Back to Black Mesa
Black Mesa is the recently released community developed modification that aims to remake and remaster the classic original Valve game: Half-Life and is freely available for anyone to download. But before we get into the game itself, a history lesson:
Valve has had a cult following for some years now, and have a long history of having an eye for talent, picking up community modifications or small indie game teams and running with concepts and releasing them as fully fledged games. I can rattle off many big names that developed in this fashion including Counterstrike, Team Fortress and Portal. But where did it all start for Valve?
Half-Life, running on a heavily modified Quake engine, was Valve Software’s first release. It was a smash hit, selling millions of copies. The PC community took the game into their hearts, and produced many mods, which grew into Counterstrike and Team Fortress Classic, both franchises which are very strong today. Upon the success of these games, Valve released Half-Life 2 in 2004, along with their new Source engine, which was an even bigger hit and regarded as one of the best games ever made.
When a sequel to a beloved game is released and that game has modding support, there will undoubtedly be a group of people that will try to remake the original game in the new engine, see Morrowblivion, which has recently slowed in production due to a new project: Skywind. This happened with Half-Life back in 2004 and the source engine, but this time project didn’t die, and now, 8 years later, has finally been released.
When I first fired up Black Mesa and found myself on the Black Mesa Transport System tram, I had an instant nostalgia trip; people who played the original game will instantly be able to see the attention to detail that the creators have put into this game. The love of the original really shines through, from G-Man in the tram across the line to Barney knocking on the door, it’s all there.
The game looks and feels like a Triple-A title, the texture work, facial animations and voice work are all very good, especially if you consider it is a community project done for free by a group of dedicated fans. The game is around 8-10 hours long (! That’s two whole Call of Duty Campaigns !) and encompasses the first 14 chapters of the original game up to the end of the Lambda Core. The remaining 4 chapters are promised to be released at a later date.
The gunplay is a little all over the place, the Glock feels like a peashooter, you almost need to unload a whole clip into a headcrab zombie to take it down, while the Magnum feels overpowered, being able to one-shot all but the toughest enemies. The same comparison can be made between the MP5 and the Spaz-12. The Tau Cannon feels great, as does the Gluon Gun, and the option to roll or throw grenades creates some interesting gameplay options.
I played through the game on normal difficulty, and I must say, it was not easy. The crowbar mechanics seemed a little off, which made the early levels of Headcrab zombies fairly challenging. All enemies seem to have pin-point accuracy and lightning fast reactions, and you can easily be overwhelmed when facing up against a large group of Vortegaunts or Marines. I actually enjoyed the difficulty level and nothing gave me any extended amount of trouble, but if you are not a seasoned PC FPS player and just want to experience the story of the original or just see what all the fuss is about, I would recommend playing on easy.
It must be disclosed, I would describe the game as barely stable, with many players reporting graphical glitches and crashes, I myself had a few sections where I could not progress without going into the developer console and no-clipping through a wall to skip a room that would continuously crash the game. The game itself is very good, but you can tell that it lacks a little bit of the polish people are used to seeing in today’s games. I won’t get too caught up this flaw though, I mean hell, the game is free! But it can be a little jarring.
Some of this lack of polish I admit would probably be down to games today being easier than they were years ago, and remaking and staying true to a game 14 years old is going to have some growing pains, but some things, like first person platforming, have been bread out of modern games for a reason!
Before we wrap up, I must mention the music is fucking amazing and captures the atmosphere of the game perfectly. I really recommend people into VG Music go check it out here. It’s available to download as Pay-What-You-Want, including nothing, but I would strongly recommend if you like what you hear to throw a couple of bucks to the composer … it is eight years of work after all.
Black Mesa would be one of the projects that I thought was way too ambitious to ever be completed, and I am unbelievably glad to be proven wrong. The achievement of this game, 8 years in the making, is incredible, and I congratulate the developers wholeheartedly and hope they reap rewards their efforts have sown.
As for recommending the game, It’s probably not for everybody, and I may just be blinded by nostalgia. But I encourage anyone who played the original Half-Life to play it for the sheer nostalgia trip, and I would also encourage people who have only played Half-Life 2 and it’s episodes to take a look at where Gordon began, or if you’re just curious, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s free… why the fuck wouldn’t you try it?
If you’re unsure or I haven’t convinced you to download it right now, the game has recently been Greenlit to be released on Steam, and I would assume that a lot of the issues that have been discovered in the first release will be fixed by then, so keep an eye out!
Black Mesa is available to download via browser or torrent for free at: http://release.blackmesasource.com/. Check it out!