Should you let a sleeping dog lie? Received wisdom says it's the best thing to do, but if this particular dog is the Half Life gaming cosmos you could always prod it continuously with a stick until it wakes up and woofs Blue Shift all over your lovely clean carpet. This is the new official stand-alone episode in the Half Life universe and Sierra is determined to prove there's life in the old thing yet.
The original Half Life was deservedly well received, as it changed the market by intellectualising 3D action shooters. This success meant Sierra was determined to make it run and run.
Ever since its release at the end of 1998 there has been a steady stream of patches, add-ons, expansions and modifications, as well as Half Life Generations and Half Life Opposing Forces - anything that contributes to the lining of pockets. Blue Shift is meant to be a game in its own right but it's really an expansion pack in all but name.
Before we incur the wrath of Half Life's large number of followers we'd like to add - and here's the rub - that it's actually rather good. It's not big and it's not clever, it's very short on playing time and the whole thing's wrong in principle, but it's impossible to deny that we liked it.
The action saves Sierra a small fortune in designers by returning to the same time and space as the original Half Life, but this time you're a menial blue-collar officer called Brett Calhoun. Blue Shift repeats the innovative start during which the game credits roll past while you take the train to work in the Black Mesa Facility. Once there Calhoun has to pick up his gun and follow directions to overlook the ill-fated experiment from the original game, and only then does the gameplay kick in.
Being based on a fairly old game engine, even with the new high-definition pack, it's graphically surpassed by most new releases. That said, attention to detail is brilliant - it doesn't matter that maximum resolution is 1280x960, the atmosphere is thicker than two short planks. The plot, such as it is, unfolds without impinging on the action. There's access to areas blocked on previous games and it's interesting to see the same plot unfold from a different perspective, but there's little else to see.
We checked out the prevailing opinion on some forums peopled by Half Life spotters and most agreed they'd been short-changed. The old guns and seasoned campaigners are still there, but even those who haven't played any Half Life games will probably finish this in about four hours. It's great while it lasts, but afterwards you begin to wonder if it was worth it. There's no big satisfaction to be had upon finishing a game when all you've done is experience the short-term gain of a cheap thrill.
It's important to acknowledge this, because, as long as you know what you're getting yourself into, you'll probably enjoy it.
Developer: Gearbox Software