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Half-Life: Opposing Force

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.

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.

 

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