If there is one video game that I can vividly remember my father playing every night when I was a kid, it’s Half-Life. We spent many a night bonding over our enjoyment of shooting up aliens plaguing the Black Mesa Research Facility and constantly failing jumping puzzles or shamelessly seeking guide through online walkthroughs. I’ve never been very skilled at first-person shooters (or any shooters, really), but I’ve always loved Half-Life (and Opposing Force and Blue Shift) for the memories associated with it.
So when my brother informed us of the Black Mesa project, I was super excited. In short, Black Mesa (originally known as Black Mesa: Source) is a remake of the original Half-Life in Valve’s Source Engine. This is the game engine that Valve has utilized in all its games since 2004, including Half-Life 2. Black Mesa is not a whole new game, but a mod that one can download and access completely free of charge so long as you have Steam installed.
Not only has the game’s graphics been updated/rebuilt in the new engine, but the unique character models, all-new voice acting, and maps have been added to the game. It isn’t a complete copy of the original, as things have been changed around a bit for sake of time and the’final level’ Xen was omitted from the game’s release (they will be releasing it at a later date), but from what little I’ve played of the game so far, I have enjoyed myself.
Needless to say, the improved models and textures are the biggest wow factor when you start the game up. The original Half-Life’s graphics were fantastic for their time, but are obviously dated by now; Black Mesa fixed all of that and more. There isn’t much else I can say about this, so here’s a comparison photo:
NPCs that repeat the same phrases over and over while talking to people with the exact same face as them do still appear frequently throughout the game, but it’s not like people play Half-Life for a semblance of realistic social interaction, so I can forgive it. All in all, the inhabitants of Black Mesa really do help bring the environment alive — even when they’re getting slaughtered by aliens!
The game itself still plays like the original as far as I can tell. Then again, I never actually played Half-Life myself and my experience with Half-Life 2 were strictly console, so I could be mistaken. Still, the controls are easy to get the hang of if you’re familiar with any first-person shooter on the PC. My only controls-related complaint is that I still can’t get the hang of the crouch-jump move (how does one even perform a jump while crouching?), and I know it’s going to be important in upcoming puzzle areas. Have I mentioned that I always die in platforming-puzzle areas? No? Well, I do. I hope that Black Mesa will be a bit more forgiving than the original game was in that aspect.
My biggest problem with Black Mesa is the loading screen times, but I can roughly guess as to why they exist. If they’re not doing it simply to push ahead the nostalgia factor by ten (the original Half-Life’s loading screens took FOREVER), I assume that the reason for this is that the game is a mod, not a disc-based game, and building the environments takes a long time. I’m sure it’s something like that, so I’m not upset about it. It just sucks to be so into the game, so very involved and absorbed into Gordon Freeman’s mindset, and then you hit a wall that kicks you out of the magic circle with big bold letters.
As I said before, I’ve not personally gotten very far into Black Mesa due to a terribly busy week. I only just started encountering head crab zombies, throwing flares all over the place, and unsuccessfully rescuing my fellow scientists — but I can’t imagine the game suddenly taking a rapid up or downward turn anytime soon. If it does, I’ll write up a follow article to reassess my thoughts. But until then, if you’re a fan of Half-Life, it can’t hurt you at all to give it a try if your computer is able to run it. It’s free, it’s nostalgic, and hacking away at aliens with a crowbar has never been more fun!