By Erik Wolpaw
October 11, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

Over the past few years, the game genre commonly known as the shooter has become alarmingly more graphic and bloody. Last spring’s Soldier of Fortune II may represent the apex (or nadir) of this trend, with its 36 different ”gore zones,” which allow players to split an enemy’s head into forensically accurate chunks. No One Lives Forever 2, conversely, features a level in which your intrepid heroine rides a tricycle through the streets of Calcutta while fending off an attack by a gang of…French mimes. Relentlessly good-natured, brightly colored, and funny, this spy-movie spoof shows you don’t need buckets of blood to have a bloody good time.

Like its predecessor, NOLF 2 takes place in the part of the 1960s that was defined by Matt Helm, lime green carpet, and Esquivelian space-age pop. You play Cate Archer, an agent with the international law-enforcement agency UNITY. And once again, you’re pitted against those evil and — thankfully — semi-competent minions of HARM who, this time, are attempting to start a war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

The gameplay itself has improved. Not only has everything that gave the first installment its irony-rich fun been tweaked and amplified for the sequel, but the original’s kinks have also been nicely remedied. Most noticeably, the stealth element, which was the source of much frustration, has undergone a total overhaul: Virtually every one of the game’s 40 missions can be accomplished using guile (instead of brute force). To that end, there’s a set of new tools to assist you in your sneaking around, including tranquilizer darts, tracking devices, and that old standby, the banana peel.

Perhaps the best thing we can say about NOLF 2 is that it plays as if it were created by actual adults rather than sullen 14-year-old boys. And in a genre dominated by gore zones, that’s as cunningly subversive as Andy Warhol’s soup cans.

STRATEGY In the game’s first level, shoot the robotic bird a few times. It won’t really help, but it’s funny.

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