When playing the Half-Life expansions, I wanted to give the “HD” model pack a spin, since I had only used the original models in the original game. I installed it through the official Steam installer and started playing. It seemed to be fine overall, but I did notice a few odd quirks along the way. One such quirk was that Headcrabs seemed to be more stiff and unresponsive than usual.
I ended up doing a bit of searching and found that Valve’s implementation of the HD model pack into the Steam versions of the games have problems with missing animations that can cause scripted events to fail, or even crash the game entirely. It also disables the use of mods – not that I had planned to use any, but it’s the principle of the thing. There also seems to be an issue specifically with Half-Life: Blue Shift that involves a bug with an elevator that prevents you from completing the game, because it kills a storyline-critical scientist.
Thankfully, modders come to the rescue. A fan version of the HD model pack is available that implements all the missing animations, while maintaining the ability to mod to the games. There is also a thing called Blue Shift: Unlocked that fixes the elevator bug, changes the HUD color to blue like in the non-Steam version of Blue Shift, and does this by repackaging the game into a separately launched Half-Life mod. Really though, it’s all a bit of a mess.
With these mods in place, the games were now finally ready to play. I had heard a few people over the years say that they preferred Gearbox’s expansions to Valve’s original offering, so I was eager to see what made them feel this way. The primary focus of Half-Life: Opposing Force is on the co-operation with fellow Marines as you make your way through the Black Mesa facility. They all specialize in different weapons and abilities, and are a good idea to keep at your side.
Well, that’s the theory anyway. My experience ended up being a bit different. They would occasionally be capable of shooting at enemies, but most of the time they were just standing around being useless, waiting for a Vortigaunt or a Mercenary to turn the corner and shoot them. I expected the Marines packing the light machine gun and the M4 to run out into battle often, but they usually just stayed behind me. Then, after I engage an enemy, they would shoot me in the back and kill me. The funny part is that they would start yelling at me as if I shot them first. They pretty much decide, “Well, he must be hostile now, so I better keep shooting him!” Oorah!
The medic, who I would argue is the most useful for his healing ability, was always the one to run out into battle with a pistol and immediately die. I would tell him to stay put so this wouldn’t happen, but then I’d usually die to the aforementioned friendly fire or maybe a mishap with a grenade. Most of the time I had very strong urges to kill the Marines to take their ammo, but they retaliate far too quickly for that to work.
Opposing Force has one of the most underwhelming final boss battles I’ve ever seen in a game. It just seems somewhat unrelated to the events at hand, and didn’t feel like a proper climax. Regardless, I still enjoyed playing Opposing Force as a whole, but I don’t feel it is superior to the original. Playing Blue Shift was like a huge weight off my shoulders though, as I no longer had to worry about the Marines. I’m back to going through the paces of shooting both aliens and Marines, and the focus on expanding interaction with security and scientists in the facility was quite nice.
Unfortunately, Blue Shift is much shorter than Half-Life or Opposing Force. I was stunned when I hit the end of it and checked my play times: six hours for Opposing Force, and three hours for Blue Shift. I guess I can’t complain too much though, seeing as I got Blue Shift as a gift on Steam (the main reason it ended up on my backlog).
There was one obnoxious bug that I encountered while playing, and that was that elevators would cause me to be stuck in place upon arriving at the top or bottom. I assume this is the basis of that elevator bug in Blue Shift mentioned earlier, but with the mods in place, it is no longer lethal. To get past it I had to time my jumps so the elevator would stop while I was not on it, but I would always quick-save before each elevator just in case I did get stuck.
This did create an interesting problem in one particular battle though, as upon arriving at the top of an elevator there is an alien ambush. I was low on health and ammo, and had to try over a dozen times to: 1) avoid getting stuck, 2) avoid enemy fire in that tiny room, and 3) use my limited ammo perfectly to kill them all.
I really hope that Valve will put forward the effort to fix the problems these expansions have, so that the use of things like Blue Shift: Unlocked and the user-created HD pack are not needed anymore, but seeing how they made things even worse in a recent update to the original game, I won’t be holding my breath.