Half Life: Opposing Forces

If you ever lost yourself in the alternate reality that was Black Mesa research lab, you'll know exactly what I mean when I say HL:OF will be a much sought after "add on".. Sure, Half-Life's Team Fortress Classic is a brilliant free add-on and a superb online game in its own right, but the genuine addicts will have sorely missed their single-player fix of the strange and compulsive world that Valve's masterpiece created. Quite simply, it was the gaming phenomenon of last year - with a searing storyline, splendid scripted set pieces and challenging AI - that effectively redefined the limits of the entire genre.

Gearbox's brand new mission pack which slots neatly into the heart of last year's sci-fi epic. You can forget Freeman, because this time you take on the role of Corporal Adrian Shepherd, one of the unfortunate grunts airlifted in to deal with the "situation" at Black Mesa. Your tour of duty begins in the back of a chopper, flying low in towards your LZ when suddenly strange, stealth-like ships buzz in low over your formation, energy weapons crackle, there's a blinding light, all hell breaks loose and the last thing you remember is the pilot screaming, "We're going down." Minutes? - hours? - later you awake alone, unarmed and completely cut off from your squad, deep inside the heart of some decidedly unfriendly territory. The nightmare's about to begin all over again.

And in spite of your initially dodgy situation, for Half-Life veterans it's like coming home. Strange as it may seem, I've positively missed stalking the vaults of the Black Mesa research facility and Opposing Force delivers a whole fresh dose, which is as absolutely compulsive as ever. Playing from the military's perspective certainly gives you a whole new angle on the experience as your fellow soldiers are more likely to salute than to shoot on sight, and by pulling rank, you'll be able to enlist their help, lending a whole new cooperative flavour to the game. Whereas in Half-Life it was effectively Gordon against the world, in Opposing Force you are most definitely not alone.

It's just as well, because this game is as tough an assignment as any self-respecting grunt could possibly hope for. The scripted events and set pieces are absolutely top notch and really recapture all the atmosphere and tension of the original game. I'm not going to give too much away for fear of spoiling your future enjoyment, but an early example has you leaping around the ceiling girders of a room which is slowly filling with flesh-melting, radioactive liquid. There are just two doors and you dash frantically between them, positively praying for one of them to open - which of course it does eventually, but only at the last second, when the soles of your combat boots are starting to get uncomfortably warm.

You want tension? Opposing Force delivers, with walls and scenery blowing apart at a moment's notice to reveal a horde of unseen enemies, or with you suddenly finding yourself swinging Tarzan-like from cable to cable at the top of a two hundred foot lift shaft, in a scene which wouldn't look out of place in Where Eagles Dare. Best of all, it's also done with a wry sense of humour which is full of little self-reverential touches (like finding a portrait of Gordon with "Employee of the Month" written underneath) which Half-Life fans will absolutely adore.

But that's just the start of Opposing Force's many innovations. With Shepherd being a military man, there are some tasty new weapons, including a potent monkey wrench, a lethal combat knife and a heavy-duty assassin's pistol - and that selection doesn't even include the destructive new alien weaponry. Combat remains as satisfying and visceral as ever, and this being a government-run cover up orchestrated by the mysterious man with the briefcase, you'll also encounter some lethal new Black Ops assassins and a brand new alien race, as well as plenty of familiar enemies to test your mettle.

The multiplayer game isn't forgotten with fifteen brand new maps and a whole new arsenal to explore, it's certainly got all the right credentials.

It's not often that you can get this excited by the prospect of an add-on or mission pack, but Opposing Force flouts all the rules, just like its predecessor, and fair crackles with the tension, energy and narrative drive which made Half-Life such a massive success.

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