Black Mesa Review
How can you review Black Mesa? As a free downloadable mod of Valve’s original Half-Life, it seems a bit redundant. You could just download it for yourself and find out, after all.
But then this is clearly a very important point in the video game industry. Black Mesa – as a project – began many moons ago, way before the current trend of slapping ‘HD’ on a box and reselling something that came out a couple of years ago.
In the face of these HD remakes, Black Mesa is something of a revelation. But then that’s because there’s no money behind it: this is a selection of fans that either have a serious love for Half-Life or are applying to work at Valve in the most arduous way possible.
Black Mesa is more than just Half-Life in the 2007 Source engine. Real care and attention has gone into making this the ultimate Half-Life remake, and it shows from the instant you click ‘New Game’.
The famous opening of Half-Life has had a huge reworking. The mechanics are still the same: you’ll travel through different distinct areas (each of which parallel the varying locations of the full game), you’ll meet and greet fellow scientists, you’ll suit-up in your Hazard gear and then you’ll cause a resonance cascade.
Just a normal day at the office, really.
But while the events are the same, Black Mesa’s attention to detail is still just as fascinating, resulting in a weird mix of nostalgia and novelty.
Everyone remembers this ‘boss’ fight.
Take that famous tram ride, for example. The same recognisable locations are there: the security guard banging on the door, the helicopter preparing for takeoff in the canyon area or the mech marching through radioactive waste.
But here they’re tweaked and improved. The mech now features a pair of scientists struggling to free themselves from the area; a subtle change, perhaps, but adds narrative weight to the tram ride in a fashion that only Valve itself would match.
This continues, as well. Entering Sector C Anomalous Materials now features a glass panel, with a new guard passing judgment on Gordon Freeman’s apparent loss of a ponytail.
It’s new, it’s funny, but most of all it leaves you questioning whether or not it was the original. It’s not, of course, there was no window in the 1998 version, but the fact that it feels as part of the series is a testament to the quality the Black Mesa team has put into this game.
This same attention to detail filters throughout Black Mesa. Old areas have been recreated with increased detail and better visuals, the Source 2007 engine doing a fantastic job of modernising the game.
Sometimes liberties may have been taken, adding in new corridors or rooms – even altering areas entirely – but it’s always complimentary to the original.
Some areas have been recreated entirely, gameplay elements included.
In some cases completely new areas have been included, whether it’s physics-based puzzles or additional platforming opportunities. And again, it’s an improvement.
The Source engine brings much more than just fancier lighting models and improved models, too. As a physics-led engine, it’s a given that new opportunities arise throughout.
Gears must be placed into their necessary sockets to make a pulley system work, flares can be used to set headcrab zombies on fire or turrets can be replaced for personal defence.
Everything about Black Mesa has been considered, reworked if necessary and given a visual overhaul when it isn’t.
As such this is an opportunity to replay one of the most important first-person shooters in videogame history. Yet still, bizarrely, Black Mesa will manage to feel fresh and new.
With new outstanding sound-alike voice acting, in-game achievements and a superb soundtrack from Joel Nielsen it almost feels like theft to play this game for free – because if you’re enjoying something for free it’s obviously piracy, right?
But if all classic games were given this level of love and devotion then we’d never need to play a new game again. It’ll be an injustice if the Black Mesa team isn’t gobbled up by Valve.