A few short days ago I told of my first impressions on the fan-developed Half-Life remake, Black Mesa. With the entirety of my return to the Black Mesa Research Facility behind me, here’s the review:
Fans of the Half-Life series have learned to be a patient bunch. We’ve waited 5 years just to hear news of the next installment (still waiting), and we waited an excruciating 8 years for this remake. Black Mesa begins just the same as Half-Life; with Gordon riding the tram, late to work for an important day of scientific experimentation. As expected, the game looks much better on the surface and around the edges. It’s amusing to find just how jarring some of the original’s now-graphical short-comings appear today. 8 and 16-bit games still have the potential to visually dazzle modern-day gamers, but the early days of 3D just don’t hold up the same. That’s not to say Half-Life has lost its relevance or became any less fun to play, but Black Mesa is a welcome visual upgrade to an aging, wrinkled game. It may not strike a chord with the young cynics who were coddled as youth with the current generation’s graphical prowess, but fans of the series will certainly appreciate what’s been done here.
Black Mesa plays near-identical to the rest of the series, so there’s not much to complain about here. Nearly every jump requires a precisely timed crouch, however, so getting used to that mechanic is wholly necessary. If you revisited the research facility after Half-Life Source was released, you should already have a grasp on how this works. For whatever reason, I found the mechanic to make certain sections more engaging; like leaping over the laser-triggers of a mine. Requiring you to raise Gordon’s legs mid-jump just makes things feel a bit more exciting. Speaking of excitement, prepare for some of the most engaging and exhilarating action sequences you’ll play all year. The end of the “Questionable Ethics” chapter probably wasn’t anything that stood out to you in Half-Life, but in Black Mesa, it surely will. A fantastic soundtrack helps push this action-sequence over the edge. Throughout the entirety of Black Mesa, I found health packs and ammo galore, minus one delicious, explosive thing: the MP-5′s alternate grenade launcher. While the grenade launcher is more than ready for business in Black Mesa, ammo for it is rather scarce. It’s a real shame, too, as some of the most fun I had through Black Mesa came as a result of the weapon’s explosive consequences. Nothing brings more satisfaction than laying waste to your foes with a good impact explosion right in the middle of them.
Your security guard buddies are, of course, scattered all over the complex for you to find, rescue, and take along with you. This time around, they’re more than simple fodder for the creatures of Xen and the sense of companionship is welcome in an otherwise desolate and half-destroyed facility. It was with some degree of accomplishment that I found myself leading one security guard along a precarious and violent path only to eventually be greeted by another. Turns out my buddy’s name was Jackson, as I learned from the shock and amazement of his other security guarding pal. That was a nice addition; the familiarity of characters with one another as you make your typically lonesome trek to the Lambda Core.
You’ll find yourself in many familiar areas, albeit re-imagined versions of them. Some of the most beloved scenery and sequences were handled with much care from a group of highly talented and caring individuals. If you’re a seasoned Half-Life veteran, you’ll have no problem navigating the landscape. Hell, even if you’re altogether unsure of just what in the living fuck a vortigaunt is, you’ll likely be moving through this thinking-person’s FPS without much trepidation. This was something of a feature in this game that I truly have mixed feelings regarding: While most of the puzzle elements remain, unscathed and much the same, each seem to be quite easier to make your way through and much less time-consuming. For instance, the “On A Rail” chapter was handled so that not much time was needed to keep Gordon moving briskly on his life or death mission to the Core. You’ll spend less time trying to figure things out and more time moving forward. In some cases, this is a good thing. There’s less of a break in the action or story and you’re inspired to keep playing as a result. However, sometimes things just seemed to come to Gordon too easily. You’ll breeze through an area feeling less accomplishment perhaps than you did in Valve’s treasured Half-Life release. I will definitely attribute the bulk of this examination to my familiarity with the groundwork that had been laid fifteen years prior, but some puzzle elements just seemed too easy. That small gripe aside, the pacing is excellent and all the things you love from Half-Life, you’ll find looking new and polished.
The story is completely unchanged, so if you were worried, fear not. There’s a clear respect and love for the source material here and you’ll find yourself feeling oddly connected to the developers through that mutual love of the series. If you’ve yet to play anything in the Half-Life universe, I would still urge you to begin with the original. This is, however, a lovingly-crafted re-imagining for long-time fans. I feel guilty for playing this game free of charge. A lot of hard work and a lot of years went into creating this fantastic game. If you’re a fan of Half-Life or looking for a first person shooter that makes you think, you can find much better than Black Mesa.
- Black Mesa Is Finally Upon Us (thinksoul25.com)
- Black Mesa Source: first reviews appear, get the scores here (vg247.com)