Full... Metal... Jacket.
Best war film ever made, bar none. Give Stanley Kubric the Vietnam war, a southern drill instructor turned actor, and a script that included the immortal line "I wanted to see exotic Vietnam, jewel of southeast Asia. I wanted to meet new and interesting people from an ancient and stimulating culture and... kill them. I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill." If they've ever stuffed a better line into a movie, I missed it.
The movie is often criticized because it begins with a bitingly sardonic portrayal of Marine boot camp and then moves to a slightly less interesting war phase. So too is it with Half-Life: Opposing Force, the expansion pack by Gearbox Software. It starts off with a slick recreation of the training portion of Full Metal Jacket, replacing Half-Life's original training suite, and then moves into a good but ultimately all-too-familiar campaign. Occasionally there are flashes of brilliance, but in the end Half-Life: Opposing Force does not surprise nor excite.
Half-Life was essentially the most successful gimmick parade in gaming history. The levels were jam packed with neat little challenges and puzzles that kept your interest and gave you something to do other than just shoot. Helicopters would drop troops on you, claymore mine wires had to be avoided, tanks had to be molested - it was tons of fun. But outside of the terrific level design, Half-Life only really upped the ante in the First Person Shooter genre in terms of Artificial Intelligence and storytelling.
None of that means that it wasn't a great game or that it did not deserve an "A." In fact, after finishing the game I recall feeling depressed because I didn't think I'd ever play anything that good again (which was the case until I played the fully patched version of Ultima IX Ascension. Why oh why did they release it too early?).
So anything based on Half-Life has to find new ways of titillating. Unfortunately, outside of the training sequence, Half-Life: Opposing Force is merely an amusing retread back to a place you've already been to do things you've already done. There are new enemies, new weapons, and good presentation, but it ultimately falls flat in the face of nagging déjí vu.
The premise is good. You are Andrew Shepard, an inexperienced marine who is shipped of to the Black Mesa Research Facility (setting of Half-Life) for a training exercise. That is, until your plane is shot down and you find yourself in a world of aliens, broken machinery, and hurt. Essentially, you are playing a sugarcoated version of the soldier's role in Half-Life, which was to kill the hero, Gordon Freedman. Well, nerds with physics degrees can't stand up to US Marines, can they? History would disagree.
The quality of the maps in Oppsing Force oscillates between good enough and inspiring. While never bad, they lack the consistent quality of the original. Furthermore, the designers seemed content to take the old challenges that Half-Life presented, modify them, give them a new setting, and ship them off. While the basic material is still great, the effect of this regurgitation is much like leftover pasta - it just ain't quite right.
Also, they didn't quite go far enough in their plagiarism of the original to end the thing properly. The pack ends abruptly, in a thoroughly unsatisfying manner. Someone tells you that the final battle is around the corner. You fight a slimy thing, and then it's over. Huh? This expansion pack will most likely give you an understanding of what your girlfriend feels like (no no, Johnny, YOUR girlfriend. - Ed.).
Aside from the questionable level design, the rest of Opposing Force is pretty solid. The new weapons are as meaty and damaging as you would expect of America's finest, government-sanctioned psychopaths. The new monsters are all well designed and challenging. You can also get help from fellow soldiers (who are more helpful in combat than security guards), medics who can heal you, and engineer troops who can cut through doors. Plot elements are reasonably well integrated and the audio is handled nicely.
Opposing Force also adds some new goodies to multiplay, which should please everyone not already spending all their time with the superlative Team Fortress Classic and Counterstike mods. It's a slick production overall, just uninspiring.
It's not a bad expansion. It still contains that Half-Life mystique, but doesn't add anything of real value to the core gameplay and limits itself to gussying up old gimmicks in new clothes. Half-Life fans looking for more quality single-player action should check out Opposing Force, as it does entertain, but don't expect anything too special.