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Game preview: Half-Life Opposing Force

September 23, 1999
Web posted at: 4:12 p.m. EDT (2012 GMT)

by Jason Samuel


(IDG) -- Opposing Force: the two words rabid fans of Half-Life are anxiously awaiting. Not quite a sequel but more than your average expansion pack, it's the follow-up to what was arguably the best action game of '98. Gearbox Software has been given the awesome responsibility of telling the rest of Half-Life's story.

The rest? Exactly. Gordon Freeman only saw half the picture. In Op For, you'll see the other half -- not through the eyes of a scientist, but as one of the soldiers sent in to deal with the mess those scientists have created.

For diehard fans, of course, this is old news.
They want specifics. They want me to reveal new weapons, characters, skills, aliens, and story. Having played Op For and talked to director Randy Pitchford, I'm prepared to do just that.

You are Corporal Adrian Shephard, sent in the day all hell breaks loose at the Black Mesa research facility. On your way in, things don't go quite according to plan. Separated from the other soldiers, you find yourself as Gordon was -- scared and alone. Don't count on a supporting squad of men when you start the game. Alone, but with a mission, you set off to find other soldiers...and stay alive.

"If Op For began with the player being in the best possible situation, the game would quickly devolve into a typical first-person shooter with some nice features," explained Pitchford. "We're trying to give players the same feelings of vulnerability and tension experienced in the first part of Half-Life -- something very few other first-person shooters have succeeded in doing."

The game will offer six new chapters of story. And these chapters will be as large or larger than the ones in the original game, making Op For single-play about half as long as Half-Life. Not bad for an expansion pack.
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The first third of the single-player game will coincide with the time Gordon Freeman is on Earth -- and you will see him. But you won't interact with him to a degree that could change Half-Life's story, so forget fraggin' Freeman.

On the other hand, you will feel the consequences of his actions at times. To use a seesaw as a metaphor, you may go up when Gordon is going down. The soldiers begin to pull out of Black Mesa prior to Freeman leaving Earth, and guess what: Cpl. Shephard is going to be left behind. Survival in the face of overwhelming odds is what these soldier types are trained for, isn't it?

You won't remain alone, however: You can enlist other remaining soldiers to help you. Like the guards in HL, they'll follow you and start to fight if they see enemies. However, unlike the guards, they'll use squad tactics, can kick a lot of ass, can follow in groups larger than two, and have much-improved AI to deal with friendly fire.

At least three different types of combat-only soldiers will be included, as will two special soldier types. Each fighter type will look different from the others and carry a different weapon. The two special units are the medic and the torch cutter. The medic will heal you slowly like a wall-based med unit, while the torch cutter will cut through those pesky metal doors Gordon kept running into.

Soldiers aren't the only military specialists on the scene. The black-ops assassins from HL are more prevalent this time around, and whose side they're on remains undetermined. Expect new male versions of the killers to complement the female ones. Martial arts is among their new skills, so you won't want to get too close.

As a soldier, you'll be equipped for and able to do things Freeman would envy. Remember the barnacles that were attached to the ceiling? You'll be able carry one around and use it as a grappling hook. (Or to bring an enemy into your waiting hands.) You'll also be able to operate the military radios, allowing you to get information from home base or tell other soldiers your location.

While Gordon had to fight off soldiers rappelling down ropes, this time it's you who'll be doing the rappelling. Freeman only had that pathetic flashlight, but you'll have night-vision goggles. The goggles aren't perfect--true to life, they have a green tint--but if you're in the dark, you can see much better than that flashlight ever let you. You'll also get an equivalent to the H.E.V. protective suit--in this case, a powered armor vest you can charge at the H.E.V. stations.

And you're going to need protection from the slew of aliens you'll have to deal with once Gordon leaves the planet. It seems his leaving signaled to another group of aliens an easy entrance to Earth. You'll see a total of six new aliens from this species, as well as different variations of some of the species we've already seen before.

Gearbox was showing only three new invaders: the Pit Drone (which shoots spikes out of its forehead and has a slash attack in hand-to-hand combat); the Shocktrooper (which carries an energy weapon called the Shock-Roach); and the Voltigore (a very large alien that shoots long-distance energy bolts and has a deadly melee ability in close-quarters battles). A remodeled species you've already seen is a further mutated version of the face-hugger zombie.

How's a soldier to deal with such monstrosities? With new weapons, of course! While Gearbox has only leaked word of seven new toys, you'll find nine new weapons in Op For.

Replacing the .357 revolver is the laser-sighted .357 Desert Eagle. With the sight off you can shoot much faster, albeit with less accuracy; when it's activated, you shoot slower but right on target. Replacing the crowbar is a pipe wrench, which has an alternate attack that allows for a more powerful swing. (No more bashing a box 20 times: Just wind up once and splinters fly.)

The modern M-60 equivalent is the M-249 SAW, and it has a lot of punch, with a 100-round belt you can use to clear a room. Prototype weapons include the Displacer Cannon, which creates a small portal to Xen -- great for zapping enemies out, and, in a pinch, transporting yourself out of a tight situation. Your location on Xen when you teleport in is random: Not a problem if you wind up next to a healing pool, but very bad if you appear a thousand feet underwater, so use with caution.

Alien weapons include the Spore Launcher, which fires a biological rocket normally and alt-attacks with a bouncy grenade. The Shock-Roach is a rapid-fire energy-based weapon that actually recharges itself as it is used. Gearbox has hidden two more, so look forward to a few surprises.

Multiplay will include all of the new weapons, the original weapons, and 15 new maps. Twelve maps are being created by designers from all over the industry -- including Ritual's Richard "Levelord" Gray and others whose names Sierra will announce shortly. The other three maps will be for Team Fortress Classic and will come from top Internet talent via an online contest on the WON network.

From speaking to Pitchford, I've no doubt Gearbox is doing its best to improve upon Half-Life while giving players that same great experience. But starting at such a high point allows for a much greater fall, and Op For is very ambitious. Providing better AI, more models, new aliens, new skills, new weapons, and six more chapters of a great story seems almost as daunting as creating the original masterpiece.

Having played some of Opposing Force and interviewed Pitchford, I can tell you, it looks like they're going to deliver. If the planned features become a reality, this game's destined to be a great product. And according to Pitchford, Gearbox prefers to publish less and deliver more -- so Op For may quite possibly include elements that no one will see prior to its November release.

In that case, forget the turkey. This year, I think I'll be heading back to Black Mesa at least one more time.

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