Have You Played… Half-Life: Blue Shift?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Gearbox’s Barney-starring add-on is the black sheep of the Half-Life family, although at the time I never encountered any reason why that should be the case. My teenage tastes were perhaps less discerning then, but more importantly any return to Black Mesa was irresistible. I wanted new monsters and new guns, everything that a young’un wants from a follow-up to their favourite shooter, and I also had a vain hope that maybe I’d get to shoot that creepy suit-guy in the face and rescue Gordon.

I barely understood, at that point, that this was not made by the same people as was Half-Life itself.

I did understand that it was short and there wasn’t anything that could be said to be new, so I felt a little let-down come the conclusion, but mostly I’d just been glad to shoot some more Headcrabs.

Though, truth be told, the main reason I wanted Blue Shift was because it included a higher-res texture pack that tarted up the original Half-Life too. I had recently acquired a new graphics card, and what I most wanted to do with it was replay Half-Life looking as shiny as possible. Naturally, I only managed a couple of hours of upgraded Half-Life before my grasshopper mind jumped to something else.

I’ve still got a copy of the Blue Shift disc somewhere, which I can’t bring myself to throw out due to a conviction that that upgrade pack is my gateway to the ultimate version of Half-Life. Even though we’ve had Half-Life: Source and Black Mesa long since.


  1. Al__S says:

    On release day I went into Game in Stirling. They had, astonishingly, sold out. However just across the way in the Thistle Centre there was a second branch in the basement of Debenhams. I’ve no idea why. This was genuinely ten metres away. They still had stock. Happy days. The expansion was a bit, erm, thin? But the improved textures and sounds for both Half Life and Opposing Force made playing through again a joy.

    • Creeping Death says:

      That’s Game for you. Used to have 3 in my town. 2 were in the same shopping centre.

      • crowleyhammer says:

        Is anyone elses local GAME store PC section populated by cool sounding games that, upon closer inspection turn out to be hidden object games? There are literally hundreds of them.

        • Al__S says:

          Wait, people still go into Game?

        • TeePee says:

          PC Section? I must have missed that amongst the aisles full to the brim of second-hand copies of Virtua Tennis 3 on Xbox 360.

      • Al__S says:

        I think it was partly that they took a very long time to rationalise after the merger with Electronics Boutique? So long ago. Back when buying games in an actual cardboard box was a A Thing.

    • UglyDave says:

      And as far as I remember , the demo I got on the cover of a magazine for Blue Shift had different levels to the final game. I _think_ you played as a different Barney too, pretty sure.

  2. Thulsa Hex says:

    Didn’t the upgrade pack change the MP5 model into an M4, or something like that? My adolescent self didn’t like that very much.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I believe it changed the model of shotgun as well.

      At the risk of overreaching, I think part of that was that the HL1 shotgun was depicted as having two barrels (that mighty alt-fire)…because Valve had mistaken the magazine tube of their real-world reference as a second one. This “fixed” that.

      • Thulsa Hex says:

        Well, that alt-fire was legendary, so I’m glad Valve made that mistake. I’m assuming the functionality was present and correct with the “fixed” model, but I still don’t like the idea of it being changed in the original game :\

  3. LionsPhil says:

    Mostly what I remember of this was a sad Otis being cheated out of his dollar for a piece of candy from a broken vending machine. You could actually use it yourself and get it to dispense, but the game had no mechanism or recognition for trying to hand it over. ;_;

    • Thulsa Hex says:

      Ah, the little tragedies that only this strange disconnect between agency and desire in video games can create.

  4. Infinitron says:

    Blue Shift was fun for those players (like me) who liked trying to form a mental map of the Black Mesa complex as they progressed. Whereas Gordon spent the day of the Resonance Cascade in the depths of the facility, Barney was near the top where most people worked. You got to see the massacre in a way that Gordon didn’t. It was a bit sad.

  5. C0llic says:

    A truly great game. I loved the premise too. It really should have set the bar for what sequels should be.

  6. PancakeWizard says:

    Ah, my first foray into online retail (gameplay.co.uk!) with my new pc and what seemed like a ridiculous amount of spare money being old enough for a full-time job, but not old enough to leave my parents house was ordering this an Opposing Force.

    Happy days indeed.

  7. MadTinkerer says:

    Blue Shift is a short game. A game where there seems to not be a whole lot of new things (certainly no new weapons).

    However, in terms of the engine, scripting for NPCs, and various behind-the-scenes stuff, Blue Shift has a whole bunch in it that was just not possible in the initial release of Half-Life. Eventually all of the new capabilities and even art assets were absorbed into the current GoldSource HL1, so it’s harder to tell now which things Blue Shift did first and which things were in HL1 all along. Sort of like how HL2 Episode 2 had a bunch of things that were impossible in HL2 until everything was updated to The Orange Box engine.

    Basically, what I’m saying is that Blue Shift was the Episode 2 of HL1 in a lot of ways.

  8. Lobster9 says:

    Black Sheep? Don’t you mean.. Azure Sheep? (Obscure Reference!)

    It didn’t add anything new, and was more of the same, but for Half-Life that was never going to be a seriously bad thing.

    It’s the only episode of the Half-Life series with a happy ending, and I wonder what happened to Dr. Rosenberg, and his small team?

    Scenario 1 – They take refuge in a city that is almost immediately made an example by the newly invading Combine aliens.

    Scenario 2 – They survive the invasion, join the resistance, but are later discovered by Dr. Breen, and sent for immediate off-world reassignment.

    Scenario 3 – They successfully lead a survivalist off-grid lifestyle for more than a decade, until one day searching abandoned farmland in upper Michigan they come across a confused mute girl carrying a plastic-rubber cube.

    • BlitzThose says:

      Azure Sheep you say, I remember that mod. What was the name of the So mod that was set in Vietnam that was easily my favorite along with poke 646 which has more nail gun than the final season of the wire.

      • mutanteggs says:

        It was called “Heart of Evil”, and even had a same engine remake called “Heart of Evil: Napalm Edition”. Good game.

    • Vorig says:

      Playing Azure Sheep right now! Great timing on this article and comment. The mod has some annoying delays in weapon switching/reloading, but the mapping is really stellar for something so old.

  9. Scumbag says:

    If memory serves me right this was the proposed extra bits that were to be included in the Dreamcast version of the game. Then the Dreamcast flopped and so it ended up as an expansion for the PC.
    I think the PS2 version had an extra section also. Decay? I just remember it stared a couple of lady scientists.

    • Chris Evans says:

      Yep, the PS2 version had Decay, a short co-op piece which saw you working together to load the ‘sample’ that Gordon loads into the Mass Spectrometer at the start of the game. From what I remember, you also took a trip to the training course (correct me if I am wrong!)

      Was a nice addition to the game. Also had the impression that Nihilanth was a bit easier on PS2 than the PC version?

    • Al__S says:

      Yeah, the PS2 had a co-op add on called Decay that never made it to PC at all, as far as I know. And Blue Shift was supposed to be Dreamcast, you’re right

    • Lobster9 says:

      Some plucky modders converted Decay to the PC a few years back. If anyone is interested it shouldn’t be hard to find on google.

  10. Sin Vega says:

    I have! I bought it on the strength of the extra stuff promised on the box (games used to come in a small box made of common household uranium, before we knew about mutants), which turned out to be exclusive to multiplayer, so completely irrelevant.

    My overall memory of it is resentment. The box misled me, the game stopped abruptly just as it was starting to get good, and then I couldn’t even take it back to the shop because my evil satanic cat (deliberately, I am sure) pissed in the box.


    • Vigil says:

      Don’t worry man, a twisted japanese collector will happily pay for a tainted box of an offspring of half-life in 20 years, just put that pack in an air-tight seal meanwhile…

  11. dennis20014 says:

    My Grandpa got me Half-Life & then the two expansions for my birthday shortly after. First real pc gaming. Love these games. EPISODE 3 FOREVA!

  12. Gordon Shock says:

    Status : Out of range

    No further comment

    Just brilliant!

  13. rabbit says:

    i remember REALLY wanting this. my first exposure to half life was the ‘demo’ of Half Life : Uplink (which for anyone who doesn’t know and is interested, is a unique lil chapter of the HL1 saga released as a promotional playable demo), my second, a year or so later, was Opposing Force. at the time though, i had no idea that opposing force existed and so having gotten & played mostly-thru Half Life, i always thought that the one i’d played before was Blue Shift. never tracked down a copy & years later found that i’d been after the wrong – and far less well received – expansion all along.

    • Al__S says:

      Back in the day demos were very often stand alone levels. Im sure for a while developers would get stick if they just put out the tutorial and level 1. They were often curious things- they had to be fairly easy, but might include features and weapons that would turn up later in the game.

      The loss of cover disks was the end of the creative demo scene.

    • johnny_lawless says:

      My fondest memories of the original HL family of games were this and Uplink; obscure little corners of the universe that nevertheless fascinated me.

  14. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    I remember reading somewhere that Gordon Freeman, Shepard and Barney were all recruited by G-Man for some ultimate job, and Half-Life 2 would be them teaming up and having adventures together as an uneasy alliance.
    Then Half-Life 2 came out and it was just Gordon in a “future city” that looked like my neighborhood. Life sucks.

    • Coming Second says:

      Still, at least you’ve got Ellen McLain giving you regular updates on the sterilization in your vicinity.

  15. buzzmong says:

    I enjoyed Blue Shift. It was more the same, but it was also slicker and built on a lot of the little scripting bits that made HL stand out and be interesting.

    Short yes, perhaps not quite as good as Opposing Force, but definitely still worth a play through.

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  17. Niente says:

    I bought Blue Shift in Dixon’s of all places, along with one of the Commandos games.

    I remember there used to be two GAME shops in my home city. One of which was in Debenham’s. The other was about five minutes walk away.