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Half-Life: Blue Shift (PC) artwork

Half-Life: Blue Shift (PC) review


"If Blue Shift were merely a simple rehash of everything we saw in Half-Life, I’d be cool with it, since I adored that game and would have loved to see more. But this expansion lacks many of the masterful touches that made Valve’s first-person shooter stand out so much. Level design is straightforward, mechanical, and lacks imagination; way too much of the game’s first act is spent wandering through some nondescript sewer system, turning wheels and pushing buttons and swimming down canals and all that. The game does eventually pick up a bit, during a semi-cool run through a train yard sporting a number of mildly exciting skirmishes with your old military opponents, but even here, the game lacks the energy and knack for big, “epic” moments that the original (and even, occasionally, Opposing Force) did so well."



Half-Life famously began with a monorail ride through the Black Mesa Research Facility. Its second expansion, Half-Life: Blue Shift, begins with… um, another monorail ride through the very same facility. It’s only the first of many indications that any new or interesting ideas the Gearbox team had for this franchise were all used up in the development of Opposing Force, which, having now played through this uninspired rehash, I have a far deeper appreciation of.

At least Opposing Force had some neat (and handy) new weapons to play with. In the case of Blue Shift, not only did Gearbox revert to the original arsenal, then didn’t even bother to throw in any of the new enemies found in the first expansion. And they even neglected to toss a final boss encounter into the game’s supremely underwhelming finale, and while I was unimpressed with the last two final bosses this series had, I’m far less impressed by what could only be called laziness. You can almost hear the team saying, “A final boss? Do we have to? Look, let’s just end this thing already!”

And Opposing Force also presented a fresh perspective on the Black Mesa incident, whereas Blue Shift is centered around the bright idea of putting you in the shoes of Barney, the security guard who aided Gordon Freeman during the initial escape. This is hilarious, of course, because there are millions of Barneys, and giving this one a last name (Calhoun) is little more than a shallow attempt to distinguish this particular Barney from his countless clones. (I’d like to think playing as one of many identical NPCs is Gearbox’s stab at video game satire, but eh, I’m probably giving them too much credit.) As lame as this all is, there’s something inexplicably amusing about walking over a dead Barney’s body and snatching up his armor and helmet for your own protection. I guess we’ve finally found a use for these guys.

The folks at Gearbox make use of all the typical Half-Life tricks to keep you on your toes throughout. You can bet that when the first light starts to flicker, something bad is about to happen. Then it’s the usual show: Headcrabs leaping out of hard-to-see areas, vortigaunts teleporting in from behind you, scientists and fellow guards being mauled to death as you watch helplessly from a distance – you know how this works. Gearbox even picked up on this new thing where you’ll be walking towards a door, and then suddenly it’ll burst open and an enemy soldier will start firing at you. Scares the hell out of you, until you realize, hey, he just got a few cheap shots on me! No fair!

Thing is, if Blue Shift were merely a simple rehash of everything we saw in Half-Life, I’d be cool with it, since I adored that game and would have loved to see more. But this expansion lacks many of the masterful touches that made Valve’s first-person shooter stand out so much. Level design is straightforward, mechanical, and lacks imagination; way too much of the game’s first act is spent wandering through some nondescript sewer system, turning wheels and pushing buttons and swimming down canals and all that. The game does eventually pick up a bit, during a semi-cool run through a train yard sporting a number of mildly exciting skirmishes with your old military opponents, but even here, the game lacks the energy and knack for big, “epic” moments that the original (and even, occasionally, Opposing Force) did so well.

Even the platforming elements have been toned down. There is precisely one creative puzzle to be found in Blue Shift, and it involves a pool of coolant. Everything else is so simple and uninspired that all resemblance of the original product is lost, since nearly every level is of the “walk down this corridor and shoot these aliens” variety. The only time I really felt like I was playing Half-Life again was during (groan) the Xen chapter in the game’s latter half, and that’s due to atmosphere only. Half of that level was devoted to an obnoxious pitch-black crawlspace maze packed with, yep, headcrabs. Lots of ‘em.

I also managed to beat Blue Shift in less than four hours, but I wasn’t really enjoying myself, so I guess that’s not a complaint.

Long story short: I now look forward to playing through Half-Life yet again, not just to re-experience the period when this series was at its original peak, but to blow the brains out of every damn Barney I come across. Maybe I’ll even nail Calhoun in the process, thus making Blue Shift an impossibility and rupturing the space-time continuum to cancel the development of this expansion altogether.

Rating: 5/10

Suskie's avatar
Staff review by Mike Suskie (June 09, 2008)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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dagoss posted June 10, 2008:

This game was terrible, though I think it is more of an anomaly than a rehash. It was supposed to be an extra in the canceled Dreamcast HL. I remember reading somewhere that it's development was plagued by a few other problems. I think the original version was released with a stand-alone version of Opposing Forces though, and it improves the polygon count. I always had the feeling that BS was intended to be an extra, not a stand alone game.
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Suskie posted June 14, 2008:

I got all of these games as part of Half-Life: Platinum Collection, but yeah, I'd be pissed if I had paid separately for Blue Shift in any form.

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