Half-Life Series Retrospective - Part 2 - "Opposing Force"

BY method ON May 25, 2023


After the success of the original Half-Life, naturally, Valve began working on a sequel. However, due to the ambition of this new and upcoming project, Valve wanted to give fans more content in the form of expansion packs to the original game. So, they hired what would soon become Gearbox Software to work on several expansion packs for the original game, the first being Opposing Force.

Half-Life: Opposing Force (1999)

Opposing Force is the title of the first out of three expansion packs for the original Half-Life, developed by Gearbox Software. It released on November 19th, 1999, exactly one year after the release of the original. It is widely regarded as one of the best expansion packs of all time, and in this retrospective, we will go over why that is considered so.

Same Story, Different Perspective

In Opposing Force, players take control of a US Marine soldier by the name of Adrian Shephard, who gets dispatched shortly after the Black Mesa incident, along with the rest of his team. This creates for a very interesting dynamic, where you witness the events of the game through the perspective of one of your former enemies.

The story is presented in much the same way as it was in the original game. No cutscenes, dialogues between NPC's and constant control over your actions. Adrian, much like Gordon, never speaks, therefore serving as a vessel for the player.

It all begins with Adrian and his squad being dispatched to the Black Mesa facility, when suddenly their plane is attacked by an alien spacecraft and brought down. Adrian ends up surviving the ordeal thanks to a group of scientists. As a result, he is never given orders to exterminate any of the scientists, so much like the first game, it is up to the player whether or not they choose to murder everyone in sight. The end goal quickly becomes to escape the facility, however, upon failure to do so, Adrian decides to go after the Freeman himself, the one who started this whole ordeal. Along the way, Adrian begins encountering not only the aliens that Gordon is familiar with, but also new species called "Race X", which supposedly come from a completely separate realm and are there to enslave humanity, so Adrian must put a stop to their plans. That about sums up the basic plot with as little spoilers as possible.

What I really like about this game's plot is how well it ties into the lore of the original. The same events are relived from a new perspective, as well as expanding on the plot with the whole Race X idea. There are some debates in the online space whether or not the plot of this game is canon, but that is besides the point. It is a well crafted story that stays true to the original presentation of the base game.

Running Faster, Thinking Harder

The core gameplay loop and the four rules still apply in this game. It is an expansion pack, after all. With that being said, gameplay is greatly improved over the original, with the addition of plenty of new and unique weapons and enemies. Some of these new weapons are standard, military grade hardware. For example, the MP5 and Shotgun make a return, the crossbow is replaced with a sniper rifle and there is an entire machine gun that Adrian carries around in his pocket. However, the fun doesn't stop there, as there's also a plethora of new and unique organic weapons. The original game only had the Hivehand (which kind of sucked) and the snarks, but this game has the Shock Roach (much more useful and deadly than the Hivehand), Spore Launcher and a Barnacle Grapple. The latter especially is interesting, as it allows a new form of traversal. However, the fact it can only latch onto organic surfaces unfortunately limits its useability on that front quite a lot, and I did not find myself using it as much as I wanted to.

Instead of an HEV suit, Adrian has a power vest. It essentially works the same way as the Hazard Suit, acting as heavy armor and being usable with all charging stations. As for advanced movement, long jumping is long gone since there is no more Xen levels (aside from a brief segment midway) to worry about. There is, however, a new mechanic with the use of a new weapon: The Displacer Cannon. This thing acts as a BFG when used, consuming 40 ammo and teleporting anything it hits to Xen. The alt-fire, however, can be used to teleport you, the player, into an alternate version of Xen. Each level has its own Xen variant, some containing supplies, whilst others being a death trap. This introduces a fun layer of exploration that the previous game was lacking, as well as a means to escape a gunfight and get extra resources when needed.

As for new enemies, this is where the expansion pack falls a bit short in my eyes. Most of the later creatures are bullet sponges and tough to deal with. Design-wise, they look very unique, at least. There's also two pseudo boss fights, might like the tentacle monster and Gonarch in the original. You know the ones, big obstacles you must overcome through alternative means...

Since Adrian is a marine, he gets to work with fellow Marines throughout the game's campaign. There are several different units who help out Adrian in various ways. There's standard grunts who help in gunfights, engineers who are essential in a few areas to progress, as they have the means and equipment to break through locked doors, and lastly there's medics who will heal Adrian or other team members when injured, similar to the scientists in the original game. This new team play mechanics adds extra depth to the gameplay and is not only a welcome addition, but also further helps with the feeling of being a marine.

There are a plethora of puzzles throughout the game, that require the player to stop and think, much like in the original. The pacing of the game overall is very solid, and feels like a natural extension to the base game.

All in all, the gameplay is very similar to the original, but improved in its own way with new additions that enhance the experience tenfold.

A Familiar Art Style

There isn't much to say about the art style of the game. Most of the texture work is the same as the original. The new weapon and enemy models are, unsurprisingly, very well made and fit in with the existing models very well. Just like the original, there is an optional "HD" model pack, but I advise against using it.

As always, I think the best looking areas in the game are the Xen levels. The Skybox especially looks very mystical and beautiful, and the texture work really helps give it a very alien feel.

The Sounds of War

Most of the sound assets used in the expansion pack come from the original. The new guns have their own sounds, of course, and they are as fitting and impactful as one would expect. Same goes for the new alien species. Their sounds are haunting and otherworldly and fit their visuals quite well.

The soundtrack has a very military vibe to it. It consists of primarily battle marches and some more alien-sounding ambience, both of which fit with the game's action sequences and more alien areas. All in all, I find the OST to not only be another banger, but also incredibly suitable for the game's vibe.


I can definitely agree with the sentiment that this is one of the best expansion packs ever made. It takes everything the original Half-Life did well and improves on it substantially, whilst also removing some of the more annoying elements such as Xen levels and jumping puzzles. It is everything an expansion pack should be, and it is such a shame that companies don't make expansion packs like this anymore. I would definitely recommend this to any Half-Life fan, as it is not only more of Half-Life, but also better than Half-Life in many ways, in my personal opinion.

I wish I could say the same for Blue Shift, which is the second expansion pack, however, that is a topic for another day.

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