Black Mesa was originally two separate volunteer projects that had the common goal of recreating Half-Life in the Source engine. In development for eight years, Black Mesa often drew comparison to Duke Nukem Forever in terms of its extended development and how little information was released over the years – a trailer here, some screenshots there, and not much else. Many speculated that the project was vaporware until a surprise launch earlier this month. Now that it’s here, though, a very big question remains … is Black Mesa a worthy remake?
Let me start off by saying this isn’t going to be a your typical review, mostly because to review Black Mesa would be just about the same as reviewing Half-Life. It’s almost an exact recreation of the original game, with a modern day overhaul. However, Black Mesa is not just a simple reskin of Half-Life with better graphics and Source’s physics engine. You can tell just by looking that the design team behind Black Mesa have poured a lot of love and effort into reimagining the original game into something larger and more detailed that still stays true to its source material. Characters and enemies you encounter look, act and sound just like you remember from the original Half-Life, and the levels will feel near identical to anyone who’s ventured through the Black Mesa Research Facility before.
There are some areas where Black Mesa‘s developers have taken some artistic liberties that modernize the gameplay a bit. Some sections have been made shorter to reduce repetition – there’s far less time spent crawling around in vents than I remember, for example. The entire end chapter set on the alien world Xen is also absent – and is scheduled to arrive in a later update – but iconic scenes like the fight in the Blast Pit against the weird, massive tentacle hydra thing or the cliff-side duel with the Apache helicopter have been faithfully recreated almost shot for shot. From the alien-infested office complexes to the irradiated waste processing plant to the Lambda reactor, Black Mesa is just full of moments where you’ll stop and think, “Hey, I remember this part!”
Unfortunately, there are a few areas where Black Mesa‘s developers should have improved upon some of the original game’s mechanics, but didn’t take the opportunity. Half-Life‘s infamous platforming sections make a return without adjustment, so until you master the game’s crouch-jump combo, you’re going to taking a fair amount of falling damage or end up neck deep in a pool of something glowing, green and highly radioactive.
Also present is an issue with Black Mesa‘s combat. While most of the time, you’ll be able to Rambo your way through enemies without too much issue, you’ll occasionally hit areas where even with full health, armor and ammo, you’re just plain outgunned by some of the hostiles thrown at you. It’s a jarring and frustrating experience to be ambushed by half a dozen soldiers, open up with your entire arsenal, and barely survive the gunfight only to be jumped by another half dozen soldiers before you’re given any chance to heal up. The original Half-Life wasn’t exactly a cakewalk, but after comparing the two, Black Mesa seems to have ramped up the difficulty just a tad too sharply.
When you get down to it, though, Black Mesa is a good translation of a great game. Aside from some of the more frustrating mechanics carried over from the original, Black Mesa has definitely been worth the long wait and I enjoyed the chance to re-experience the origin story of everyone’s favorite crowbar-wielding theoretical physicist. If you missed out on Half-Life, Black Mesa provides a nice alternative experience that won’t require you to boot up the original 14-year old title. If you’re a huge fan of the series, then you owe it to yourself to check out Black Mesa. It might not be that “other” Half-Life game we’ve all been eagerly waiting for, but it’s still worthy enough to carry the title.
Game: Black Mesa
Developer: Black Mesa Modification Team