Written by  :  Ray Soderlund (3609)
Written on  :  Aug 11, 2000
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars

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Another facet of a gem.

The Good

One of the great dreams of computer entertainment software was the ability to tell the same story from completely different viewpoints. Few games (or otherwise) have truly attempted such (the interactive fiction piece 'Madness of Roland' is one of the few to come to mind). Half-Life:Opposing Forces (HL:OPFOR) does this very thing - in a first person shooter environment of all things. And it does it well.

In the original Half-Life, you played Gordon Freeman, a scientist caught up in the catastrophe at the Black Mesa research labs. Your first goal was to make it out alive, which was hampered by the introduction of a U.S.M.C. detachment sent in to clean up the mess...including Freeman. In Opposing Forces, you play one of those Marines and get to experience the same timeline all over again, from another point of view. Although you rarely tread the exact same ground, the team did a wonderful job of making you feel like you 'just on the other side of wall' from the previous games events. Freeman even makes a quick visual cameo (he's mentioned a few times as well) and players from the first game almost find yourself rooting for him out of memories. Sympathies develop for the Marines you might have feared/loathed in the original and hatred for the manipulative man in black continues to grow. The experience makes the world of the first game come alive and truly seem three dimensional.

As you play a military man and not a scientist, you would assume that the game would emphasize combat and it does this well. You have squadmates with various skills whom you'll utilize in various situations. Although they don't seem to have the determined team work of the leathernecks you faced as Freeman, your fellow Marines will often play smart (although usually outgunned) and are a little more effective than the 'extra firepower' the guards provided Freeman in the first one. The array of weaponry has been increased as well, although many have subtle differences as opposed to the dramatic variants first person shooter fans may seek. Surprises and trying to gain the tactical high ground make their way into the action.

The emphasis on combat lessens the reliance on jumping puzzles and such. You are required to make some fantastic leaps, but compared to the first game, they're both considerably less and much easier. Your trips to Xan are rare and mostly self-inflicted, so you can avoid the low gravity platform leaps in an alien environment that most people found distateful at the end of the original. It appears that Valve listened to their customers when designing OPFOR.

As in the original, a story carries the carnage as you race about the complex and is on par with Half-Life for its ability to tell the story through both short conversations and visual presentations. Few recent games have done so much with presenting a tale without going into lengthy cut-scenes or long diatribes. In Opposing Forces, Valve proves the talent they showed in Half-Life wasn't a fluke.

Although low in polygon count, the graphics in the game more than do their job in presenting the world around you. Games like Unreal may be prettier, but at times you may find yourself appreciating the way the Valve manages to capture the realism of an area. The base feels real and even though you can't explore the whole thing, between the wonderful architecture and little peaks they give, you get a feeling of there being a complete installation, instead of abstract, connected levels.

The Bad

Even though it's almost as long as the good, non-Xan parts of Half-Life, OPFOR feels much shorter. Granted, the timeline of this game needs to fit within the originals, and you don't arrive in that timeline until a third of the way in, but fans of the original will find themselves wanting more in the end. As OPFOR is an add-on, this is understandable on a logical level, but you can't help feeling like there should have been more.

It's nice to work with fellow Marines, but it's often frustrating that they deliberately force you to move on without them, either because you fall down some hole they can't follow, jump over some obstacle they can't, or they just stop moving up with you. In most cases, I assume the designers figured your buddies would've been killed off by these points, but if you're careful, you can keep them alive. Having them stop and mill around takes away both realism and the feel or truly operating with fellow grunts you want to keep alive. This happened in the original as well, but since your primary goal, as the only one in a suit, was to escape to get help, it made sense that you left people behind temporarily. Here it doesn't work as well.

The emphasis on combat can lead you to 'can't win' scenarios because you wasted ammo early on. While restoring battles isn't as frustrating as for jumping puzzles (and actually can be fun to try to tackle a situation differently, it can get tedious.

The final boss is more interesting than Half-Life's, but the ending is once again unfulfilling and ambiguous. This works for leading into a sequel and fits the mystery and uncertain mood of the tale, but most people like some closure and 'victory dance' for their final win, not an anti-climatic scene.

The Bottom Line

If you enjoyed Half-Life, you'll enjoy this variaton on the tale. See the Black Mesa facility from the viewpoint of the Marines you once feared and try to complete your mission and learn even more of the base's many mysteries. As you'll need Half-Life to play, you may want to play the former all the way through first, as the two games interlock on a grand level and compliment each other. Those who hated the jumping puzzles of the first game will be happy to note that the Corps. apparently doesn't train frogs.