Review by reecelean000

Reviewed: 01/16/06

Cool Game With Lots Of Flaws

The best game of 1998, Half-Life, gets a mission pack. It amazes me how in just one release, its developer, Valve Software, has garnered themselves a spot amongst gaming's elite. With the looming release of Team Fortress 2, Valve is perhaps the most revered developer in the industry. The hardest act to follow is that of a great performer, and the official add-on, Half-Life: Opposing Force has a tough audience to please. Developer Gearbox Software, the design group behind the cancelled Prax War, finally gets to show off their talent using the most endeared universe in all of gaming.

I have to applaud Gearbox for coming up with an original premise. You play Corporal Adrian Shephard, one of a hundred infantry marines sent on a secret mission, headed for the Black Mesa Complex to quell an unknown disturbance. As the player, the real objectives are given to you ad nauseum; you're to bring order to chaos and apprehend the suspect named Gordon Freeman, the star of Half-Life. But things go south on your helicopter flight into the complex, and like Freeman, you begin your quest to escape the danger on your own. The idea to re-create the wonderful experience in Half-Life is both a virtue and a curse. All of the wonderful memories from the Black Mesa Complex are brought back in a tour de force of action scripted sequences. And while the nostalgia feelings are welcome at first, over time there is a sense of sameness and repetition, and before it's all over things begin to wane. I will say that Opposing Force does a magnificent job of bringing the two titles together as one. There are instances where Shephard and Freeman even share the same screen, and I found these moments very satisfying. But too much of a good thing is just too much.

That's not to say the game is bad, but rather that there was an opportunity to accomplish something really special, and that's been lost. Opposing Force unfortunately does not contain a lot of original content. The overwhelming feeling I had while playing through the mission pack was one of deja vu, and while that may have been Gearbox's intent, deja vu is only cool because it's rare and mysterious. When it's played out over and over again, it looses its power. The biggest flaw with Opposing Force is how the game progresses. The entire single-player campaign transpires almost identical to that of Half-Life; you even begin your quest armed with only a wrench, not a big difference from Freeman's crowbar. From the beginning to the end, the manner and timing in which you find new weapons and encounter new enemies is also very similar. Even some of the scripted sequences and boss encounters are spitting images of Half-Life. I'm sure there are people who love this and relish in the fact that they have an opportunity to play more of their favorite title, but something was lost on me, and I got a little bored. There are only a few new enemies, and while they are pretty cool, they're addition ends up being relatively minor.

Technologically speaking, Opposing Force uses the same game engine, and while they have added a ton of scripted sequences and improved the frame rate somewhat, the eye candy is nearly identical. There are a few new weapons including a rifle and scope combination, and the marines have adapted one of the aliens to act as a grappling hook style tool. This is one of the better features, and overall the weapons and tools in Opposing Force are great. I really liked what was offered in Half-Life and things only get better here with the new additions. Another thing I enjoyed playing with was ropes. Shephard can climb and swing on them in order to traverse large caverns and avoid treachery below. They've done a nice job implementing this feature, even though it's not used that heavily.

From a gameplay perspective there were a lot of things I liked, and some I didn't. I'm not sure what good the world of Xen did in Half-Life and the reasons for bringing it back in Opposing Force accomplish even less. Luckily the time spent there is limited. They've also included too many action puzzles associated with jumping. I'm not crazy about jumping-based action puzzles, and this game gave me my supply for the year 2000. On the good side of things, their flare for the extravagant is admirable. Well thought out and presented action-based outcomes allow for some tense moments. They've also added in support personnel. You're a marine, after all, and while you play almost the entire game alone, there are times when you get to work along side another soldier. Their ideas here are great, but little was done with them. The tiniest bit of interaction is given, and there are very limited orders you can issue.

For online fanatics, Gearbox has enlisted the help of gaming's best level designers, and their efforts sport 15 new multiplayer maps. The gameplay offered though, is again very akin to Half-Life's multiplayer mode, so if you liked that, you've got more of the same here. In the end I think Opposing Force is a safe, respectable add-on. There's nothing truly innovative here, nothing you didn't already see in Half-Life. But if more of the same is what you were looking for, you'll not be disappointed. I on the other hand was hoping for something more.

Graphics: Gearbox has crafted some really nice levels and they possess an ability to bring cohesion to the player as they pass from location to location. The add-on uses a higher degree of colored lighting than did Half-Life and the overall speed of the engine seems improved. The new enemies look very nice and I especially like their consistent use of the one big eye. But being honest, it's easy to see no one spent a great deal of time adding new graphical content to this product. What was there in Half-Life has been used again, and to me the engine is showing a bit of age, especially when compared to the new offerings from id and Epic. This is still a solid effort graphically and one that won't disappoint anyone.

Interface: Relatively nothing has changed from Half-Life except for a few minor additions. The ability to swing and jump from ropes has been added and it's implemented very well. Like most first-person shooters, Opposing Force uses a Quake-style interface that allows for complete customization. I was disappointed in the lack of command options that could be given to other soldiers and I often had trouble relaying what I wanted them to do. The unique weapon-selection interface remains from the original, which I was hoping they'd improve upon.

Gameplay: The amount of repetition and sameness from the original will thrill you for a while but wear on your nerves by the time you're done. The story isn't quite as thrilling as the first, and neither is it as dark or sinister. The fact that you're a marine, but still relegated to going at it alone for most of the battle was a big disappointment for me. As was the linear fashion in which it progressed and how short Opposing Force was. I finished in less than 12 hours, and considering it's got a price tag of a full product, I question the overall value. For newbies who bought the original and the add-on, Opposing Force offers a really fun training course in which you play a grunt marine under the command of a angry drill instructor. For those who truly love Half-Life and can't get enough of it, Opposing Force will be exactly what the doctor ordered. It's a thrilling if not familiar ride with traces of greatness. There are also a number of new multiplayer maps, but unfortunately no new gameplay types.

Sound FX: I was really disappointed in the voice-overs in Opposing Force. While it makes sense in one regard that everything should be the same as it was in Half-Life because it's taking place at the same time, the fact that they didn't change any of the scientists voices or other voice overs was disappointing. It seemed every solider had the same voice and said the same one-liners over and over again, as do the scientists. The sound effects for explosions and gun-fire are top-notch, but simply can't make up for some of the most unoriginal and repetitive voice-acting in years.

Musical Score: Like the original, there isn't music played in-game. Instead, different musical tracks are played at certain times depending on what is going on, usually to highlight an important event or warn of upcoming danger. Because there is almost no difference from the manner in which this was done in Half-Life, I've scored this criterion down a little.

Intelligence & Difficulty: It's a wonder what a year makes. Half-Life's AI stormed the gaming scene a little over 12 months ago with some of the most revolutionary artificial intelligence in history. While it's still good, the rest of the world has caught up and even made some advances beyond last year's benchmark. All of the abilities seen in Half-Life exist here. A new Black Ops unit is introduced, and these guys are very smart and use tactics extremely well. The monster AI however, isn't all that great, and doesn't seem to execute at the same level. And because most of your battles take place against aliens, the overall experience is somewhat less thrilling than before. In terms of difficulty, Opposing Force uses the same style of puzzles and includes the same difficulty settings. This is a tough expansion pack to complete, but because it's such a short game overall, the difficulty is lessened.

Overall: There are some really nice things about Half-Life: Opposing Force, including some nice scripting and the cohesion between the original and this new storyline is as tight as can be. Gearbox has delivered a somewhat less than worthy expansion to last year's game of the year. The main faults are that it fails to expand upon Half-Life's greatness and rather seems content to ride on its coattails.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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