I must admit that the premise of this game intrigued me; a Valve-approved sequel to Half-Life: Opposing Force, return to Xen, carefully-integrated to the HL2 timeline, higher resolution models… What a lie. I’ll break it down using quotes from the Steam store page.
“13 new levels…all carefully integrated into the Half-Life 2 story”
For a start, this game is only loosely connected to Half-Life 2. Yes, it takes place in a couple of HL2 locations and you see the aftermath of Freeman’s passing, but you in no way actually help him. I expected a cleverly done story where you cause some of the good fortune that allows Freeman to escape Nova Prospekt in the original game…instead you faff about in the back rooms of the prison, fighting through a progression of open areas and turret-filled corridors that don’t work given HL2’s gunplay. I’ll come back to this point.
“Continues the story of Opposing Force”
I haven’t played OF, but I’ve read the plot and mechanics as I am a big fan of the franchise. I can safely say that the only connection to OF is having Adrian Shephard as the protagonist and an increasingly disruptive series of auditory flashbacks that impede your vision…for some reason. The terrible sound balancing in this game, lack of different sliders for voice and sound effects (like ambience and shooting) and incredibly unreliable dialogue captions mean that it can be hard to hear a good 50% of what’s said, if it’s even relevant. Most of these seem to just recap OF which, as this is a sequel, shouldn’t really need to be done. And that’s AFTER a long, slow monologue at the start.
Granted, this one is true. There is music that I recognise as new. Unfortunately, it is very loud and THE MUSIC VOLUME CANNOT BE CHANGED. There is a slider for it and it does absolutely nothing. I can only assume that the background music is lumped in with ordinary game sounds and thus can’t be changed separately.
“Substantial graphical updates over the original”
This one is a bit harder to pin down. Aside from a different Combine skin (I’ve played enough HL2 and G-mod to see the difference), I could honestly not tell between the new and old textures. Perhaps that’s a testament to how well it’s integrated, but I’d say it’s more likely that the changes were not needed if they’re present at all.
“Return to Xen”
You ‘returned to Xen’ once for a brief fire fight and then a platforming section. And we’re talking basic platforming. That’s it. Given how it’s one of the selling points, it’s shockingly overselling it.
“New AI improvements”
This is another addition of which I can’t really tell the difference. This game is filled with so many vast open areas and long range fire fights, populated by so many enemies, that the AI will just sprint at you and fire at point blank range. The HL2 gun system is NOT designed for open areas like that; even the more open levels in HL2 are brilliantly designed so you don’t have to shoot across large spaces much and always have an appropriate weapon on hand.
Multiple times I found myself against 5 or 6 Combine, each armed with the SMG or AR2, charging across a courtyard that offered NO cover. They’d get to a close range then shred me. I’d always resort to backtracking to the previous tight corridor and headshotting them one-by-one as they came in.
These are not good fights. When I die three times to one bit in CHAPTER 2, it’s not me being bad at the game; it’s a case of terrible pacing and a miserable understanding of HL2’s mechanics.
This is the real kicker. While playing through (I’m currently doing a full let’s play series on my YouTube channel), I consistently refer to how the game feels unpolished. Aside from the sporadic subtitles and the lack of music volume control, the levels are poorly designed so I am either lost as to where to go next or I am not informed that I am supposed to run instead of fighting.
The quantity of enemies thrown at you (the aforementioned stuck bit is a fight against 16-20 soldiers in a room with no discernible cover) is nothing short of shameless. Those numbers were reserved for when you had the Super Gravity Gun; a weapon that could defeat that many enemies at once by throwing them at each other. Armed with an SMG, shotgun and terrible body armour, you flatly do not stand a chance even on Normal Difficulty.
This game is not polished. This game feels like it was never playtested by anyone but the creator. This is the Dark Souls of Half-Life, but acts like HL2: Episode 2.5.
If you like your games on hardcore mode where the difficulty comes from poor design rather than challenge, play this. If you like Half-Life and just want to experience the world in another way, try Black Mesa or even HL: Opposing Force; the clever variety of weapons makes the latter distinctly different to HL1 and not like a fanmade level pack that should not cost money.
This isn’t worth the price tag. There is a reason even games like Portal Stories: Mel are free; even the brilliantly designed ones have flaws that mean they cannot stack up. This one doesn’t even come close.