Half-Life: Blue Shift
You've played as Gordon Freeman, you've sampled life as a soldier, you're bored of waiting for tde sequel and you want more Half-Life. This is a brand new episode and you play Barney the good-natured security guard: shoot things, rescue scientists and operate heavy machinery, that's your brief.
What's The Big Deal
Oh come, come. It's Half-Life, it's official and it's the only new content you're going to get this summer. It's also being developed by Gearbox who did a fairly decent job on Opposing Force, so you know it's not going to be a pile of cack.
Is Half-Life the best PC game ever? Three years on and the debate is still raging, mainly because there hasn't been a better or more innovative shooter released since, and also in part because of superb mods such as Counter-Strike ensuring that the Half-Life engine hasn't been consigned to a forgotten comer of your hard drive.
There's been a lot of talk about the official sequel recently, helped in part by a delayed announcement that has since been delayed again - sadly, it's now looking like it won't even be announced at next month's E3, which leaves addicts in the lurch somewhat. Or does it?
When the Dreamcast version of Half-Life was announced we were pretty pissed off to hear about an exclusive episode, Blue Shift, that was only going to be made available to the console kids. The cheek. Fittingly, it looks like we're going to get the last laugh. The game still hasn't been released on the doomed hardware and Blue Shift has now been announced on the PC. Ya-boo, sucks to you.
Blue Shift is being developed by Gearbox Software (of Opposing Force fame) and completes the trilogy of the Black Mesa compound. In the original you played Gordon Freeman, hapless scientist and lone action-hero; in Opposing Force you saw life through the eyes of one of the soldiers; in Blue Shift you take control of Barney, the security guard you encountered as Gordon in the original. Confused? You should be, although if you've seen Pulp Fiction and dealt with the time-splitting narrative you should be OK.
There are no new weapons or new alien races to contend with (you're playing the same events as the original), but the line on Blue Shift has always been that your primary goal is to rescue scientists and civilians, and, in a feature that's bound to interest our own Steve Hill, operate heavy machinery.
Puzzles play a major part in the game, and from the preview code we've played there's a lot of sliding crates, and jumping from platform to platform. Still, there's always the great huge gun battles with the soldiers tb look forward to, and the opening sequence is enough to bring great memories flooding back.
However, it's more than just a straightforward mission pack, Blue Shift also contains the High Definition pack that upgrades graphics and animations throughout the game, which means that once you've finished wandering around new areas of the complex asking people to show their passes, you can effectively play through the original and die Opposing Force add-on 2001 remixes.
So the legacy of Half-Life lives on, and curiously it shows absolutely no sign of abating. If this number of add-ons was released for any other game fans would F mi have sw'tched off in droves. As it is, I'm going to finish Blue Shift in one sitting and then start on the original all over again. No one can I stop me.
Last month Francis Ford Coppola released a new version ot Apocalypse Now under the title of Apocalypse Now Redux and including many scenes previously edited out. As ever, this prompted critics to question whether immortal classics should be tampered with. Blue Shift isn't really a Half-Life Redux- except that 'redux' literally means 'brought back' - but there is the same sense of a true classic being messed around with. And there's also a sense that we are finally getting the complete picture.
Half-Life is the Star Wars of the gaming world, inspiring religious devotion and veneration among those bright enough to move about with a mouse and keyboard. And, just as big franchises like Star Wars are exploited in comic books and novels, Half-Life is producing spin-offs all over the place. There are various mods that pick up the game's storyline, but they are little more than fan-art when compared to the real thing.
Now, after developing the highly impressive Opposing Force, Gearbox has produced its second add-on. You can't help but associate the word 'add-on' with 'cash-in'. After all, they're even worse than sequels at milking a successful Idea for all it's worth. And when you consider that Blue Shift ms originally conceived as an extra for the Dreamcast version of the game, that feeling is reinforced.
The doe-eyed, trusting reaction is that the publishers decided it was unfair to PC gamers to deprive them of a new episode in their favourite game, just to give it to philistine console players, and so made it available to us too. The cynical view is that they realised they had spent a lot of time and money on a project for a half dead platform and told Gearbox to knock out a quick conversion for the PC. After all, nothing with the official Half-Life sticker is going to fail to sell shedloads of copies.
In Half-Life you played the central character in a glorious tale. In Opposing Force you played a soldier who doesn't really get involved in the original's main events. Here you play a second-rate security guard called Barney Calhoun. Imagine watching Star Wars exclusively from the point of view of the barman in the Mos Eisley Cantina, cleaning tables and stopping droids from entering, while Luke and friends save the galaxy, or watching The Sopranos every week from the point of view of Tony's sullen mother. On the one hand, Blue Shift-taken as part of the whole - is an interesting experiment in multi-perspective narrative. On the other, you only play a bit role in a series of events you've already experienced from more exciting points of view.
Things kick off in familiar fashion as you make your way to work on the Black Mesa's sophisticated monorail system. You'll immediately notice how much more detail they've managed to fit in this time, as a whole world goes on around you, with people eating at a canteen and scientists doing their laundry. The complex is more alive than ever before. On your way to the dressing room you encounter all sorts of characters experiencing technical difficulties, each one of them individually defined. In fact, most of them are downright rude, suggesting that you "go and guard some coffee and doughnuts" or "make yourself useful". It makes it all the more entertaining to see the white-coated fools getting torn to pieces by aliens. The whole game focuses on a greater interaction with scientists as proper people rather than the two or three models that were cloned throughout the facility who kept repeating the same phrases. This is perhaps Blue Shifts greatest achievement, and undoubtedly a taster of things to come in Half-Life 2.
While Opposing Force threw you in the middle of a warzone, here you get to experience the calm before the storm and be there when all hell breaks loose. Not only that, you even find out more about the types of experiments going on in Black Mesa and how the aliens have come through to our world.
Fire In The Hole
So how does it compare to its predecessors? Well, let's just say that, for the most part, it doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Opposing Force, never mind Half-Life. The first part of the game - and much of the last part - is spent solving environmental puzzles that are tailor-made for a console, like "how do I get up there using these boxes, that fork-lift truck and a box of matches". They're well thought out, but still leave you wondering when you're going to start popping bullets rather than falling from precarious ledges. Later, the game makes the strange mistake - strange because so many people have spoken out against it - of spending a large period of time in the Xen universe. To be fair, Gearbox has been careful fo make it as easy as possible and there is hardly any virtuoso zero-gravity platform jumping required. And the section is quite integral to the Blue Shift story. Nevertheless, it goes on for far too long and gets quite boring, Which only makes you wish they had concentrated more on the second part.
However, the battles against the human soldiers do deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as H-L and OF. There isn't as much variety in enemies, though. The battles consist of a staple diet of face-huggers, teleporting cyclops and those faceless, mostly harmless, alien poodles, with the occasional acid-spitting lizard thrown in for good measure. But all that becomes unimportant when the soldiers come along. There's nothing to compare to the extremely difficult black op ninjas from OF, but these guys are still every bit as intelligent as you could hope an AI enemy to be. They hide, co-ordinate attacks and hobble to a retreat when injured. Run into open space and you'll be a human colander within seconds. Try to hide and you'll see a grenade growing ever larger in the centre of your screen before spotting shards of your own bones bouncing off the walls. At times it's like playing a game of Counter-Strike on your own. Getting through an area covered with soldiers all waiting to take a pop at you is like being the last terrorist left with the bomb still to be planted. You keep reaching for a flashbang out of pure instinct. The all-new assault rifle is the best weapon on offer here, but there are times when you wish you could pick up a sniper rifle too. Even though you don't get to use alien weapons, you don't really miss them.
It's disappointing that Gearbox didn't give you a few other guards to fight alongside you in some of the big battles, as it would have given it a whole other dimension. They did it in OF when you got engineers and medics by your side, so why not here? It would also have been cool if Gordon Freedman had come up to you at some stage and asked for help getting through a certain section, which would allow you to fight together for a while. Perhaps that's asking a bit too much though.
I've never been one to knock games for being too short (quality is preferable to quantity), but Blue Shifts brevity almost takes the piss. As a Dreamcast extra it works perfectly, but as a standalone PC title there's not nearly enough to it. Because it is standalone there is a separate Hazard Course for beginners but, unlike the brilliant Full Metal Jacket Boot Camp from OF, it's a stilted, functional affair. Blue Shift has no black op ninjas, no set pieces with enormous creatures that have to be dealt with imaginatively and it doesn't even have an end of game boss. I completed it in one sitting - just over five hours - and while I would play through the soldier bits again, a lot of it was forgettable.
We hope this will be the end of the expansions before the proper sequel comes out, although we wouldn't be surprised to hear about the impending release of Half-Life: NowAndXen, where you get to play from the point of view of the aliens. Or perhaps Half-Life: Biochemical Mathematics, where you take on the role of a hapless old scientist waiting to be rescued. As a stopgap before Half-Life 2, Blue Shift doesn't quite live up to expectations, but H-L addicts with cash to burn should certainly give it a go.
What we said
"As a stopgap before Hall-Ule 2, Blue Shift doesn't quite live up to expectations, but H-L addicts with cash to burn should certainly give it a go."
What you thought
- Well, I've just completed Blue Shift, and I agree it is short. Oh, and the ending is, as you said in the review, a bit abrupt and a somewhat of a letdown. Having said that, any Half-Life tan should get it, otherwise they'll be wondering what they're missing. You can still get stuck in the bloody lifts, though. As for $14.99 being good value for money, I'd have to say that personally I think it's a bit steep. I think $9.99 would have been a fairer price. However, the graphics upgrade does manage to sweeten the blow.
- Allow me to set the scene. I've been playing Blue Shift for around two hours, and have just jumped through a teleport after sending some scientists first. I sit back as they talk to me for a bit and then, to my amazement, the game ends. Ican't believe it - it's the shortest game in history. It's also full of mistakes. For example, just before the end you walk past a locked door. You can hear the grunts that are going to ambush you when you go back past it, but all you have to do to take them out is throw in a couple of well-placed satchel charges. I'd advise everyone to avoid this game like the plague. Free add-ons such as Time-Line and Time-Line 2 are each twice as long as this crappy game and far more entertaining.
- What a bloody disappointment. Half-Life: Blue Shift was the shortest game I have ever played. I thought Gunman Chronicles was short, but this game takes the biscuit. OK so you get to play as Barney, the bumbling security guard who is meant to bring new life to the game (which he does slightly), but he does nothing else for it. When I read your preview I was excited that another Half-Life product was coming out, so I went to my local computer And after the short amount of gameplay, you're greeted by the crappiest ending ever. A total waste of $15.
- Having bought Half-Life and Opposing Force, I thought Blue Shift would be a nice addition to the collection. However despite the low price, the game is so brief it could have been a free download (the high-definition pack add-on is good though). Even Gunman Chronicles took longer to complete. That said, at least they kept the alien planet rubbish to a minimum.
Well, you can't say we didn't warn you. Half-Life: Blue Shift is rather on the short side, and hardened Half-Lifers won't take more than a few hours to play through the whole thing. But as the old adage goes, it's not how long it is, it's what you do with it. And though it can be completed in less than a day, Blue Shift is still full of entertainment and some excellent enemies. However, one of the best things about it is the graphics update, which gives us all the excuse we've been looking for to spend a week or so playing through the original Half-Life again. Now if that's not worth a few quid, I don't know what is.
Download Half-Life: Blue Shift
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Half-Life: Blue Shift Screenshots and Media
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