Half Life: Blue Shift

Released two years after Half Life had a seismic impact on the state of story-driven video games, and one year after Opposing Force earned the label “best expansion pack ever”, Blue Shift entered the scene to high expectations.

For the past 19 years, Blue Shift had been cemented in my mind as my favorite Half Life experience. Playing it again today, I’m not quite sure why that is. Released two years after Half Life had a seismic impact on the state of story-driven video games, and one year after Opposing Force earned the label “best expansion pack ever”, Blue Shift entered the scene to high expectations.

The game puts you in the shoes of Barney Calhoun on the day everything went wrong in the Black Mesa research facility. Honestly, there’s not much to Blue Shift. Barney’s story is pretty simplistic: Trapped in Black Mesa, he sets out to find a group of scientists who are devising a means to escape the facility via a short range teleporter. The game doesn’t have the sense of discovery that Half Life did, nor does it turn the narrative on its side like Opposing Force. It’s the tale of a guy who had a bad day at work and wants to go home.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple; it’s just that the game is too simple when compared to its companions. The most interesting bit happens when scientists send Barney to the netherworld of Xen to re-calibrate their teleporter. The location feels suitably alien, with the only recognizable bits being pieces of scientific equipment placed there before you.

Ironically enough, the extended time spent in Xen illustrates why the location is so difficult to pull off: it’s a world without context. The Half Life franchise is built on creating a relatable world that’s been obviously turned on its side by a sinister alien presence. The player knows how to feel since so much of it is familiar. Xen, on the other hand, is a world you can’t relate to. Monsters stand around and wait to attack you, much like they do on Earth. If there’s a structure or an order to their world, it’s not communicated beyond basic gameplay tropes. Jump on that round thing to get launched in the air. Stand in this puddle to gain health. Don’t fall off the ledge into oblivion. It almost feels like switching from a stroll down your hometown’s main street to an abstract level from Super Mario Brothers; From reality to abstract.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe Xen is supposed to conjure up existential ruminations? Perhaps the goal is to make the player question what “natural order” is supposed to be? Or maybe it’s just supposed to be a “weird” level in a video game. My money is on the latter option.

Whatever the goal, Blue Shift doesn’t give you much time to ponder these questions. Taking it slowly, you’ll be lucky if the game lasts you more than two and a half hours. I just completed the game and I struggle to recollect most of it; it’s that forgettable. If you’re in the mood for an extra dose of Half Life and need it to be different from the original game, play Opposing Force.

Sorry Blue Shift, nostalgia was wrong about you.

Screenshots

RavingLuhn Recommends: Steam Summer Sale 2017

Summer is only four days old and we’re already being bombarded with deals from Steam. This annual event exists for seemingly no other reason than to ensure your backlog of games grows ever larger.

It’s June 26th, 2017. Summer is only four days old and we’re already being bombarded with deals from Steam. This annual event exists for seemingly no other reason than to ensure your backlog of games grows ever larger. Nearly every game in their digital store is discounted, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options. With another ten days left in the sale I humbly offer a few tips to help your wallet and your gaming library:

  1. Set a budget and stick to it. You can get a lot of gaming goodness for not much money, so figure out what you want to spend and work within that limit. It will help you prioritize what you really want versus what you’re attracted to just because of the discount.
  2. Check the price history. Sometimes sale prices are something special, sometimes they’re not much of a deal. Use tools like SteamPrices and IsThereAnyDeal to check the price history of the games you’re interested in.
  3. Remember that the games you want will go on sale againJust because something is on sale now doesn’t mean you have to buy it right this moment.  Be patient and stick to your budget. You and your wallet will be much happier if you can control yourself.
  4. Buy something you wouldn’t otherwise. Good prices mean it’s prime time to try something different. Take a risk; you never know what kind of gems you’ll find.

All set? My recommendations for 2016’s summer sale still stand, so check those out if you have a moment. Here’s what I suggest for this year:

DOOM – $14.99
This is the only title from last year’s list that gets a repeat appearance. It was a steal at $60. It was a steal at $36. It’s worth every bit of $15. In the past year id Software have added bots for multiplayer, a fully-fledged arcade mode, and greatly expanded the options available in SnapMap. If you love shooting and over-the-top violence, this is the game to buy.

Wolfenstein: The New Order – $9.99
If DOOM is the best-playing shooter available today, The New Order gets my vote for the #2 spot. Spectacular, gut-wrenching, surprisingly heartfelt, bloody, incredible fun. Shoot Nazis in an alternate historical 1960. Shoot Nazis in the sky, on the ground, on the moon. Use silencers, shotguns, throwing knives, and lasers. It’s a blast. Buy this to get caught up for the sequel coming out in fall 2017.

Far Cry – $3.39
Before the Far Cry series became too self-aware, it was just about running around a bunch of tropical islands blowing stuff up. No pretense, just explosions.

Cities: Skylines – $7.49
The modern city-builder for the modern gamer. While it’s still not as deep or challenging as the Sim City games of old, it definitely offers a similar experience. You can spend as much or as little time as you want detailing the traffic, zoning, tax rates, or community restrictions of your custom cities.

RollerCoaster Tycoon II – $3.39
RollerCoaster Tycoon played via OpenRCT2 is, in my opinion, still the best theme park sim out there. Period. I’ll expand on this a bit more in the next month or two.

Black Mesa – $7.99
Remade or remastered games always have the potential to be a disaster, especially when they’re made by fans. Black Mesa is a project that does everything right. If you’ve seen the original build of Half Life recently, it’s quite obvious the game hasn’t aged well. Black Mesa subverts the effects of aging and presents Half Life to you as you remember it. It’ll get better later this year when the long-awaited Xen levels are released!

Enter the Gungeon – $7.49
I haven’t played this. I don’t know if I’ll like it. But I followed my own advice when buying it, specifically tip #4 from above. It’s a “bullet hell dungeon crawler” top-down shooter, and people I know really love it. We’ll see. Consider my recommendation of it to you an act of gaming spontaneity.

Steam link – $14.99
Bring the gaming goodness of Steam to your living room TV! It works exceptionally well, but you’ll probably need a wired Ethernet connection to avoid lag. It’s great for games that work well with controllers.

Homeworld: Emergence – $9.99
No, it’s not available on Steam. And it’s not on sale. But come on, this is a game that nobody expected to see available in digital distribution. This weekend Gearbox and GOG.com shocked people everywhere with the surprise announcement of the game’s availability. It’s a mix of real-time strategy, space combat, and horror story elements that comes together in an incredibly atmospheric package. It’s Homeworld. Buy it. Now!

So there you have it. I recommend these games because I myself like them. That’s not a guarantee you’ll feel the same way. But if you don’t like them, well… then I’m afraid there’s something wrong with you. Because I’m normal. Totally.