If you’re the kind who looks back on life through rose-tinted glasses, take them off now and get mainstream with some hipster frames; you’re not Elton John, dammit. Back before hipster glasses were cool, Gordon Freeman was rocking them in the original Half-life. As one of the biggest mod releases of the past years and one that, frankly, a lot of people never expected to see, Black Mesa will once again take players back inside Freeman’s eyeballs and into his hazard suit. And gee-willikers, does it feel comfy.
Anyone who played the Half-life: Source re-release may have felt it was pretty much exactly the same game, just with some fancy water effects and funny physics. Since it was a direct port of the original over to the Source engine, it seemed jarring to see new effects mixed with old game assets. Props to the Black Mesa Project Team for their labour of love because BM was intended to be built from the ground up, utilising the power of the Source engine to its fullest, and bringing one of the greatest PC games of all time into the 21st century.
What you’ll immediately notice is just how much better-looking this overhaul is. While it’s no Crysis or Battlefield, the benefits of higher polygon objects, higher resolution textures, and better ambience effects serve to draw you into the world of the Black Mesa Research Facility better than ever before. The power of the Source engine also allows larger levels and expanses to really break open the scope of BM, foreshadowing just how epic the story will become.
Indeed, the story and much of the gameplay is unchanged, remaining completely faithful to what made the original a classic. The only differences I’ve noticed are changes to health stations, which heal over time, and the addition of a sprint button, making those speed-runs even speedier. While the levels have changed slightly, everything from the feel of the weapons (sadly, no Gravity Gun) to the little scripted moments will be instantly recognisable to those who have played Half-life to (half) death. It’s like when your leave home only to come back for a visit and find that your parents have moved the furniture around and suddenly you’re in a completely new home; fresh, but familiar.
Unfortunately, BM remains incomplete at this stage. The mod team argues that the final few hours of the Half-life campaign have been left out so that fans may enjoy a satisfying experience now. BM has been in development for a long time, so it would have been a tough decision to release a denim vest now (metaphorically speaking), and then add in the sleeves later for that complete stone-washed look. While development has already begun on the last few levels, newcomers may feel like BM ends on a pseudo-cliff-hanger.
Finally, a new soundtrack complements the fresh look, and new voiceovers and sound effects have been added, so the game no longer sounds like it was recorded with a web microphone. Above all, BM is both a simple and complex mod due to its source material (pun intended); simple because it’s more or less a graphical and aural update, but complex because Half-life’s gameplay and design has barely aged, remaining as one of the most iconic shooters to date. This is a must-play for fans looking to rediscover Half-life, and the perfect entry point for those who missed it the first time around; you’ll just have to wait until the rest of the mod is released.
- Much easier on the eyes and ears
- Greater sense of scope
- Remains faithful to the original…
- …which means Black Mesa is still an incredible shooter
- More Black Mesa is due “soon”, including a deathmatch mode
- Crowbar’s swinging animation actually inspired by Minecraft (but not really)
- Incomplete singleplayer campaign
- A lot of crouch-jumping
- No Gravity Gun
- Strangely long load times