Hello readers. Today, I would like to continue what I began a few weeks ago, when I discussed a few Steam games. In the piece, I mentioned that I greatly loved Half-Life despite not being a fan of the FPS genre. Writing the article inspired me to tackle two parts of my gaming backlog that have gone sorely neglected, and so I began to play them. This week, I bring two mini-reviews, one for each of the first two expansions to the original Half-Life. Gearbox Software was actually responsible for making three expansions to Half-Life; the third of these, Half-Life: Decay, is a cooperative outing that was included as part of the PlayStation 2 release of the original game and I have never played it. An unofficial Decay software mod was released a few years back, but I have not taken the time to look into it. Instead, I will be looking at Half-Life: Opposing Force and Half-Life: Blue Shift, two games of varying quality.
The first official expansion, Opposing Force, was released November 1999, and follows the exploits of Corporal Adrian Shepard, a U.S. Marine. Shepard is sent as part of the force that comes to Black Mesa during the events of the original Half-Life; as a result, Opposing Force takes place during the events of the original game. In short, Half-Life: Opposing Force is absolutely everything an expansion pack should be. The original HUD is slightly modified to reflect that fact that Shepard is in military gear, and a few minor additions slightly change the way the game is played. Notably, Opposing Force adds several new and interesting weapons and allows players to visit parts of Black Mesa that Gordon Freeman never actually visits. Opposing Force is takes roughly between five to seven hours to complete, and it is certainly a welcome addition to the franchise. It is clear from playing it that Gearbox wanted to make something that would impress both Valve and its customers; and Opposing Force is good enough that it could stand alone, at least gameplay-wise. The plot is admittedly minimalistic, even compared to the original Half-Life, but the expansion still holds up amazingly well despite its age. I cannot honestly say whether I liked this expansion or the main game more; both are wonderful pieces of gaming that should be experienced. It is a shame, then, that the same cannot be said for the second expansion.
Initially intended to be added to the Dreamcast port of Half-Life, a port that rather famously was cancelled mere weeks before its release, Half-Life: Blue-Shift was instead released in June 2001 on PC. Blue Shift has players seeing through the eyes of Barney Calhoun, a security guard working at Black Mesa during the events of the original game. While Opposing Force was an expansion every bit as good as the original game, Blue Shift is rather lackluster. There are no new weapons, and even many of the weapons from the original are not available. While it is still an expansion worth playing through, Blue Shift is not nearly as good as its predecessors. Playing Blue Shift, one gets the impression that Gearbox was phoning it in and not trying very hard; the HUD is the exact same as the main game, the weapon selection extremely limited, and the areas explored not particularly exciting. It is disappointing to see something so bland follow two of the greatest FPS experiences of all time.
So then, is it worth it to pick up these two expansions? Opposing Force is absolutely worth it, while Blue Shift is only something I would recommend to the hardcore Half-Life fan. Gamers who have never played any of these can and definitely should buy the Half-Life 1 Anthology on Steam, which contains the main game, both of these expansions, and Team Fortress Classic for only $15 American. The original Half-Life is an absolutely brilliant game, and it has one amazing expansion and one decent one. I say this as a person who has a significant distaste for the FPS genre. Valve’s introduction to the gaming world was just that good.