Kaelin Consulting

Mark W. Kaelin

I have over 25 years of experience in the electronic publishing industry. I was an editor for CBS Interactive for eleven years, where I was responsible for acquiring, editing, and writing technical content for daily publication on CBS Interactive properties TechRepublic.com and ZDNet.com. My duties included the recruitment and development of contributing talent. Prior to CBS Interactive, I was an editor with ProQuest for 12 years, where I developed, designed, edited, and maintained an array of university and business school supplemental curricula products. Before ProQuest, I was a public accountant for five years, specializing in tax preparation and in compilation and review engagements. In addition, I have performed independent consulting services over the last 30 years for various business clients.

The blue shift must be to the short side of the spectrum

Originally published in August 2001.

Name: Half-Life: Blue Shift
Genre: Action/First Person Shooter
Developer: Gearbox Software and Valve
Publisher: Sierra Online Inc.
Multiplayer: Yes
Requires: Windows 9x+, Pentium 233 or better, 32 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM Drive, SVGA Video. Recommended: Pentium III or better, 64 MB RAM, and 3D Video.
Retail Price: $29.99
Street Price: $29.99

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was a computer game called Half-Life.  When it hit the retail shelves in 1998, it was collectively hailed as the best computer game of that year and for the next year after that.  Bars were raised, standards were challenged, and molds were broken.  The collective knowledge of what a first-person-shooter should be was established in that year.  Oh, but time is a cruel mistress.  And computer gamers being a fiendishly demanding lot, require more of their games especially in this genre than even the venerable Half-Life can deliver.

In its latest incarnation, Half-Life: Blue Shift, developed by Gearbox Software and published by Sierra Online, is beginning to show its age and its limitations.  While still maintaining much of the suspense and pending-doom-feel of previous chapters in this saga of an experiment gone awry at a super-secret government research facility, Blue Shift suffers from an engine that cannot match recent games in this genre.  A clear case of the children besting the parent that bore them.  The new generation of first-person games, using better more advanced game engines, encourage stealth and strategy, two aspects noticeably missing in Half-Life games.  Games like Deus Ex and No One Lives Forever create a deeper game experience by adding elements of suspense and surprise that Blue Shift cannot deliver.

Nip It in the bud

In Blue Shift, the player takes on the role of Barney Calhoun, a security guard at the Black Mesa facility.  For those of you unfamiliar with “Barneys,” that is the good-natured way players and developers refer to the Black Mesa guards common in the previous chapters of Half-Life.  These guards, often serving to relieve tension with comic-relief, maintain security at the top secret research facility that serves as the backdrop for all Half-Life chapters.

Your Barney arrives at work only to discover that the entire facility is experiencing major system glitches.  This forebodes of a long day at work.  Of course, other events in the facility will soon embroil you in a life and death struggle to make it to safety before aliens or the government terminate your employment, permanently.  The rest of the adventure plays out in similar fashion to the previous chapters of Half-Life, with players solving puzzles, dispatching bad guys and busting boxes looking for more ammo and first-aid kits.

While this is all painfully familiar, there is one difference.  This version of the Half-Life series has been upgraded graphically with the inclusion of a high definition pack.  The enhanced graphics give Blue Shift a much more crisp and vivid look.  The faces of characters are much more pronounced and a lot less blocky.  The colors are more vivid and the edges for each object are much clearer and reveal details overlooked in previous unenhanced versions.  This is the one area where Blue Shift really shines.

And, unfortunately, that is the real story here.  Blue Shift is fine example of expertly designed levels in the Half-Life environment.  The scripted events are funny when they are supposed to be funny and scary when they are supposed to be scary.  The game play is true to the Half-Life experience and each level is fun to play.  The problem is that there are not enough levels to play.  An experienced player of the first-person genre will blow through this game in a couple of hours max.  I spent extra time playing just trying to make sure I wasn’t missing something for this review and I finished in about four hours.  Selling at almost full-game price, Blue Shift should be about triple the length.  As it is now, it is merely a glorified and over-priced expansion pack.

The only way the Blue Shift box is worth the cost is if you have not played Half-Life: Opposing Force, which ships as an added feature.  This was the second chapter in the trilogy and is a fine game in its own right.  When considered to be two games for the price of one coupled with enhanced graphics for all versions, Blue Shift is almost worth the price.

Half-Life: Blue Shift is rated Mature (17+) by the ERSB for the game’s blood, gore and violence.  All games that place the player in the role of killing another human being are rated for older players and specifically not for children.  If that particular form of computer game violence disturbs you then I suggest you take the rating to heart.

Short shift

So where does this leave us.  Half-Life: Blue Shift is an excellent set of levels based on the Half-Life universe and game engine.  It is well produced in every fashion and the high definition pack does a great job of updating and enhancing the graphics of the game.  However, in the final analysis, Blue Shift is major disappointment.  For the money, the game is just way too short.  While the enhanced graphics are a nice feature, their inclusion does not override the short length of game play.  If you have never purchased Opposing Force, then you may be able to justify spending money on Blue Shift.  If you can find Blue Shift for under $20 and if you are a fan of Half-Life games and if you have never played Opposing Force, this game may be worth the price of admission.  But those are too many “ifs” for me to recommend Blue Shift in general.