Half-Life: Blue Shift – Rab’s Impressions

So, about that beer I owed ya…

Hey all! Rab here. So I LOVE Half-Life. I beat Half-Life 2 forever ago, including it’s episodes, got hooked on Portal and Team Fortress 2, played more Left 4 Dead 2 than you can shake a leg at (thank goodness for mods!), but my love for Half-Life specifically didn’t blossom until I went back and played the original game… on PlayStation 2.


The Main Menu for Half-Life: Blue Shift. So much Blue.

And fast forward to today, when I finally had the chance to pick up the original Half-Life and its two expansions, Opposing Force and Blue Shift, during the Steam Summer Sale! Having played the original Half-Life in some form already, I decided to hop straight into the two expansions, starting with Blue Shift because it stars Barney. And I like Barney.

What a day for everything to be on the fritz in Black Mesa, eh?

The game, surprisingly enough, plays similarly to Half-Life. Instead of the HEV Suit-wearing Gordon Freeman, you now play as generic Black Mesa Security Guard Barney Calhoun, who has just arrived to take on what is called a Blue Shift. Do I know what that is? No, not a clue.

In any case, the game takes place ever so slightly ahead of the original Half-Life. And by that, I mean you can see Gordon on the tram and even watch him progress through the facility through monitors. You never go to the places that Gordon went to since you’re stationed in a different part of Black Mesa, but you are of course affected by the big Xen Invasion, with the goal of escaping Black Mesa alive.

Spying on Gordon Freeman as he heads over to obtain his HEV Suit.

While Gordon focused on laying waste to thousands of Xen aliens, Barney is focused on escaping Black Mesa with the other guards and scientists. That does entail fighting off some Xen baddies, as well as several run-ins with the HECU troops sent in to kill everyone in the facility, but to a lesser extent. Barney spends the latter half of the game following the orders of a scientist named Rosenberg, as they both try to jumpstart a prototype teleportation device so they can warp out to an abandoned entrance of Black Mesa that they hope the HECU neglected to secure.

Dr. Rosenberg. I also lack body armor.

This leads Barney to several areas of Black Mesa and even Xen at one point, as he helps turn on a device in Xen, restart the power generators to find and recharge a battery, and help teleport the scientists he huddled with in the abandoned part of the facility.

The game is rather short and also lacks any major enemies or bosses. there aren’t even any new weapons or enemies introduced, unlike in Opposing Force. Barney can’t even use the HEV charging stations located around Black Mesa, which I’m glad still exist and weren’t left out just because Barney couldn’t use them. It’s just a nice touch to keep them there.

This one took me a while.

What the game lacks in major combat scenarios, I do think it makes up for in puzzle solving. It’s not easy to traverse Black Mesa, and you’ll be made to do all sorts of things such as dragging crates and barrels around to help you reach places you otherwise couldn’t. I thought the puzzle in the cooling plant was a noteworthy one, as you had to drag the various barrels around to make a straight line in front of the bridge above, then raise the acid level up so the barrels would float and create platforms for you to get across.

Security Guard chasing after a Houndeye chasing after a Scientist who is off-screen.

But in the same sense that puzzle solving is a key feature, combat takes a turn for the worse. The game is so focused on puzzles, that you’ll never really find any ammo or decent weapons for the combat encounters you come across occasionally. Like in the room with the acid, when an Alien Grunt randomly spawned during it and shot me up with bees. You also fight more Xen than you do HECU, so ammo is rather scarce since Xen don’t drop ammo. Your arsenal also never reaches the huge amount that Gordon carries, nor does it feature the varied weaponry that Adrian Shepard gets in Opposing Force.

Opposing Force had a massive focus on combat, and gave you plenty of weapons to work with. the original Half-Life is a masterpiece to me because it has an even focus on combat and puzzle solving. So perhaps Blue Shift should’ve focused a tad bit more of puzzle solving? The expansion is also pretty short. I finished it in one sitting while it took me several days to finish Opposing Force, neither of which took me as long to finish as Half-Life did.

He’ll stay here to avoid HECU and aliens, but how will he escape otherwise? Why is one random scientist and one random security guard the only ones in the entire facility physically capable enough to stand up to these invading groups?

One final note; the scientists in this game, apart from Rosenberg to a degree, are all jerks. I guess I never noticed in Half-Life because technically, despite the feats he accomplishes throughout the game from slaying dozens of alien to operating machines of mass destruction, Gordon Freeman is one of these scientists. All this game proved to me was that the Scientists are all stuck up brainiacs who only really communicate well with their own brothers in smarts, while treating the rest of Black Mesa staff as prehistoric simpletons. So Barney receives a lot of negativity at the beginning of the game from these guys, and they hardly let up even after the Xen Invasion.

Honestly, I like this. While pretty minor by today’s standards, they tried to make it clear that you are no longer Gordon Freeman; you’re in a completely different profession that the main staff at Black Mesa considers simple-minded. This does also show in Opposing Force as well, which I’ll go into more detail when I talk about that game. Oh, and the other Security Guards treat you nicely of course. They kinda treat everyone nice, come to think of it. Security Guards are like, the most lawful good people in all of Half-Life.

Dragging stuff in Half-Life is a pain since the thing you’re pulling goes flying all over the place, but I love this puzzle regardless.

With all that said, I can see why some people think Blue Shift is the weakest of the expansions. I’ll talk about Opposing Force eventually, but for now, I will say that I don’t regret playing through Blue Shift. I thought it had a nice ending, compared to the dreary endings the other two protagonists got. And I worked for the ending, and felt like I earned it. I still think the game could’ve benefited from more puzzle solving, as the puzzles presented were pretty great. Also, if they’re gonna have me fight, they better have some guns and ammo waiting around more often than they did. I mean, I managed, so maybe that isn’t even that big a negative.

So yeah, I think that’s about all I can talk about regarding this game. I bet most people would question why I never bothered to talk about the graphics or anything like that, and the reason for that is because I don’t care. Half-Life might be a product of its time to many folk, but I still regard it as my favorite FPS game ever made. Blue Shift looks very much the same, albeit with a slight graphical upgrade. I see no problem with that, the game looks fine to me, and plays just as fine.

But Blue Shift is the second and last Half-Life expansion… Opposing Force came before it. It features Adrian Shepard, a character who has yet to resurface in anything Half-Life related since Opposing Force. I hear some good things about this expansion, such as a ton of new alien foes and weaponry to toy with. Of course, I’ve played it already, and definitely plan of giving my opinions on it at some point in the near future!

Until then, thanks for reading this post! If you have any suggestions for PC games you’d like me to tackle, let me know! Also, I am Rabbin8ter on Steam, in case you ever need to find me on there. With all that said, see ya’ll later!

Oi Chum, what’s yer name?

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