm that almost makes up for its issues.


Monolith Productions


Fox Interactive


First Person Shooter



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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