Gearbox Software follows their commercially successful Half-Life: Opposing Force with a "complete expansion set" that includes not only the Opposing Force game and the Half-Life HD pack, but an additional two episodes. The 3D-accelerated High Definition pack upgrades weapons and characters in the original Half-Life as well as the new episodes.
Half-Life: Blue Shift puts you in the role of Barney Calhoun, a security guard and ally of Gordon Freeman (from the original game) who infiltrates the Black Mesa Research Facility to explore previously unavailable areas while dealing with an entirely new storyline. In Half-Life: Opposing Force, which was named PC Action Game of the Year in 2000 by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, you play as Corporal Adrian Shephard, a military specialist assigned to eliminate Freeman.
In addition to the two expansion episodes, the original Half-Life: Opposing Force missions, and the High Definition pack, Blue Shift contains a collection of online multiplayer modes OpFor: On-Line that includes team play, deathmatch, and capture the flag levels. The maps were created by designers with credits for games such as Quake, Thief II, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, SiN, Unreal and Shadow Warrior. Half-Life: Blue Shift is a stand-alone product and does not require any previously released version of the Half-Life.
When playing Half-Life: Blue Shift (BS) it helps to understand the history of how it came to the PC. BS was to be an addition to the Dreamcast version of Half-Life, a kind of "secret" level unlocked after you finished the game. For unexplained reasons, Sierra dropped the hammer on the Dreamcast version shortly after announcing BS was coming to the PC. This explains to a degree why BS is the way it is.
Barney Calhoun, community college graduate extraordinaire, is the protagonist of BS and the third member of the Half-Life triumvirate. Playing as Barney, your shift starts normally enough. You come on shift, get your bulletproof vest, find your gun, then escort a couple of scientists to a lower level. It's during the elevator trip down that things go all pear shaped - the lights go out and the elevator plunges to the bottom of the shaft. You've played Half-Life to death so you know exactly what has happened: the experiment, with Gordon Freeman at ground zero, has gone phenomenally wrong. The main objective, as in Half-Life and Opposing Force, is to get out alive. To do so, you'll have to enlist the help of the Black Mesa staff, avoid or obliterate the military personnel sent to sanitize the facility, solve a puzzle or two, and blow away lots of aliens. You'll even catch glimpses of Freeman and the mysterious guy in the black suit.
There's no mistaking that BS is part of the Half-Life universe. First clue: Barney pounds on a door only to have the guard on the other side saying, "Just a minute, there's something wrong with the door." As Barney stands there a transport car passes. Looking at the car reveals Gordon Freeman on his way to work. Everyone raved about the opening sequence of Half-Life and those people should also remember the lone guard pounding on a door as the car whisks Freeman to his job. Well, that's Barney. The aliens are all here - but no new creatures or aliens from Opposing Force appear. (Remember this was to be a Dreamcast exclusive.) It's disappointing that none of the really big aliens show up. At every open environment I always expected to hear those thunderous footsteps that made me jump when playing Half-Life. There are a few puzzles to overcome but none are obtuse enough to have you running to the on-line walkthroughs. For instance, some explosives attached to a big door need to be activated to advance but the wire from the plunger has been severed. Completing the circuit isn't as complex as puzzles found in Myst III but it does present a challenge. And it is satisfying to solve a puzzle and blow something up at the same time. The story is good and weaves another layer to the Black Mesa incident. At the end you'll have to spend some time on Xen, crawling through tunnels and fighting off at least one ambush, to reactivate a device that will help you and a few of your fellow employees get out of the Black Mesa facility alive.
The whole experience is over pretty quick. In terms of the timeline, it ends just as the two soldiers are heaving Freeman's body down a hallway, laughing, "What body?" There's been a lot of criticism that BS is too short, lacking substance, and not really worth the time or money. I'm on the other side of the argument. Although I can see the case for calling BS too short, knowing how it came to the PC I can forgive this. The real reason for getting BS is the included high-definition content and added multiplayer maps. The high-definition content won't give you volumetric fog or curved surfaces - it's more of a facelift. It's like an old house getting a new coat of paint. I'm sure that one day, far into the future Half-Life will be totally upgraded to whatever the latest and greatest engine is, but for now the facelift is a great addition. So much so, that you'll want to go back and play through Half-Life to see how all the new stuff looks.
In terms of multiplayer, there's some new maps but finding servers running them can take a while - Counter-Strike is still the most popular on-line game.
And to cap everything off, BS comes with Opposing Force, giving you the chance to play from the soldiers perspective, complete with End Boss and some freaky new aliens. Players that bought Opposing Force at full retail price can get some money back via a mail-in rebate, but they're more likely to just be annoyed. But for those that missed Opposing Force, getting BS is a no-brainer.
Do I recommend downloading Blue Shift? Yes. It's got what the fanatics want: more action at Black Mesa, more multiplayer, updated graphics, another perspective, and a few good puzzles. And if you're one of those players that hasn't visited Black Mesa since the original game, now is the time - the triumvirate is complete and has never looked better.
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