Tag Archives: terrifying alien

Half-Life: Opposing Force

51C9XNXNT7LWell, look at me, all with the string of finished games under my belt. I like to think the trend could even continue, although past experience indicates that these things run in cycles. Except the books, of course. I always, always read. Right now, my Half-Life kick is continuing with the first expansion, Opposing Force.

In it, you play as Corporal Adrian Shephard, a member of the military forces assigned to clean up the Black Mesa incident. There are a few familiar locations and at least two very memorable scenes to watch from the original, and the designers have cleaned up the moral ambiguity of playing as army guys bent on killing all survivors and especially on capturing Gordon Freeman, by setting Shephard’s arrival late in the incident. There are a lot more aliens running around, and the military have already started teaming up with scientists and security guards and whoever it takes to survive and escape.

Unfortunately for the player, you are opposed in this goal by special-ops black forces who view the army grunts to be as big of chumps as the army grunts viewed the scientists in the original game, and you are also opposed by the mysterious strange-voiced briefcase guy who has plans of his own (which, by the way Valve/Sierra/Steam/whoever I should be talking to about this, I hope will be explored more fully in Half-Life 3). And, as always, by the extra-dimensional Xen forces that are at the root of the problems in every game.

Can it be compared to the original? Strangely, yes. Whoever is on this design team is to be praised, because every storyline so far is nearly as deep as the original. The gameplay is nearly identical, and while yes, it’s a shorter game than either main sequence entry, I’m not going to fault an expansion for not lasting 30 hours. I am looking forward to the last Half-Life expansion, Blue Shift. Not as much as I would be if it was available on Steam for free with Half-Life 2, like the others have been. But I’ll find some highly legal way or other to get it. And before I’ve lost my momentary enchantment with the series, if at all possible.


I haven’t really addressed the issue of what happens when I re-experience something. I watched the Star Wars movies over Christmas weekend, for example, with nary a review in sight. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, and probably I’ll deal with it on a case by case basis. My gut instinct says that while movies are too easy to review at any moment, games and books require an investment of time and energy that makes it worth revisiting them. This doesn’t mean I’ll follow that rule, of course. But I might.

The thing is, I got so thoroughly sucked in to playing Half-Life 2 that I was more interested in re-playing the original Half-Life than Doom 3. (All the random red sparkle pixels in Doom 3 aren’t helping any, but I’ll get back to it, never fear. It was just starting to get good and terrifying.)

For a game that came out seven or so years ago, Half-Life retains incredible replayability. I went all the way through the game without cheating or skipping anything, up until the very last fight. I only cheated there because I was ready to move on and had beaten it once before for real. The graphics are very descriptive for being so clunky by today’s standards, and the storyline is enthralling. Gordon Freeman, our everyman hero with a PhD in physics who works at a top secret government research facility, is caught in the results of an experiment gone awry. In his struggle to reach the surface with his hide intact, he comes to symbolize to the workers in the complex their own shining hope to survive the disaster themselves (and unlike in most games, you genuinely feel bad when most of them do not), and he comes to symbolize a threat equal to the one he wants to escape, to those forces which oppose him.

Well, I don’t want to spoil it or anything, but the fact is that nearly everyone in the world has played this game already, and I’ll spoil it when I review the next game in the sequence anyway, as it would be unavoidable there. So, yeah, it’s the military clean-up crew and the dimension-shifting alien forces. Sure, they hate each other more than they hate Gordon, but he runs a close second. What is a physicist to do? Well, clearly, he is to kill anyone that tries to kill him first, and eventually stop the alien invasion once and for all, coming to symbolize the dreams for freedom of an entire generation of humans and Xen alien slaves who… but I’m getting ahead of myself. For that, you need the sequel.

And I’m serious there. You *need* the sequel. This is shaping up to be one of the best video-game storylines available, if they can even maintain the same meager slide in story quality for the forthcoming Half-Life 3 that occurred between 1 and 2. If they improve again, well, watch out!

Piñata: Survival Island

One of the draws of horror movies, I think, is the predictability. You know that when the group of college greeks heads to the mysterious island to have a contest to see who can find the most pairs of underwear that have been scattered about the place while handcuffed to each other in boy-girl pairs, certain things are assured to result.

One: There will be a deranged madman / terrifying alien creature / evil spirit trapped inside a cabin / thousands of years old spacecraft / clay statue.

Two: Someone will find a way to set loose said terror upon the unsuspecting teenage wasteland. Usually in the completely unrealistic expectation that they are actually finding alcohol, drugs, or possibly a place to have pre-marital sex.

Three: The remaining teenagers will be hunted down, often for crimes similar to the ones perpetrated by whoever did the releasing. Except for the hero and/or heroine, who has what it takes to save the day. Well, for themselves.

The point is, you go in with those expectations, and you deserve to have them met. Are Nicky Brendon and Jaime Pressly adding nuance to their tropes by *not* liking each other? Fine, variety is the spice of life. Does the piñata creature have randomly different forms that don’t seem to have any reasoning behind them? As long as he isn’t faster than the teens running away, who cares? Is Ensign Harry Kim going to make an appearance? The more the merrier, I say.

The problem with Piñata: Survival Island is that, after a promising opening act full of marijuana, Playboy Playmates pretending to be actresses and lengthy exposition about the history of Cinco de Mayo, the film just plain failed to deliver the goods. Sufficiently menacing evil? When his trademark weapon is a shovel, um, no. Believable ending? I quote myself here, while watching: “That is their big plan?” Naked chicks to distract from the lack in other areas? You know how I mentioned Playmates in the cast earlier? Yeah, well, still no. Inexcusable!

So, to anyone who nearly watched it with me last Halloween? You were right, I was wrong. My bad.

Still, it was pretty funny, for a while.