Developer: Black Mesa Development Team
Publisher: Black mesa Development Team
Platform: PC (Web, Steam)
Release Date: September 14, 2012 (out now)
ESRB: N/A (M-17 recommended)
I'll be honest and straight-forward; I'm not a fan of Half-Life 2. I never dug the sci-fi occupation-resistance plot and I never felt emotionally connected to the characters. I didn't really appreciate the combat as much as I probably should have. In fact, I didn't like any of the things that made Half-Life 2 great. I played Half-life 2 in 2008. Fast-forward about 4 years or so and we're now in the presence of the legendary Black Mesa, a nearly-vaporware remake of Half-Life 1 in the newer Source engine. After playing through much of Black Mesa's exciting, intense campaign I may just have to give the sequel another run-through.
The first thing you'll notice about Black Mesa is just how great it looks and sounds. The audio has been completely re-worked and the Source engine visuals, though aging, feel fresh and modern. It certainly looks better than the original Half-Life, that's for sure! The voice-overs are also well-done, though it's clear a number of lesser characters had the same voice actor. I can't knock the game for that, because the guy does the one-liners so well! It has just enough cheese factor to be endearing, yet serious enough to involve you in the intriguing plot at hand.
Speaking of plot, I should mention that Black Mesa is incredibly faithful to the original. Little, if anything, has been changed from the original game. It's all been gloriously updated in HD graphics and given a mechanics update. That means that the only things new are the visuals, sound, some new physics puzzles, and general feel of the game. The rest of the source material has remained mostly untampered with.
While the addition of puzzles and a face-lift may seem skin-deep, it completely changes the way Half-Life plays. This standalone mod really makes the franchise feel new in a way that hasn't been done in 5 years. Since it's been 7 since I've played the original, it's great to get re-acquainted with the original Xenian invasion and the likable cast of oddball characters. What Black Mesa has really incorporated, however, is improved atmosphere. There are times when the game is genuinely creepy. It's frightening to walk down a hall and open a door.....only to watch in horror as an unknown beast grabs a scientist and blows him up in an air vent shaft.
Once you discover what's really killing off the scientists and Black Mesa security officers, things get intense. The game doesn't truly let up, even as the plot steamrolls to the unfinished resolution. It's a challenging pace to keep up, given how many boss battles, angry Marines, and head-crabs players have to kill off. Thankfully, Black Mesa never feels overwhelming; it's always just the right amount of action and tension to keep you engaged and wanting to know what happens next.
The team that built Black Mesa, comprised of 40-odd volunteers, has also updated the games enemies and combat environments. Everything feels more open and organic, thanks to larger spaces and less claustrophobic corridors. The new Marines and aliens are also deadlier than ever. The soldiers use flanking, grenades, and suppressive fire to flush and pin players at will. The aliens are equally aggressive, favoring attacks in large packs or surprise assaults from behind. Trust me; you'll be thanking the heavens for HP health packs hidden around the varied environments.
While Black Mesa is pretty darn good, it does have a few minor flaws. Noticeably, the game still features first-person platforming. And yes, it's still just as hard to do as it was in 1998. Jumping from swinging box to swinging box can be frustrating once you've tried for the 17th time. I've also noticed a few minor glitches, like body parts getting stuck in walls. As I'm sure you've also read, the loading times are frustratingly long. This isn't anything the development team can avoid, since it's a fault with the Source engine. Now, Black Mesa does lack the Xen conclusion as of right now, but it will be added at a later point. And let's be honest; Xen had far more platforming than anyone wanted, right?
These minor complaints aside, Black Mesa is a fantastic addition to any gamer's collection. If you own a PC and have internet, you have almost no excuse not to start downloading this ASAP. This mod represents the true potential of a dedicated group of fans when it's given complete freedom to honor the source material. Black Mesa is a wonderful, FREE update to a classic that deserves all of the hype and praise 8 years of development has garnered. You can get Black Mesa from the official website, http://release.blackmesasource.com/.
BONUS: The excellent soundtrack is also freely available! Kudos to Joel Nielsen for a great musical score.