Jaw Dropping Memories
There are those of us that quite like the first person shooter, the gaming genre responsible for those ancient memories of jaw dropping drool when you first clapped eyes on Doom.
Sadly the single player FPS games got a bit tired, despite how madly addicted many were to the multiplayer element. Half-Life changed all that though, restoring the idea of the single player first person shooter, and showing the world what the genre could be.
One regular morning Gordon Freeman dragged his coffee-deprived carcass into work via the metro. Of course, "work" was the top secret Black Mesa facility, and the metro was a subterranean monorail [Even shabbier than the Paris metro - Ed], but ignoring the prevalence of white lab coats it could have been anyone's place of work.
Except of course that the inept pointy haired bosses of Black Mesa managed to botch an experiment in the anomalous materials lab, and a rift opened between our dimension and that of Xen. Well hey, it's a notch up from breaking the photocopier...
[Yes yes, what about Opposing Force Mat? - Ed]
Oi, give me a chance - I'm weaving a tail of mystery and intrigue. Plus you didn't like Half-Life, so you don't count Gestalt.
[Bah! - Ed]
Like I was saying, wasn't it just our rotten luck that Xen happened to be a dimension full of yellow blooded nasty things with too many teeth. Well, it would be a bit dull if the lads ripped a hole in the space-time fabric and out popped a Ferengi trying to sell us a .. um .. nice white lab coat.
Freeman Kicks Ass
Anyhow Freeman kicked botty, and the soliders were sent in to kill everything that moved. Let's face it, that order is simpler than explaining exactly which moving things should be killed - this is the US Army we're talking about after all.
And that is where it was left .. until this lovely new mission pack whipped up by GearBox Software called Opposing Force.
[300 words before you mention the game, is this some kind of record? - Ed]
What we have got here is another story-driven linear first person shooter game set in the Half-Life universe. This time our hero, Corporal Adrian Shephard, knows a thing or two about combat and is tooled to the teeth. Just as well we have cliched plot devices to deal with this problem, in the form of being shot down en route.
Here is one of the problems of Opposing Force compared to the original. Half-Life's intro is now legendary - that drawn out journey set the scene, and proved that the game wasn't going to skimp on content.
On the other hand with OpFor, within two minutes Sheppard is inside Black Mesa in the familiar surroundings with the same scientists and corridors. With no Gun. Hey we've gotta start somewhere, but already the notion of a "poor man's Half-Life" had settled into my psyche...
Luckily there are plenty of new weapons to pick up, although quite why it had to be so unoriginal as to provide a pipe wrench in place of the old wrench is beyond me. But hey, it is just the thing for beating in all those air vents we need to crawl through, despite the fact it looks big and nasty enough to beat just about any door down too.
World Above The Mediocre
I don't want to sound unduly negative here. Opposing Force looks and feels like Half-Life, and this is a world above mediocre tat such as Sin and Requiem. However, having bought a new add-on pack I am of the belief that we probably don't want to be bashing headcrabs with a wrench again, whatever colour it is.
Mission Pack syndrome is clearly in evidence. X amount of new content has been created and it is going to be cut into the old content in a linear way to make it look like an all new game.
It doesn't work, it always looks like the old game with a bit of new stuff. Fortunately though the new stuff in Opposing Force, in the parts where they could be bothered anyway, is pretty damn good.
There are a lot of "Oh wow" levels, and some nifty terrain to negotiate. You won't need to phone Steven Hawkings to solve the puzzles, but the combination of things to climb and explore, puzzles to solve, and good old fashioned firefights should keep you happy.
And Opposing Force delivers with glee. It is just that no single aspect is quite the match of Half-Life, and there are few surprises and details to leave the player amazed.
Otis And His Trowsers
Gearbox have done a marvellous job of sculpting interesting scenes though, placing some amusing caricatures into the game in the form of NPCs. Having watched Otis readjust his belt under his sizable gut, it is quite clear he was modelled by an American from personal experience.
And why do we all like to watch scientists get despatched in amusing ways? When one is poking a headcrab in a cage with a stick, you just KNOW something is going to happen to him. Hell, if it don't I'm gonna shoot the bastard!
In light of this, it is such a shame that the monster AI is seemingly worse than Half-Life's. They stay in their predefined area, sitting stupidly until the player is very close.
Often you can just toss a couple of grenades and they sit stupidly waiting to die .. even when the first doesn't do the job. If I wanted this level of moronic behaviour, I'd play Quake on an American server.
This is unforgivable, and as a result it is hardly a challenge for the FPS fan who have seen it all before. In an age where we expect AI to challenge us, this just doesn't cut it. All those weapons... Boo hoo!
Ironically, when Gearbox feel inspired interesting scenarios can be achieved. There is a warehouse of those black clad secret ops bimbos, and we get to drag in some soldiers to help us out in a big gun battle. OK, it doesn't quite work, but if you're lucky they distract them long enough for you to run around and kill them all yourself.
Non Playing Caricatures
Much has been made of the NPCs in Opposing Force. This is the system whereby our Sheppard finds other soldiers around Black Mesa and can get them to help out.
Basically they will follow you, and if they are brought near something they need to do .. they will do it. Rather like the scientists and security guards in the original really, as far as opening doors. Except now they cut down doors and have machine guns.
On balance the NPC helpers are a good idea, but it doesn't seem to add that much to the game, if anything.
Where Opposing Force excels though is in level design, and some very nice new weaponry. Unfortunately, here too I got the impression towards the end of the game that they were running out of development time. Each room seemed to be strung together in a simplistic chain - find gun room, learn how to use gun room, etc etc.
The worst element is still that the more powerful guns just aren't needed, because the monsters are so braindead. Damnit! I'm so critical of Opposing Force because of what it might have been. The nuts and bolts of the add-on still show up other first person shooters, and it is a darn fine game to play.
However, it is fun from the exploration point of view rather than from any action. Black Mesa is a large wondrous place, and there are plenty more hidden secrets to discover in Opposing Force. Why couldn't they have just kept it in the oven a bit longer and made something worthier of Half-Life's grandeur?
To Buy, Or Not To Buy
Multiplayer-wise, there are three Team Fortress Classic contest winning maps - Albine, The Blood Tube and Open Fire. All of which are superb, but it's not clear if they are going to be popular on servers or not. I would hope so, since they really are superb work.
The Op For deathmatch levels themselves range from incredibly banal remade old maps with new weapons to some pretty good examples. Nothing particularly amazing though, and in any event Half-Life's network code remains extremely poor to this day. Still, that didn't stop TFC becoming the biggest online FPS game of the moment...
Since everyone was a Half-Life fan (except for Gestalt, pah!), it is pointless to say "buy Op For if you are a fan of Half-Life".
But if you want another good quality Half-Life outing in Black Mesa, then you should enjoy this - if not get blown into tiny red lumps by it. If multiplayer action is your thing then Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament hopelessly eclipse Op For - but that goes without saying.
Still, this is Half-Life and in every part of us there is a little boy that needs to splatter alien yellow blood with an Outrageously Large Weapon. Long may he live, for as long as he does them pesky varmints will think twice about invading this dimension. Release Date - available now