Opposing Force was a sterling example of an expansion pack done right. It featured more maps, more weapons, more enemies, an interesting take on a familiar story and finely-crafted gameplay that paralleled the quality the original Half-Life. It’s a tough act to follow, but fan-made standalone mod Prospekt promises to continue the famous expansion’s legacy. Is it up to the task?
Prospekt begins with protagonist Adrian Shephard awakening from stasis by the Vortigaunts, who inform him that the world is a considerably different place to how he remembers it. They also task him with helping Gordon Freeman and promptly send him to the notorious Combine prison Nova Prospekt that appeared during Half-Life 2‘s campaign.
However, this linkage is largely irrelevant. Apart from a few hallucinatory cut scenes in which Adrian recalls conversations with his former army buddies, Prospekt plays out like a standard collection of fan-made Half-Life 2 levels. Many of Opposing Force‘s defining aspects – the new weapons, Race X and the interactions with other soldiers – are entirely absent. In fact, Shephard’s arsenal has some notable omissions, such as the gravity gun and the crossbow, the latter of which is especially noticeable due to the abundance of hit-scan enemies on high ledges who cannot be sniped.
Speaking of enemies, the first thing you’ll notice is that the balance of health and weapons has been altered. Though antlions and headcrabs make brief appearances, the vast majority of your foes consist of modified Combine who are able to withstand considerably more damage. Taking a cue from the Serious Sam and Painkiller games, you’ll be spending a lot of your time confined to small rooms and mowing down hordes of trigger-happy Combine soldiers who take bullet-sponging to entirely new heights. It occasionally gets frustrating, but the game is quite liberal with health and ammunition, meaning it never feels cheap and skilled players can manage it with relative ease. In fact, it’s rather exhilarating and I found the endless frag-fest to be a fair exchange for the more slower-paced, puzzle-solving elements standard in the Half-Life 2 formula. Don’t get me wrong: there are a handful of simple puzzles in Prospekt, particularly at the beginning before you obtain weapons, but by and large the game is about action and shooting skill.
It’s also interesting to note that despite the title, a significant portion of the game takes place in various Combine facilities. You’ll find yourself in high-tech, sterile metallic constructs that invoke memories of the interior of the Death Star. However, while it’s all clean and reasonably attractive, the simplicity of the level design is blatantly apparent, consisting of little more than bland corridors and rooms. Even the much-touted return to Xen is disappointing, consisting of a small platforming section that takes about five minutes to complete.
What you get out of the game depends on what you’re expecting. It’s certainly not the much-anticipated Episode 3. It’s neither an example of exceptional level design nor expert story-telling. And frankly, in the large sea of Half-Life 2 maps and mods, it doesn’t particularly stand out even against some of its excellent free contemporaries like Minerva. It is however a small nugget of adrenaline that scratches that old Half-Life 2 itch and I found myself enjoying it despite being a short and somewhat underwhelming experience.
The problem is the price tag. As of this writing, it retails for R109.00, which is a bit of a tough sell for a short, average mod on an old engine. If you’re a die-hard addict who absolutely needs to return to Valve’s world, then you’ll probably find it an enjoyable footnote to the Half-Life saga. Fans of the frantic style of Painkiller might also find it satisfying. For the rest of us, it may be best to wait until it goes on sale.
Check it out on the official Steam page here.