Half-Life: Opposing Force
You got out but that's not the whole story. There's a whole other side yet to be told. You escaped the Black Mesa facility and found out part of the truth. But while you were gambolling around in air-conditioning vents and blood-splattered labs, a whole world of shit was erupting on the other side of the complex.
A separate bunch of aliens - Race X -clocked the rifts in inter-dimensional space caused by Freeman and the rest of his identikit scientist crowd. While you were bouncing around Xen, stamping on mushrooms, being chased by bulbous spiders, these opportunistic space gypsies took the opportunity - and infiltrated Earth. Opposing Force tells this other story. You play a soldier, Corporal Adrian Shephard, one of the force sent in to deal with the Freeman mess. But before you can decide where your allegiances lie and what the hell is going on, you get cannonballed into a whole new world of adventure and intrigue.
Randy Pitchford, founder and chief designer at Gearbox, takes up the tale: "In addition to the return of the G-Man thin mysterious besuited indestructible bad guy from Half-Life, the military perspective will allow players to learn more about what the soldier and Black Ops assassins were really up to at Black Mesa."
There's a lot to tell. Opposing Force is big. You'll need Half-Life to play it but it's more of a sequel than an add-on. Less a mission pack, more a 'game expansion pack'. Sue chapters. Forty levels. About half the length of the first game. In the first third of Opposing Force, Shephard and Freeman plotlines run alongside.
'There are times when Freeman and Shephard are in the place simultaneously," says Pitchford. Their paths will cross in some very cool ways. You'll be aware of Freeman doing things you did when you played as him in the original game. You'll come across places where Gordon did something and you'll remember that Gordon went through places where Shephard had done something."
But do you get to take a pop at Freeman? Or better still, can you kill Freeman and throw the whole of the Half-Life universe into disarray, opening a hole in the space time continuum, and erasing all the saved games on your hard disk because you were never able to make them in the first place? "No, we aren't going to be allowing any paradoxical problems to be presented," says Pitchford. "But we have included several unique and memorable moments when Shephard and Freeman are directly or indirectly aware of each other."
Hold on though. How are we supposed to deal with playing as a soldier? Those ambushy little bastards, crouching behind their sandbags, regrouping around their comers, lobbing their sneaky little grenades, picking you off from miles away with their poxy automatic rifles. Honourable Half-Lifers should do the decent thing - install Opposing Force and then kill themselves with a grenade in protest.
Oh no, but sympathy is maintained by neat plot twists, according to Pitchford.
'The powers that be in the Half-Life universe are trying to cover up the whole mess. So after the soldiers fail, a group of Black Ops are sent in to clean everything with extreme prejudice, including soldiers." Ah. The whole double-triple-twist ploy. Good.
The first and only thing any self-respecting add-on pack developer need do, of course, is add stuff. Bang bang bang. New weapons, monsters, levels. Fin. Not this mission pack though. Oh no.
"We designed this thing very differently from most add-on packs. The goal was deeper than just cashing in on a quick add-on to a successful title," says Pitchford. "We wanted to create a new game that would give players everything they loved about the original and expand the narrative. The only reason it's in add-on form is because it's cheaper - we don't have to ship the expensive engine with the title."
Their first task was to address a few of Half-Life's niggles. Top of the list? The rather tiny gene pool of white-coated scientists.
Let's see - there's the black one, the bald one, and the white Santa Claus one, right, plus 'Barney', the reincarnating security guard. Thankfully, Gearbox have added a wealth of new non-player characters: loads of different soldiers in different support roles. There are torch engineers to cut through doors, medics to give urgent medical attention, and plenty of grunts to take the flak. Plus a fat new doughnut of a security guard named Otis. And some new scientists, right? Please?
"Oh yeah," says Pitchford. "Even more than in the original. There are new scientists wearing cleansuits and new variations of the zombie creatures. Head crabs can now zombify any human instead of just the scientists. The goal is that no two NPCs will look alike in Opposing Force and we're pretty close to that goal."
At the same time, the AI has been substantially improved. Monsters get scared, work in groups, and force other, lesser, smaller beasties into battle while they wait at the back to mop up later. Soldier intelligence has been reworked so, if you're skilful, you can have a whole squad on the boil.
"You can now get up to half a dozen soldier NPCs with you - if you can keep them alive," says Pitchford. "The squad works as a team and will cover you, flank enemies while you lay down fire, and all kinds of other cool stuff. There are several moments which involve heavy squad skirmishing with hordes of enemies. Each time we play these sections it comes out differently."
To get to grips with all these new skills, Gearbox have added a whole new training area. Gone is the Hazard Course. Now it's 'Boot Camp', presided over by a barking Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant (voiced by the actor who did the voice of Duke Nukem, trivia fans). In it you learn weapons skills and how to use your radio to call for reinforcements. You're taught how to use your new soldier mates such as the torch engineer and how to apply your new environmental talents like rope climbing.
"Obviously there are a lot of things we are going to do with rope climbing," explains Pitchford. "First we're going to make sure players know how to climb a rope, then we're going to give them the opportunity to swing from rope to rope, increasing the challenge, and, of course, the reward of succeeding. It's fun to swing across a chasm, especially when beneath you in that chasm is a rocket engine bellowing fire and getting ready to launch."
Frankly, we're excited by this mission pack. It looks cool, it's got a nice narrative twist, the weapons rule, the new monsters dominate, and there's a fat guy in it. But we're not the only ones. Gearbox are excited too. The huge Half-Life Internet fraternity are throbbing like a big spot in anticipation. Valve Software themselves are foaming at the mouth. And they've been in on it right from the start.
But is this like working on a Star Trek game? Do Valve get prickly if your plot has Gordon Freeman breaking a nail on a crate or doing something morally questionable with the body of zombie? "Since we designed the game, plot and everything up-front jointly with Valve, there's never really been a question of what we're allowed and not allowed to do with it," says Pitchford.
Good then, you can get rid of Xen then, can't you? That poxy platform planet must die.
"We understand the problems gamers had with the Xen part of Half-Life and have addressed that," says Pitchford diplomatically. "Corporal Shephard will briefly visit Xen but his role there isn't as important."
Hurrah. More good news comes in the proximity of this add-on pack to release. Pitchford uses a phrase not often heard in the games development world: "We're actually ahead of schedule." Start relearning your Half-Life skills, boys. Opposing Force should be almost ready by the time you read this.
At last. What has easily been the most exciting and invigorating game ever finally up-chucks an official mission pack. Cleverly done, this 40-odd level add-on runs alongside the main story of Half-Life, but you play a soldier, the enemy of yourself in the first game, with access to ten new weapons and with five new aliens to shoot them at.
You play Corporal Adrian Shepard, part of a biohazard containment squad flown into the Black Mesa after Gordon Freeman tripped over a few wires and let a load of aliens from hell invade our dimension. Unfortunately, your helicopter crashes en route and after a few brief flickers of consciousness, you come round inside a laboratory, deep in the heart of the facility. Without knowing your orders, you are unsure about what to do, other than to simply get the hell out. But as you pick your way through the blasted remains of the vast base, you realise you're caught up in not just one, but several huge conspiracies...
The game is basically Half-Life all over again. Tense, nerve-wracking stuff. You pad down corridors and into rooms. You back up against the walls. You know if anything wants to get you, it has to come straight at you and the humming automatic rifle in your hands will soon stop them. But still you feel scared. You know something's going to happen. This is Half-Life. Something always happens.
You're used to the tricks. Face-hugging crabs dropping out of ceiling tiles. One-eyed electrical cycloptic things teleporting in behind you. Pressing buttons to activate teleports or seal off doors. Operating rudimentary machinery one second and then being forced to leap huge puddles of radioactive waste the next. It's much the same with a few nice touches.
And as you progress, you begin to overlap the first story. So there's the garbage compactor where Gordon Freeman was dragged to be squished; there's the bridge bit where you first met the helicopter, the alien shark, and probably your death; the train he took at the beginning of the game; and then there's the massive teleport cavern where Freeman finally manages to propel himself to Zen. You even get to fly off a few shots at him before he disappears. All this under the beady eye of the besuited 'administrator' figure.
Note to self: "What if you did kill Freeman? Wouldn't you then pollute the timeline? If he couldn't teleport at that point, then that means the game couldn't have finished, doesn't it? Therefore, there couldn't be a mission pack... therefore... you... don't... exist..."
One of the big deals with Opposing Forces is your squad. At any point during the game, you may be joined by up to four soldier types (although it's usually just two). The engineer, perpetually chewing a fag, and able to blowtorch doors open. The medic, a dab hand with both a laser-sighted Magnum and a health kit. And then there are a couple of squaddies, one armed with a shotgun, the other toting an automatic rifle.
They handle themselves better than the security guards, taking cover, throwing grenades, pushing forward. And they're handy for absorbing bullets meant for you.
But you have to be careful they don't get too perforated. If you need one of your boys - a medic, say, to heal an engineer who needs to open a door - and he gets killed, the game ends with the missive: "Subject failed to effectively utilize human assets in achievement of goal." Which is frustrating since, without specific orders, sometimes the only way to save them is to keep them out of a firefight and so negate the point of them being there. Nevertheless, the added human component is welcome, as are the new incident characters, such as the fat security guard, Otis, and scientists in hazard suits. Less welcome is the new skill of rope climbing, an irritating and virtually skill-free addition to the Half-Life feature list. You press the 'use' key to attach yourself to a rope and then use forward and back, supposedly, to gain momentum. However, due to clipping errors, it's nigh-on impossible to gauge your swing and you mostly just end up flopping into the lava or flipping 'noclip' on to bypass the danger.
But by far the best bits are when you run up against human opponents. The new aliens are, frankly, dumb for a species that has apparently crossed a few alternate dimensions to invade our planet. You can pop several off at a distance without their neighbours noticing the sudden disappearance of a colleague and the appearance of medium rare alien steak all over the walls. The scary voltigores are huge and intimidating, but out of shape and easy to outrun.
Shock troopers, armed with electric roaches, are easy to spot and generally have a Hictable run-off/run-anticipate. The shock roach left over when they die is often far more difficult to kill.
You're only really tested in hard, very hard, firefights with the black ops. Using a combination of heavy guns, black ninjas and black suited shock troopers, they make bases of most areas of the map, favouring warehouses and car-parks and sit there patiently, waiting for you.
Come storming in with your grizzled engineer and the soft-as-shite medic and you're going to get your fat carcass riddled with bullets in a second. Decide to leave the boys behind and do it alone and you'll get blown up by your own grenade - the one you threw like a panicked girl in a random direction five seconds earlier. Do it again. Get killed. And again. Dead. Again. Dead.
It's brilliant. Thanks to the AI and your blundering mistakes, each attempt on an area is different. But gradually, after about 20 minutes and 40 deaths, you start to learn. You discover the correct sequence of laser bomb, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, and blind panic which will eventually get you and your boys through the area.
Later on, you'll even come across a pitched battle between aliens (who are trying to kill you) and black ops (who are also trying to kill you) - who, for the meantime, are just concentrating on killing each other. So you can just sit back and have a cup of tea in the comer, lobbing the odd grenade here and there to assist the outcome.
But interfering puts you in a strange moral dilemma. Do you kill the aliens - vicious, nasty, green-blooded little gits that they are? Or do you pop off a few of the black ops boys - super-high speed, accurate little shits that they are? Which is worse? For some reason, we always ended up siding with the aliens until, inevitably, once they'd killed off all the other humans, they turned on us.
Overall, though, the taste left in the mouth is a bitter one. Opposing Forces is a few excellent ideas strung together by pedestrian Half-Life padding. For every 1% health super-tense stand-off in a car park full of black ops, there are minutes spent scrabbling around samey tunnels, or activating the three machine parts necessary to steam broil a big nasty, or various keep-the-scientist-alive, destroy-the-helicopter scenarios we saw in the previous game.
If you've done t Mesa two or three times, like most people (once, for fun, on Godmode with all the weapons killing everyone from the start and calling yourself the 'Angel Of Death'), and if you've played any of the hundreds of extra levels and total conversions available for Half-Life on the Net, you've probably had your fair share f of crawling through ventilation shafts and leaping across gaps. The you-v-the-black ops bits are still compelling and a lot of the locations are clever, inventive takes w on the Half-Life scenery.
M All in all, though, Opposing Forces is not quite the W magnificently seamless whole that Half-Life ms, but it's still a good weekend's worth of entertainment.
Love hurts... but not as much as these do
Heavier than the crowbar and slower on the up-tum, but lands a devastating blow on both scenery and organic matter. Hilarious in deathmatch, with players clambering for position.
Faster and just a bit more convenient when the wrench fails to satisfy. Also good for 'doing' scientists and cracking open those ammo boxes you find on shelves everywhere. Just don't try to wave it in the face of a big monster.
The .45 slug impacts through the skin of its target with a satisfying watermelon sound. In alt-fire, a laser sight appears, allowing you to ask your victims if they are 'Sarah Connor' before offing them.
Heavy Machine Gun
A welcome addition to the Half-Life arsenal, this exceptional weapon will bury hundreds of highly accurate rounds deep within any opponent. Watch out, though - it'll devour an entire clip in seconds.
Fires fast lightning bolts in a stream and then recharges to a maximum capacity of ten. Good for saving up proper men's ammo (ie bullets) but prone to nm out at exactly the wrong moment.
By no means as good as Unreal Tournament's but impressive for picking off distant black ops operatives. Takes a whole five seconds to reload, though, so don't go running into a room with it.
Somewhat penile, but fires highly deadly green projectiles which will explode any human they touch. Right mouse button jettisons a slow, silent, but deadly green blob grenade.
Nice touch. One of the roof-mounted tongue things rejigged as a grappling hook. It only grabs on to organic material, mind, but that does include dead bodies, alien eggs and such.
Lethal and BFG-like in its delivery, the displacer takes some skill to master but wreaks complete havoc on your black ops opponents. In alt-fire mode during deathmatch, it makes you teleport randomly.
Download Half-Life: Opposing Force
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
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2019-01-25 Half-Life: Opposing Force game added.