Review by antseezee
"Escape from Black Mesa through the eyes of a security guard."
Half-Life is not only known for having an overwhelming amount of multiplayer mods, but it also has its share of single player add-ons. Valve Software (the official creators of Half-Life) created numerous single player mods, as so you could speak, which shifted the player to a view of a different person inside of Black Mesa. Mods such as Blue Shift and Opposing Force placed you in the role of the lesser known people in Half-Life, such as the army grunts and the security guards. Azure Sheep is a free single player add-on mod which puts you in the role of a security guard (the same as Blue Shift), but it goes way beyond and into much better detail than most would expect. The basic storyline is that you play the role of Barnie (not the purple dinosaur), but a simple guard who works at the facility and a local post. All of a sudden, while at your post, you hear sudden machine gun fire and incoming jets. Not to spoil anything, but be prepared for a thrilling adventure through many territories.
For the most part, the Half-Life engine is still in use in Azure Sheep. Unfortunately, many of the default characters and models are used, but this is again to resimulate the Half-Life story. You have your fully interactable environments, complete with retinal scan locked doors, buttons, wooden cargo, and detailed layouts. The most appealing feature is the wide variety of maps you'll encounter throughout the game. Every map is custom made, meaning you'll be traveling through an entirely new, although similar-looking Black Mesa. There are plenty of sewers, shafts, ladders, and interesting vehicles/weapons you will encounter. Character models look very appealing, and with plenty of detail and varying faces. There is one custom model in the game of a female security guard (Kate), who eventually becomes your main objective in keeping alive.
Weapons models are exactly the same from the original Half-Life game, but there are actually a few ''new'' weapons. There's an interesting beretta, which is more powerful than your typical glock. It has pleasant silver plating, and good detail. There's also a few machine guns, and various tidbits you'll notice different. While there may be nothing new or interesting, the Half-Life engine still holds up as a decent standard for this game.
Sound effects are still very eventful throughout gameplay. Occasionally, you'll hear a chopper in the distance, or special forces calling in for orders. For the most part, there isn't really anything new. However, there are some good voice clips such as Kate, which has plenty of interesting phrases and cuddles. She'll call you ''Barn'', rather than ''Barnie'' which makes you feel like somewhat better. While Gordon may sound a little Italian, the sound effects get the job done. Whether it be your HEV suit charging up, or a car entering the facility, sounds are very well done.
Unfortunately, music is played from the Half-Life CD. There is no custom music, so don't expect any hard rocking tunes. I was disappointed to see no little music clips added or anything, and if you have a scratched up HL CD - this really ruins the gaming experience.
Now this is what Azure Sheep excels at. As stated before, you secure the role of a Black Mesa security guard, who is posted on the near edge of the facility. A sudden ruckus and warping aliens causes you to freak out, and the first thing you decide to do is go into the facility and save your best friend, Kate. Everything is based from a first person shooting standpoint, with your life bar, armor, and weapons visible. There are no really new features or anything, but gameplay takes shifts from action paced to storyline progression. As you venture into Black Mesa further and further, you meet characters along the way who starred in the original HL. So expect to see plenty of familiar ''rooms'', and things of the such.
Azure Sheep has many interactable objects in the game. There are a few trams you'll be able to ride, and even a few elevators here and there. Gameplay can exceed well over 6 hours as you search for your friend, and eventually meet the ''Administrator.'' Azure Sheep is very challenging; most of the time you'll have your health in the range of 40-60%. Enemies will make ambush warps on you, and you'll find new weapons along the way. Unfortunately, as you progress in the game, maps tend to get extremely linear. There are less rooms to explore, and less ''secrets'' to find. At the beginning of the game, there are plenty of places to explore. Whether it be the women's bathroom, or the sewer duct, there are places that come to a dead end. Also, reliance on Kate becomes an important factor. For the majority of the game, other NPCs will follow you usually involving an escort, or vice versa. There are some plot twists, and points where you get captured. This really adds to the excitement of the game, intriguing the user to get more anxious to find out what happens.
Powerups and bonuses are balanced nicely in the game, often disguised in boxes or cargo containers. There are also a few bosses you'll meet along the way, but strategy becomes somewhat easy to defend them. The best feature though is the length of gameplay in this game. You're certain to be playing for quite some time, and it can entertain an entire weekend based on your playing style. This is what the expansion, Blue Shift, should have been.
By all means you're going to have fun with this game. This one of the first Half-Life single player mods I ever played, and I didn't touch another game until I beat it. There's enough changes in pace and gameplay to keep the user interested, and the features of keeping other NPCs alive is very important. There is also a few maps where you backtrack, and this gives the player a sense of direction when it comes to using his recent memory. Later in the game, after you gather plenty of weapons, different ways of killing your enemies becomes a blast.
Before beating the game, Azure Sheep offers plenty of replay value. With gameplay lasting well over 6 hours, and plenty of weapons/enemies along the way, there's no way of telling how much addiction you will get. Despite the good single player experience, Azure Sheep lacks any depth after beating the game. Once you see the ending, and experience the thrilling adventure, most of that action comes to a halt. There is no real multiplayer experience, and the only other options are to try more difficulties. Put it this way, Azure Sheep is a great mod to play a few times around, or just once for the long journey.
Overall, there is a great balance of difficulty in Azure Sheep. While you can save as many times as you want (and I saved about 200 times), enemy ambushes and certain surprises can be a stopping force in the progression of the player. You'll come across various bosses such as the ''one-eyed thing'', and Apache attack helicopters. There are also enemy tanks, turrets, aliens, warps, and things to keep the player busy. Some use of intelligence comes into mind later in the game when you have to power up certain vehicles with power, but for the most part, this is not a mind boggling game. It's pure easy action as Barnie, the security guard. You'll be low on health for a majority of the game, but there are plenty of medkits and life rechargers.
Final Factor [8/10]
As we continue to see an overwhelming amount of online games get more popular, we should not forget about the single player add-ons. Azure Sheep is one of the few top-notch modifications that any average gamer should look into downloading. Unlike Valve Software, who released their retrospective Half-Life single player mods for a price - Azure Sheep is completely free of charge. When a group of programmers go out and produce an entertaining experience like this, you can't pass it up. Azure Sheep is the best single player mod you'll find for no price. Download it if you can in your spare time.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/22/03, Updated 07/22/03
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