Contract J.A.C.K. (Just Another Contract Killer) is Vivendi’s stand-alone expansion to the acclaimed hit No One Lives Forever 2, and it’s the third chapter in the NOLF series. It’s no secret that NOLF has quite a large and loyal fan base, and that’s for good reason. The games are fun, have style to spare and are predicated on everyone’s favorite gameplay model: blow stuff up.
In Contract J.A.C.K. you take the roll of John Jack, the world’s most over-worked professional killer. John Jack is a gun for hire, and he doesn’t ask questions from those who employ him. This trait makes him a prime candidate for a job in the H.A.R.M. organization, but H.A.R.M’s recruiting methods aren’t exactly standard. In fact, John Jack finds himself choosing between accepting the contract on H.A.R.M’s biggest enemy or finding himself on the bottom of a lake.
Needless to say, our anti-hero heads off to run-and-gun his way to victory before he becomes the proud owner of cement shoes. Unfortunately, “run and gun” is precisely what this game offers in its gameplay. John Jack is the master of Rambo-style gunfights, and although that can be fun for a while, it makes for a non-strategic, somewhat uninspired romp through extremely linear levels. Basically, all you need to do is rush into a room, shoot everything in sight, reload and repeat that model over and over and over until you complete the level.
The linearity and simplistic play aren’t exactly helped by the awful AI, which makes the gameplay even more repetitive. Bad guys rush at you like they’re automatons on an assembly line just waiting to be put to rest. True, they’re equipped with robotic motion sensors, which in theory would add some challenge, but once you activate those sensors and the enemies turn on their mech-style heat sinkers, they’ll charge at you regardless of the situation. As a result, it’s easy to run into an area, backtrack and wait for enemies to pile in as you take them out one by one. This can be funny at times, but it’s not supposed to be. At least I don’t think so.
One aspect that isn’t exactly funny is Contract J.A.C.K.’s puzzling physics/death model of being able to empty entire clips into someone’s head and not receive a reward for a kill well done. I’m sorry, but when you go into battle with an AK-47, Carlisle sub-machinegun, action shotgun and laser rifle, I don’t care how much heavy armor you have on your body, a headshot should be a headshot. As you go through the single-player game and its multiplayer options, the system that determines who’s “killed” ends up feeling purely random, which can be frustrating to a diehard FPS fan.
If there’s a bright side to the gameplay, it’s that you can interact with vehicles such as snowmobiles that have built-in front cannons. I’ve got to admit, this was one of the most fun aspects of the game. I’m not sure what that says about the gameplay of a first-person shooter, though.
Casual gamers might find 15 hours of game here, but any FPS pro will be able to beat it on Normal in about eight hours. That’s arguably a short game, but Contract J.A.C.K. tries to compensate for this with multiplayer via GameSpy. Unfortunately, I could count on two hands the number of servers that were up on a Saturday afternoon. And out of those eight servers, only two showed any activity.
Once you find some activity, though, the multiplayer game modes go beyond just the standard deathmatch and team deathmatch to include two modes called Demolition and Doomsday. Demolition mimics the gameplay of Counter-Strike in that one team has to place a bomb at a set location while the other team has to either stop them from doing so or defuse the bomb before the time runs out.
Doomsday is a bit different, and it’s by far my favorite of the four modes. In Dooomsday, you and your team must collect and assemble three pieces of a doomsday device in order to win the map. While it sounds easy, it’s not, because the other team is trying to do the same thing.
Unlike the gameplay, which immediately tells you what’s in store, the graphics in Contract J.A.C.K. take a while to “warm up.” The levels have great designs, nice textures and outstanding lighting, but they don’t offer much of a “wow” factor in the early levels. Later on, things start look a bit better, especially when you reach the Italian levels, which have some graphically captivating elements and offer some authenticity to the world of John Jack. The moon base, though, is by far the best level of the game; it’s very sci-fi and quite nice to look at.
It’s a bit disappointing, then, that the character models for the most part look plain and boring, with the exception of John Jack and a few key non-playable characters. Enemies seem to have the same tailor, as they all sport black and tan suits that you quickly blend with red via John Jack’s itchy trigger finger.
The cut scenes are also a bit bland, since the animated and voice-acted scenes have been replaced by text pieces written in first person, much like the Max Payne series minus the voices and comic-book style.
From an audio standpoint, the sci-fi theme from the moon base really stands out and is quite enjoyable. Part of the reason that stands out, though, is that the rest of the audio seems recycled in part from NOLF 2, so it’s nothing you haven’t heard before. The sound effects are good, though, as is the witty dialogue. From the NPCs, that is. John Jack apparently has vocal chord problems, because he doesn’t say a word. Maybe he’s just the strong silent type.
I had great hopes for Contract J.A.C.K. given its NOLF pedigree, but in the end it fails to deliver the great experience from the first two games in the series. While fans of the series will most likely want to play this just because it’s a link in the NOLF chain, FPS fans who aren’t fans will recognize Contract J.A.C.K. as the weakest link and most likely look elsewhere for their first-person fix.
- Gameplay: 8
- Graphics: 7.5
- Sound: 6.
- Replay: 3
- Overall: 6.2
- For diehard NOLF fans only.
— Sylvia Gallardo