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Half-Life : Opposing Forces
reviewed by Timur "Toxin" Dykhne
You and your war buddies are happily flying along enjoying a joke about each others sexual preferences and mothers. All of a sudden the plane next to yours gets shot down, sadly this time its not the Koreans (vague Predator reference there). Red lights start flashing, explosions sounding, people screaming, and you are going under. Corporal Shepard, welcome to Black Mesa.
You wake up in the middle of the Black Mesa Research Facility and all of your friends are dead. You gather your bearings, pick up your power suit and go off in search of a radio to call the base. The radio is found and you get the order to evacuate NOW. You are about to escape when the exit is sealed off and you are left face to face with a man wearing a suit holding a briefcase.
Now the game turns into a fight for survival rather than a simple search and destroy mission. You go from one side of the Black Mesa facility to the other, and spend most of the time in the side that Gordon only got to see at the way end. After a bit of adventuring you meet Gordon, just as he jumps into the teleporter to Xen. What Gordon did not know, but you find out, is that he created a breach in space between Earth and Xen. The breach resulted in more aliens of the new race coming into the Black Mesa Facility. Someone has to stop it right? You guessed it, you.
Most expansion packs to FPS games consist of a bunch of new poorly designed maps, a new very powerful weapon, and a new very powerful enemy. Put all of these together and you get a very imbalanced game. I was a bit uneasy with Opposing Forces, this game could either make or break Half-Life's legendary status. Another thing that further moved my uneasiness was that Valve let Gearbox, a relatively new company make the expansion.
The premise to the game is quite simple. Rather than again taking the role of Gordon Freedman in some missions for the government you get to see the alternate side of the Half-Life story, from the perspective of one Corporal Adrian Shepard, one of Grunts sent to quiet down the Black Mesa research facility. When you meet other Grunts you get a salute rather than a shotgun cap in the ass. This is a welcome idea, and the first of its kind in a FPS expansion.
Fans of the original Half-Life will find plenty of things to remind them of it, these include visiting places that were visited as Gordon in the original, the man in the suit, also known as the GMan, who goes in and out of Gordon's adventure, and some easter eggs too, for example a plaque declaring Gordon Freedman "Employee of the Month".
The new weapons are amazing. They include an awesome looking Desert Eagle with a laser-sight, a sniper rifle, a regenerating-ammo alien gun that shoots electricity, a wrench, a knife, a new type of machine gun, and a weapon that teleports enemies to Xen just to name a few. The weapons in Opposing Forces are much more powerful than the weapons in the original, for example the desert eagle can down most enemies in one or two shots and the wrench can kill a headcrab in one, therefore the designers were smart and put less ammo to balance everything out. Sadly the alien and experimental weapons that Gordon used in the original Half-Life are, for obvious reasons, gone. Possibly the best thought-up weapon in the game is the Barnacle Gun. Remember those aliens who would hang on the ceiling waiting for you to come by then drag you up to your death? Well now you get to use one of those! You can either pull baddies toward you or use it as a grappling hook.
The single players maps are awesome. You can see that Gearbox put in a lot of effort into each map to make it perfect. In length, the single player game is about 1/3 that of Half-Life, therefore there aren't any parts where you are just mindlessly walking around shooting. Every single area has a purpose in the general flow of the game. Even the training area, known as "Boot Camp" is a great map. The annoying scientists from the original training mission have been replaced by Drill Sergeants that scream at you throughout the whole training mission. "You call that jumping? My dear old grandmother can do better!" The training mission is also delivered in a very humorous manner with such great activities as being shot at by a firing range. ;-)
To compensate for the lack of Grunt enemies in Opposing Forces, Gearbox made a new alien race with a greater degree of artificial intelligence to combat your squad of Grunts, in fact one of the new alien types gives you their weapon after you kill them! The new aliens are much bigger and stronger than the aliens in the original, add in a few new bosses and you have yourself quite the party. Also the Black Ops from the original are back, and this time they brought their boyfriends, who are thankfully slower but pack a mean punch.
The AI of your Grunt friends is less than spectacular, but I guess it will have to do. For example, the engineer Grunt seems to enjoy kicking doors open (after he burned around the edges of course) and running straight into the room. This can prove to be quite a problem if the next room features a turret. During one part of the game I had to keep on re-loading my saved game until I actually jumped in the way of the turret's bullets, only to have the engineer die to some Black Ops in the next room. Also, there are some places where the Grunts don't seem to want to follow you without a push from behind. I don't know if this was done on purpose or not, but it is quite annoying. Even thought the Grunts are usually complete idiots, there are some places where they do prove useful. One such occurrence was when an enemy was hiding behind some crates, so what does my Grunt do? He throws a grenade into the crates and shoots the enemy when he tries to jump out! That brought joy to my heart. :-)
In my opinion, there aren't enough battles against human type opponents. The game goes through three "phases" of enemies. First the "original alien" phase which has you busting up head crabs and alien slaves, then the "human" phase where you get to use Grunts and fight Black Ops members and finally the "new alien" phase where you, for the most part, fight the new alien types. Sadly, the middle "phase" is the most enjoyable and the shortest.
The sound drives the game, some parts scare you and others provide you with information. I can remember times when I could hear the aliens breathing on the ceiling, in the next room or below me, but they are nowhere to be seen. Another example is one room where there are a lot of aliens running around on the ceiling, you can see them dart to and fro and you can hear them but you can't reach them. This game is best played with the lights out. Little things like this add to the general feel of the game. I actually wasted a full magazine of shotgun shells in the ceiling of that room thinking I might get lucky and hit something. You also gain a lot of information, such as the fact you are there to kill the scientists and security guards rather than trying to save them, and about the game's background by listening in on conversations, especially that of Black Ops.
The new multiplayer maps are great, most of which were designed by the level greats such as Levelord. The new maps incorporate the new weapons and squads of Grunts for each team. The Grunts are not much of a help, and usually end up dying leaving you to face your enemy one on one. If you want a game only for the multiplayer experience I suggest passing up this expansion and sticking to TFC, or getting UT/Q3 which cost about the same as this expansion.
Overall, I think the only bad thing about this expansion is its price. It goes for a good $40 in the store, and I consider this too much to pay for an add-on, especially when you can get new full games for the same price. People who liked Half-Life, should think about this game, people who loved Half-Life and want more, will love this expansion and people who thought Half-Life was an average FPS won't find anything new here.
- Timur "Toxin" Dykhne
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