Despite my love of FPS games, I have a few huge weak spots in my library. I’ve never beaten Unreal. I’ve never spent more than an hour in any given S.T.A.L.K.E.R. And perhaps the worst sin of all, before writing this piece, I never even touched Half-Life: Opposing Force. And this is a real shame, because when I dove in, I quickly realized that this wasn’t just some forgettable expansion pack. No, Half-Life: Opposing Force is not only a worthy expansion to Half-Life, but it’s one of the best FPS expansions I’ve ever had the joy of playing.
As the title suggests, Half-Life: Opposing Force puts you in control of Corporal Adrian Shephard, one of the HECU marines fought in the original Half-Life. Your mission is to destroy Black Mesa, crush the alien threat, silence all witnesses, and above all, crush Gordon Freeman. The opening chapter is a great nostalgia trip, paralleling events found in the Half-Life chapter Surface Tension. Throughout the game, you’ll probably be able to connect the events witnessed by Adrian to some of Half-Life‘s more memorable moments, and you can even get a peek at Freeman himself entering Xen—although following causes an instant game over.
Of course, it’s more than the setting that makes a return. In Opposing Force, you’ll be able to fight against classic Half-Life enemies such as headcrabs, bullsquids, and vortigaunts. Also joining the alien lineup is Race X, a new alien faction that includes some dastardly foes that can dramatically change up the encounters. Sadly, the most common Race X enemy known as the “shock trooper” is a massive pain to deal with, dishing out heavy damage at a rapid rate.
Of course, since you’re playing the role of HECU, you won’t be fighting your standard marines. Rather, the Black Ops unit that briefly appeared in Half-Life serves as the human enemies of Opposing Force, with a more standard male variant to contrast the original’s speedy Black Ops Assassins. As usual, showdowns with the humans are the highlight of the game, frantically checking corners for stragglers and double checking for stray grenades.
To go along with the new enemies are all new weapons, each of which has unique alternate fire modes to make them stick out from the guns of the base Half-Life. While weapons like the shotgun satchel charges and the assault rifle make a return, you also get new weapons such as the BFG-esque Displacer Cannon or the high-powered Sniper Rifle. However, the standout of the bunch is easily the barnacle, one of the pesky ceiling-dwelling monsters repurposed into a pseudo-grappling hook that can drag smaller foes into its massive mouth or simply propel you across an area.
Usually, the gameplay is Half-Life as you know it. You’ll be exploring the halls of Black Mesa or the Nevada surface, gunning down anyone that gets in your way and solving a minor puzzle here and there. However, Half-Life: Opposing Force tries to give you distinct AI partners, which doesn’t really work out so good. And by that I mean, it doesn’t work out at all.
There are four HECU soldiers you will repeatedly encounter throughout the game to aid Adrian, each of them with a distinct design, personality, and role. The problem is that the game can’t decide if they’re invincible or not, because while they died in every single encounter they were thrust into, they kept showing up throughout the story with no explanation given. Of course, being a Half-Life AI partner, they aren’t particularly smart either, and I could probably count the amount of enemies they actually killed on both hands. While they may have distinct roles in theory, the only one who actually did anything of use was who I’ve dubbed the “guy with the welder,” and he just fulfilled the role of security guards in the first game by opening weapon caches.
Of course, being an expansion, it should be no surprise that Half-Life: Opposing Force is a fairly short game. I was able to finish it up in just under five hours, with plenty of deaths along the way. Still, as far as FPS expansions go, Half-Life: Opposing Force is near peerless. And at the very least, I think we can all agree that it sure as hell beats Blue Shift.