How many halves of a life does this game have?
Like good defense attorneys, developers Valve and Gearbox (the teams behind Sierra Studio's infamous Half-Life series) have looked at the little "incident" at Black Mesa Labs from every conceivable angle. The first incarnation, Half-Life, took players through the experience as a scientist caught in the middle of an experiment gone wrong. Next came Opposing Force, which put players in the boots of a soldier going in to obliterate all evidence of said incident. Now comes Blue Shift, the latest angle on the same story.
Blue Shift puts you in the shabby clothes of Black Mesa security guard Barney Calhoun and walks you through his experience of the events that day. The opening scene mirrors that of the original HL as you enter Black Mesa on a tram. However, this time you're on the opposite end of the facility. Barney's day seems to be cruising along just fine until a great power surge stops the elevator, followed by an explosion that sends it dropping like a penny thrown from the Empire State building. Then, as if a careening elevator isn't enough to spoil a perfectly fine day, aliens start appearing out of thin air and killing everyone in sight. Bummer!
You might think that this redundant approach to a storyline would result in the same game time and time again. Fear not, as Blue Shift offers more than the original HL. The difficulty has been upped - obstacles are not nearly as straightforward and require a little bit of cunning to push your way through. Some left me snickering to myself after half an hour looking for a switch that didn't exist; I just needed to use a different route than what seemed obvious. Gearbox has actually managed to bring a new feel to a seemingly familiar game.
To keep things fresh, the graphics have been updated a bit. The polygon count for models has doubled, really rounding out faces, shoulders and that big ugly hump on the aliens' backs, all while running at blazing framerates. The new High Definition models animate smoother than before. The textures and lighting also look good.
But while the game looks better than Half-Life did before the 220.127.116.11 patch, the engine does nothing new or revolutionary and comes off as fairly dated. Don't expect any amazing solar effects or vast open areas with incredible viewing distances.
Also unaccounted for are any new enemies or creatures. I suppose since the game takes place at the same time as the other games, a ton of new creatures would be a little out of place. Still, we've all been here and done this before, and some new scenery would really have helped.
The AI must have been next in line behind the scarecrow while he was getting brains from the great Oz, because now they're smart enough to work as a team and surround you, making this single player adventure fairly challenging. In fact, if you chase them, they run, and if you run, they chase you. Sound simple enough, but you really don't find that kind of thinking much in first-person shooters. Thank god for all of those hours invested in Counter-strike (I knew they would pay off sooner or later).
With every Blue Shift disk comes the latest HL patch (18.104.22.168), so no more waiting for that annoying download. There's also a High Definition update that will upgrade your other HL games (both Half-Life and Opposing Force) to the new and improved HD models. What's that? You don't have any other HL games to update? Well, don't worry little buddy, your friend Barney Calhoun has you covered, because you also get full versions of Opposing Force and the multiplayer Team Fortress Classic. So three games for the price of one.
However, none of this stuff is very new. If you're a first-person shooter fan, you've likely played at least one of the many incarnations of Half-Life so far. Blue Shift is a solid package, for sure, but it really doesn't offer enough fresh material for the Half-Life veteran who's already played plenty of TFC.
But with the new challenges, updates and inclusion of Op Force, Blue Shift is a decent bundle. And ringing in at a decent $30, it won't wipe out the wallet. Just don't expect this new experience to be all that new.