So, this Half-Life mod is a strange one. It almost feels like the official expansion to Half-Life that Gearbox Software never made. You'd think it'd make sense for Gearbox to develop that one Half-Life expansion that featured the mysterious Black Ops, but they never made it. Thank god we have this mod to...sorta fill that gap. So, let’s jump in to Half-Life: Black Ops, and see if the Black Ops possibly had a story worth telling!
JUST TO SAY, THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW! IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE SPOILED, SKIP THIS PART OF THE REVIEW
The story of Half-Life: Black Ops is one that, while not terribly complicated, is at least a decent reason to involve the player's character. The game opens with a bunch of opening text that summarizes the idea of the Black Ops, and what they do. It's decent enough, and is set against cinematic panning shots of the environments. The area the story primarily takes place in is called Metro City, the base of operations for the Black Ops. The player character is known as Declan Walker, a male Black Ops agent who gets a mission from his superior. He must go alone and find Dr. Gallagher and assassinate him, as well as recover a briefcase the good doctor is carrying, which was supposedly stolen from the Black Ops some time ago. Unfortunately, Walker's mission isn't as easy as it sounds, as this mod takes place a mere twelve hours after The Black Mesa Incident in New Mexico. Due to this, Vortigaunts, Headcrab Zombies and other alien creatures are running amok in Metro City. The player has to track down Dr. Gallagher's whereabouts through the city's dark and dreary alleys with monsters lurking around nearly every corner. Also as its revealed early on, the HECU still have a grudge against any and all Black Ops personnel, and stand in Walker's way as yet another obstacle to avoid. Travelling from an abandoned night club, to an empty temple, Walker doesn't find Gallagher, but does find evidence that he is on the move, and that somebody is helping him. Eventually tracking down his target at a warehouse complex, Walker comes to find that Dr. Gallagher has killed himself, and that the person helping him was in fact a traitorous female Black Ops agent named Valerie Thorne. After Walker gathers the briefcase and is about to report back to headquarters, he is captured by the HECU and held prisoner in an abandoned prison complex. After some Vortigaunts teleport in and start to cause trouble however, the player begins their valiant escape from the prison complex. After many encounters with both the HECU and the alien invaders, Walker grabs the briefcase once again, and leaves the place, only to encounter a Gonarch blocking the way out. After killing the creature, Walker encounters his superior who shows him what is inside this briefcase. It turns out to be a nuclear device that the Black Ops plan to place inside the Black Mesa Research Facility, in an attempt to cover up the incident and halt the entire alien invasion. Your superior tells you to split up, and to meet him inside the parking garage in the facility so you can arm the nuclear device. After fighting your way into the facility to reach the parking garage, you find your superior dead next to the bomb. After Walker activates the device, something unexpected happens. A lone HECU soldier shoots Walker in the back of the head, supposedly killing him. We then see the soldier disabling the device, making Walker's mission all for naught. However, a few moments later we see the mysterious G-Man reactivating the device. This prompts the player to suddenly get up, and run like hell. With the entire facility exploding and crumbling down around him, Walker tries desperately to escape, but in the end his true fate is unknown, as the screen fades to black and the credits roll.
So now that the story is out of the way, let's talk about gameplay/aesthetics. Half-Life: Black Ops is honestly one of the more unique Goldsrc mods i've ever seen. It had a unique setting, with a somewhat interesting story to tell. I mean come on, who didn't want to play as a member of the Black Ops in Half-Life? Next to the G-Man, they were like the most mysterious faction out of them all. In terms of asset use, the mod does do a decent job with its resources. It uses the Half-Life HD Pack as a default for its resources, and the custom textures it uses for its environments are well implemented as well. Speaking of that, Half-Life: Black Op's custom setting in Metro City is a welcomed change from the same old Black Mesa Research Facility. The city's environments are both dreary and grungy looking, with abandoned alleyways and apartments. It really gives you a late 80s/early 90s feeling as you go through the levels. The mod's difficulty is also pretty well balanced, with a few beginners’ traps here and there, but not too many as to feel frustrating. The player's arsenal, while limited, has all the basic weaponry gaps filled to deal with anything that comes their way. Also, the mod has an interesting way of keeping the player's arsenal well supplied. As stated in the mod's training level, sometimes in the areas, you will see the Black Op's logo spray painted onto the wall, or on some object. This indicates a hidden supply cache nearby provided by the Black Ops which will house anything from ammo to health, to armor. The mod also adds a couple of new mechanics to mention, the first being the ability to "hack" into certain computer terminals to gain an access code for, say, a door you need to open. Secondly you'll be asked to sometimes find an item lying around, say an explosive or a valve, to help solve a puzzle. While these two mechanics aren't huge, I find they sort of help embrace the idea that you are a member of the elite Black Ops. Trained as a badass agent to handle any situation. One final thing I would like to touch upon in terms of the mod's aesthetics, is the way the mod tells its story. See, between level transitions, of which there are 4 in total, the story will be told through image slideshows with captions over them, in an almost comic book style. I have never seen a mod do this before to tell its story, and being a fan of comic books, I really liked this.
Alright, it's pros and cons time! Let’s start with my personal favorite, the cons.
#1: WHEN DID THIS STORY TAKE PLACE AGAIN? I think the worst thing about Half-Life: Black Ops was the story's place in time. See, the opening text crawl at the start of the mod describes events that happen from 1996 to 1998. Now, if you are making a Goldsrc mod that has anything to do with Half-Life's original story, you have to subtly and creatively find a way to make it tie into that story, without it seeming too intrusive or obvious. Now Marc Laidlaw, the writer for the Half-Life series, confirmed that the first game in the series and its expansions take place in the year 200X. Meanwhile this mod claims that it's happening in the year 1998, a mere twelve hours after the Black Mesa Incident. So, either this mod was made before Marc confirmed that, or the developer didn't do their research. Either way i'm listing it as a con.
#2: WAIT THATS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THERE! In the mod the nuclear device that is supposed to blow up Black Mesa is sitting in some random parking garage somewhere instead of in the back of a truck under the ordinance storage facility like in Half-Life: Opposing Force. Yet for some reason the mod shows that Adrian Shepard is indeed the soldier that shoots you and deactivates the device, and that G-Man comes and reactivates later. Like in Half-Life: Opposing force. This is what I was talking about in the first con involving subtlety and creativity when it comes to working around the original Half-Life's story. At this point i'm just going to say the mod is in an alternate universe and doesn't take place in the canon.
#3: THE ENGRISH. The engrish in this mod isn't that bad, but you can notice it from time to time. Spellcheck exists for a reason, and if you don't know why I regard engrish as a con, it's for this reason. It shows unprofessionalism, and can have a dampening effect on your entire experience while playing the mod. Let this be a lesson to everyone, use spellcheck, people will thank you for it.
#4: TERRIBLE SOUND DESIGN. In the training level of the mod, you are instructed by a male Black Ops assassin who for some reason has a voice changer lodged in his throat. It's not that the voice itself sounds bad, but that the voice was obviously edited and changed by some voice changing software after it was recorded. A tip for any mod developers out there, you're custom voices don't have to sound like they were dragged through a voice changer first if you're just making regular human voices. Save that for robot characters or something. To compound this, the custom footstep sounds that are in this mod range from okay, to downright annoying. Why this had to be implemented, I have no idea.
#5: WHERE IS THIS CITY EXACTLY? The player is never given any sort of context just where Metro City is. So it just seems sort of weird that the Xen aliens are invading it. I mean I guess it's within driving distance of Black Mesa due to the fact you and your superior drive there to arm the nuclear device, but it'd be nice to get an exact location for story consistency.
Now it's time for the pros section, oh good.
#1: INTERESTING LEVEL DESIGN. The level design in the mod is actually pretty well conceived. As I have mentioned before the dark and cramped apartments and alleys you traverse are both intricate, and claustrophobic. The way the supply caches are hidden is also kind of neat, with the player being able to miss a few if they don't check everywhere around them. Enemy placement is both practical, and efficient, with only a few being legitimate beginner's traps.
#2: THE COMIC STYLE CUTSCENES. Like I said, I love the way this mod tells its story. When you look at these slideshows, it almost feels like a comic book, with sound effects and everything. Sometimes they even have speech bubbles in them. Though I should point out that the graphics on these aren't actually drawn in, they are actually just the game's graphics with a cell shade effect over them. Still though, you can't deny that it's a unique style.
#3: THE LEGIT TWIST. Coming to learn that Dr. Gallagher was being helped by a member of the Black Ops was actually a pretty legitimate twist in this story. Even though we never found out who Valerie Thorne was, or why she defected from the Black Ops, or who those other two female assassins with her were, it's still nice to encounter a twist that doesn't suck.
Half-Life: Black Ops certainly is a tricky one. While it does fill the void of having a Half-Life game about the mysterious and enigmatic Black Ops faction, it certainly could have been alot more than it is. While it certainly has more effort than most mods, the breaks and damages it causes in Half-Life: Opposing Force's story lower it's score alot in my view. The almost frequent engrish also brings it down, but on all other fronts, it serves as a fun little "What if" Half-Life story, that has its moments. Thanks Walker old boy, you paid your dues.
Half-Life: Black Ops gets the final rating of 3.5/5. Thanks for reading everybody, and stay classy!
Here is the link to the mod's ModDB page, for those who want to download and play it themselves! http://www.moddb.com/mods/black-ops
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