Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Retro Review - Half-Life: Blue Shift [2001]

20 years ago Half-Life: Opposing Force developers Gearbox created what was known as "Half-Life: Guard Duty" as exclusive extra content for the Sega Dreamcast port which was due to be released in 2001. However when Sega pulled the plug on the console and it was then abandoned by all major publishers, including Half-Life publishers Sierra, Valve decided to release Guard Duty as a stand-alone expansion to Half-Life as with Opposing Force. Expectations were understandably high for the newly dubbed Half-Life: Blue Shift as in 1999 Opposing Force had been the first expansion pack to be nominated for PC Gamer's Game of the Year. Sadly these lofty expectations were not met and it was neither received well by critics or the fans.

I hadn't played Blue Shift since the PC:CD-ROM era, so over the holidays I decided to take the Steam version for a spin in honour of it's 20th anniversary as I did for Opposing Force. As with the earlier expansion, Blue Shift now takes advantage of the Half-Life High Definition Pack which contains the high polygon and retextured assets developed for the Dreamcast but have since been added to the original Half-Life games on Steam over the years through patches and updates. Although they were added in 2005, I had not played it with the HD assets before so it was great to see the enhancements do the same for the game that they had done for Half-Life and Opposing Force.

Blue Shift itself is extremely short with less than 3.5 hours of game play. This is understandable when you understand that it was designed to fit on a Dreamcast disc along with the entirety of Half-Life as well. However for a full-price expansion pack to last just this long irked many reviewers and fans in 2001. It further disappointed with less weapons in the arsenal and limited to enemy types than were only seen in the original game. Blue Shift has an insignificant plot and sadly the game overall offered none of the innovation that was introduced in Opposing Force some two years previous. 

While Marine Corporal Shephard's story in Opposing Force was an amazing parallel story to scientist Gordon Freeman's adventures in the original game; in Blue Shift you're just security guard Barney Calhoun simply plodding your own way through Black Mesa. The story is again parallel to both Shepard and Freeman and evokes some moments of nostalgia as you briefly see Gordon himself and hear Shephard being mentioned over the radio but unlike those iconic heroes you're not trying to stop anything world-ending, you're just trying to escape and that's just not a great driving narrative for a game whose progenitors were some of the best story-driven FPS games in their day.

Half-Life Blue Shift's only real saving grace is that it's familiar and slightly scratched the itch for fans of Half-Life for... more Half-Life. There is precious little in the expansion for anyone other than a fan of the earlier entries. There is sadly no innovation over the original game so it may actually benefit one to play it between Half-Life and Half-Life Opposing Force as the latter features advancements in both game mechanics, enemy types, weapons and story over the original game that Blue Shift just does not use. Due to the limitations Gearbox were under it makes sense to us now that Blue Shift could only use the assets from Half-Life (the game on the Dreamcast disc) and nothing from Opposing Force but as these limitations weren't made clear in 2001 to it's PC audience the reception was understandably frosty.

On a modern Win 10 system with SSD storage and a fibre connection, Half-Life Blue Shift will download and install in less than 60 seconds. There was a mouse issue which is fixed by setting 'Accept Raw Input' in the Mouse Settings. There were no install issues, pauses or crashes and it ran within 3 seconds after execution. 4K resolution is accepted but there is no HUD scaling (nor did I seek any 3rd party modifications) so one needs to drop resolution to a level where you can read the HUD and text. As with all Valve games Half-Life Blue Shift is only available now through Steam for €3.99. While this is genuinely acceptable for the sublime Half-Life Opposing Force, I absolutely do not recommend Blue Shift at this price point. I got it for 0.79c on sale and you can wait for this too.

No comments: