Half-Life: Opposing Force Review

Roughly a year after the release of the ground-breaking game Half-Life, an upstart game company known as Gearbox has released an expansion pack that takes a new slant on the Black Mesa Research Complex and its troubles. The expansion is called Half-Life: Opposing Force (OpFor). In Half-Life, you play a theoretical physicist known as Gordon Freeman. You take part in a questionable experiment that goes haywire, fusing this world and an alien world together. As Gordon, you must escape the collapsing Black Mesa Complex, now riddled with aliens, and close the dimensional hole created in the botched experiement. But Black Mesa is a government-controlled research facility, and the military is called in to help clean up any evidence of the experiment gone bad.

This is where OpFor picks up. You play Corporal Adrian Shephard of the U.S. Military. Your troubles begin en route to the Black Mesa Complex when Xen flyers drop in and shoot down your helicopter. You eventually gain consciousness, alone in a Black-Mesa lab room, where you learn that the military is pulling out and leaving stragglers behind. Your mission is clear: get out and get out quickly or else you won't survive.

So what's new in OpFor? Well, to begin with, there are hundreds of new things to see. New textures, built off of the original Half-Life textures to maintain consistency, are present throughout. New sound effects and audio tracks take control of the ambience and mood of the game. New weapons and tools complement the original arsenal. A new rope object lets you climb and swing your way around. New characters and character models both extend and expand the original Half-Life character set. And obviously, new levels and scripted scenarios present themselves throughout the entire game. There is even a new training course, which I recommend to even the best Half-Life veterans.

Everything was expertly crafted to emulate the original Half-Life universe. From flying past the cliffsides of Surface Tension to crawling around the tram tunnels from the original prelude, the OpFor world is subtle but remarkably convincing. Just as in Half-Life, you can gain control of the various docile characters you meet, even your fellow military men. You will run into most, if not all, of the original enemies and characters as well. New character skins extend the original characters such as the new "advanced" zombie, the male assassin, and the new security guard Otis. However, entirely new characters comprise the majority of enemies you will meet. These new enemies are faster, smarter, and stronger. The new enemies, combined with difficult new levels, provide a very challenging experience.

OpFor continues the "seamless" level-changing experience. For example, as you walk down a hallway, the game might pause, say that it is loading and when it's done, you can continue walking down the same hallway and into the next level. The individual levels are slightly larger and more complex than Half-Life's, so as a result, the levels take slightly longer to load.

The levels themselves are much more intuitive and better crafted than those in the original Half-Life. Sometimes you might just look up and see a maintenance shaft or some added architecture that does nothing but add to the depth and reality of the game. Many paths are subtle dead-ends, giving you more to explore in each level. Books, machine carts, etc. are all destroyed when you hit them. Overall damage is much more apparent as well. Rubble is all over the place, bookshelves are toppled over, and windows are blown out. Everything makes you feel like the buildings you are in are about to collapse. Some eventually do. In addition to the massive structural damage already felt by the Black Mesa Complex, enemies break through walls, fall through ceilings, and help tear the place apart even more.

The plotline is just as good as in the original, and allusions to your experiences in Half-Life abound throughout the game. The mysterious Adminstrator returns, talking to your commanding officers during your training and walking throughout the Black Mesa Observation Areas and other areas. You even see Gordon for a brief moment as he jumps into the Xen portal.

Single-player is just as amazing as the original Half-Life, but I have a few gripes with it. To begin with, some areas are just too complex. The shear amount of polygons brought my framerates below an acceptable level, which takes some work. (I have a PII350, 196MB RAM, and a Riva TNT2 Ultra AGP w/32MB RAM.) Fortunately, only a few areas are that complex. I'm sure those with sub-300mhz machines will feel their framerates slipping on a more consistent basis, though.

Your ability to put together rag-tag squads is nice, but your squadmates aren't always the swiftest. The engineer, for one, will torch open a door and then run right through it before you have a chance to clear the area. The medic will usually take off to fight rather than hang back and let the soldiers do the work. And occassionally, the members of your squad will mistake you for an enemy and start hunting you. Many of the aliens are just sitting around corners waiting for you to walk past them so that they can hit you when you aren't looking. This can be very annoying and eats away at the alien mystique generated by the original Half-Life. You don't get many scenes where you get to sneak up on a bullchicken who's chewing on a fallen soldier, for example.

The soundtrack, though very cool, can be remarkably obtrusive with its heavy drumbeats and rather bad timing. The music becomes especially annoying when you try to fight in darkened rooms. When you really need to hear where footsteps are coming from or what direction a shot came from, the music intervenes to confuse your judgment. It's probably better to turn the CD volume down to a subtle, mood enhancing rumble.

Finally, OpFor is quite a bit shorter than Half-Life. It took me less than 5-6 hours to beat the game and there wasn't anything indicating that I was about to reach the end of the game until I came to the final showdown. Regardless of the bugs and annoyances, all of these negative qualities don't amount to much. The positive aspects of the game far outweigh anything that could be a detriment to gameplay.

Multiplayer appears top-notch. The newer weapons add a lot to gameplay, along with the older weapons. In particular, the new barnacle claw latches on to anything organic with its tongue and drags it in and can also be used to swing your way around the level. The new sniper rifle will probably become the bane of deathmatchers everywhere, while the new Displacer will allow players to evade their enemies in a bind.

OpFor also includes three new Team Fortress Classic levels. These user-made maps are on par with the original TFC maps and I'm sure they will become mainstream once the rest of the world embraces OpFor. Furthermore, OpFor will also upgrade Half-Life to v before it installs itself, a definite plus.

In conclusion, OpFor is very challenging yet very fun. It is not recommended for newer players but rather for the seasoned veterans of Half-Life. Those who have beaten Half-Life should find OpFor a good test of their skills and abilities that maintains all of the best qualities of the original game. All we need now is a mod/expansion played through the eyes of the Black Ops.

-- Christopher Zacharias