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Vol. 2, Issue 3
November 24, 1999
The Top Shelf:

Half-Life: Opposing Force

by Noel "HB" Wade

Take one highly successful game. Extract its core technology, backdrop, and feel. Add in a decent amount of new talent. Liberally sprinkle in some of their new views and insights. Shape into a fairly decent story. Mix thoroughly together and let simmer for a year. With this recipe, is it any surprise that the result is a real taste treat? Actually, while its no surprise that it’s good – it is a mild one at just how nice Half-Life: Opposing Force turned out!

As you probably already know, you play the role of Corporal Shepard – a fairly new face among the ranks of the armed services. You were one of the guys sent in during Half-Life to find and stop Freeman – and make sure that no one got out alive. Of course, you’re not REALLY a bad guy in all of this – and, thankfully, you don’t seem given over to the task of playing a marauding soldier who goes around killing scientists at random (as the military seemed to do in Half-Life). As with all things, disaster will strike, and you find yourself in more of a desperate situation – where your goal is to get out alive; and escape the horrors of Black Mesa (sound familiar?).

Before I begin talking about the game, let me point out a small detail that many people might overlook. The “Hazard Course” in the main menu has been replaced with “Boot Camp”. I highly recommend playing that, because while some things will be just like the hazard course, there are many new game-play elements (and hearing the drill instructors throughout the course is hilarious. “Full Metal Jacket” fans will smile at the references and tributes paid to that movie in this area). After you’re done being a “maggot” (trainee) in what has got to be the shortest boot camp a soldier has ever gone through (though for the purposes of the game, its perfect), you’ll be ready to hop into the single player game.

Oh, you want to know about the what? The multiplayer aspect? Well, if that’s all you’re interested in – then skip to the bottom of the article. Are you sure you’re playing the right game if you’re asking me that? Let me tell you something right now – to skip the single-player part of this game is as much a travesty (and an affront to all of the hard work that the Gearbox team put in) as it is to skip the single-player portion of Half-Life itself! This isn’t just a fancy, commercial mod – this game truly is an extension, and a new chapter/story in the Half-Life universe.

Okay, the single-player game then... The story starts out with a nice intro. sequence that fully immerses you in that “Half-Life mood”. I’m not going to describe even one bit of it in detail; because I don’t want to spoil ANYthing – but I will say that right from the start, you will see (if you look in the right directions at the right time) that the Gearbox folks put in as many touches and locations from Half-Life as necessary to make you believe that you really are “back” at the Black Mesa labs. Of course, in these type of games nothing ever gets good until disaster strikes – and that’s precisely what happens. You’ll be treated to a few more scenes, and then you’ll black out. The whole sequence is much shorter than Half-Life’s – which, while revolutionary for its time, does tend to get old after playing the game through several times. AND, being an expansion pack, its nice to see that they didn’t waste any time – just set up the story, mood, and backgrounds; and then dump us players into the action.

You’ll come to in a makeshift medical area; with refugee scientists trying to administer first-aid (the sequence that happens as you fade into consciousness is hilarious, and well done) – as well as check out the “crab-creatures”. Scientists and their undying curiosity... sheesh! Anyways, just as Gordon had to get his HEV suit, you’ll need to grab a similar device for Shepard – before you can claw your way out of the Mesa. The device is a little less believable than Half-Life’s HEV suit; but it works, and doesn’t distract you from the game-play by wondering about armor/shields. Almost immediately, you’ll be introduced to one of the “Otis” characters. He’s the new security guard type of character that you’ll run into. Even more humorous than the original Barneys, “Otis”es will also come in handy – as their Desert Eagle .357 pistol is accurate and deadly (and ammo for your own Eagle pistol is a little on the rare side, especially in the beginning of the game). Just don’t stand in front of him while he’s shooting, okay? He’s a little trigger-happy when monsters are around.

What follows next, is a great adventure sprawling across many new areas of Black Mesa; along with many locations from the original game. But fear not, Gearbox didn’t just simply re-use old Half-Life maps here... they took areas that you only got glimpses of; or went through only a part of – and they expanded them into whole new, unique levels. Along the way, you’ll encounter many scripted sequences, traps, and puzzles that all remain faithful to the feel of the original game. As a side-note, you will end up in Xen on a few occasions; but I believe that (thankfully) you can count that number on one hand (provided you still have most of your fingers intact after playing Half-Life). Its just enough to remind you that Xen is a part of this whole mess; and you’re seeing stuff that not many men have ever seen – but not enough to drag on or get as frustrating as Xen could sometimes be in the original game. Regarding Xen, I would like to take a sentence or two to explain my pet peeve of this expansion: the ending (and no, you’re not in Xen for it this time). While being entertaining, the ending just isn’t as compelling as Half-Life’s. No new mysteries are really revealed; and instead of running off for further unknown adventures like Freeman got to, Shepard finds himself with a somewhat different fate. It's not a bad ending; but with the rest of the game so faithfully stacking up against the original game, this one small spot where it doesn’t quite measure up is left sticking out like a sore thumb.

One other difference from the original game (albeit a positive one) is that scientists and other characters will all react to you as Shepard, not Gordon; so be aware that people’s attitudes towards you may be a little different than in Half-Life. There is, however, one group that doesn’t change the way it acts: the assassins, or “Black Ops” people. They’re back in a big way, cleaning up the base – and on a mysterious mission of their own. While not quite as hard as the original assassins (they won’t cloak as much, if at all), they will team up (like the normal soldiers in the original game; but silently); and will be one of the most deadly enemies you’ll encounter. In fact, it's worth pointing out that most of the monsters from the original game have been made a little bit less tough. They still hurt; but they all seem to be able to take less damage. In my opinion, this is great. It lets the player be a little more gung-ho (as a soldier would be, compared to Gordon Freeman); and also lets us focus more on the new monsters and challenges, instead of continuously slowing us down and re-hashing those “same old” fire-fights.

Speaking of firefights, let me cover a few of the new features and weapons in Opposing Force. First off, the weapons: You’ll pick up about 9 new weapons in the course of the game; some more useful than others (for a whopping total of about 20 weapons!!). All will have their uses, however; and the modeling and balance for these weapons are superbly done! I won’t go into details too much, but here’s a quick list of the new weapons:

Pipe-wrench (with a powerful “over-head” strike in secondary mode – perfect for boxes and smashing small enemies) Combat knife (for those of us who love to hack away at enemies) Desert Eagle .357 pistol (a much more useful pistol than the revolver) Sniper rifle (reach out and touch someone – zoomed or not!) S.A.W. (Squad Assault Weapon – a machine gun, inaccurate but powerful) “Fish gun” (a bio-weapon that looks like some kind of aquatic being – which eats and then spits out bulbous plant-nodules you’ll find here and there) “Roach gun” (at least, that’s what we call it in the office. It looks like a large insect, and can rapid-fire electricity/plasma in a straight line; but recharges itself like the hornet gun in Half-Life) “Barnacle gun” (it’s a hand-mounted barnacle that you can use as a grappling hook in some situations; or grab enemies with and munch them to death - though as a weapon, its not too useful) BFG (I have no idea what to call this – maybe “teleporter gun”? It fires a small teleport charge that will warp out or kill any creature it touches; and when it hits a hard surface, it sends out a shockwave that hurts everything inside a certain radius.)
Other new features include the ability to climb and swing on ropes – an interesting physics model that seems to work well; if not perfectly. Definitely something to spice up the game-play, though, and add some new-ness to the game engine (as well as open up new options in multiplayer play). And, as you will learn in “Boot camp”, you can control other soldiers - after a fashion. Grunts will follow you around and shoot things – a la security guards (though with slightly higher effectiveness). Medics will heal you and your teammates (if needed). And engineers can cut through doors for you (adding a bit to the “find key” mentality – since the engineer becomes a “skeleton-key” as long as you have him around). All in all, these don’t add a ton to the game; but they do keep things fresh and interesting. And to add to the realism, your squad-mates will limp or run for cover when they get injured. As I’ve mentioned before, all of these new bits add to the game; and go a long way towards keeping Opposing Force fun and unique – instead of, like most expansions, just being “more of the same”.

I'm not going to talk any more about the single-player aspect. You’ve probably read enough to either be excited, or decide you’re not interested. Besides, I don’t want to spoil ANY of the great parts of it. I do, however, want to briefly go over the multi-player aspects of OpFor. If you enjoyed Half-Life deathmatch, then you’ll love OpFor’s gameplay. Many weapons in OpFor are slightly different in the multi-player game; and a few become less useful... but OpFor does manage to be as balanced, or more so, than Half-Life was. While specific weapons do definitely rule certain combat regimes, it continues to avoid the “all rocket-launcher, all the time” syndrome that so many FPS’s fall into in deathmatch mode. The sniper rifle is definitely a treat; as you don’t have to zoom in (unlike the crossbow) to use its deadly effects. Beware, though, as its long reload time could leave you a sitting duck if you don’t have a backup plan! The new weapons do definitely add some twists and additional choices, and my only problem with them is the BFG/teleport gun. It just doesn’t really seem to be useful. I’m guessing that Gearbox didn’t want it to be dominating; but the way in which it was implemented... I’d rather it was left out altogether – but then again, I know plenty of people out there who ferociously support the idea of a BFG in every game. Taken against the phenomenal balancing and fun of the deathmatch, it’s a pretty small issue.

I'll leave it to you to figure out your own strategies; but you’ll have plenty of places to do so – they’ve reworked all of the original Half-Life maps to include the new weapons, and added a few all-new deathmatch maps, too! There should be more than enough to hold you over until the user community picks up on OpFor level designing. And judging from the fun that myself and my co-workers have had playing this game, you’ll see plenty of servers out there to hone your skills on.

In summary, Opposing Force manages to be a far more complete and coherent expansion packs than most – and, while having a short story line compared to the original, ties into it nicely. Taken as an add-on, it will definitely leave you thinking, “there’s more?” a couple of times. Add to that some fun, expanded deathmatch play that’s equal to, or above normal H-L deathmatch; and OpFor delivers more than its money’s worth – Gearbox should really be commended for a superb job in both the quality of the work, and how well it fits into the existing Half-Life universe. If you enjoyed Half-Life - get your shoes on, grab your keys, and go buy this baby!

- Noel "HB" Wade is a regular contributor to loonygames. Basically, he
just wants attention.


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