Review: Black Mesa: Source

Black Mesa: Source

By on September 18, 2012 at 11:39 am

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
22 comments (Leave your own)

“Strangely” long load times? That’s just the source engine, all source games have atrocious load times. Last I heard it had to do with excessive encryption in their gcf files as any other game can load much more while doing it much faster at the same time.


•No Gravity Gun

I don’t see why this is a bad thing… it’s a Half-Life remake; there was no gravity gun.


It has nothing to do with encryption and in fact, there is no encryption in the Black Mesa files (which don’t even use GCF).

It probably has more to do with static lighting (Black Mesa has a LOT of high resolution lightmaps; the largest BSP is 114MB, which is huge) among other things.


I never liked the final levels anyway, the boss battle in particular was crappy make-work.


Crouch jumping is realistic and I adore that they have utilised it. Unless you can jump on a table from a standing position WITHOUT bending your legs (mid-air crouching) than you are able to bitch and moan, otherwise, accept it for the feature it is and not a bug.



OK, didn’t know the mod was incomplete… guess I’ll wait for the full thing before playing.



You might be waiting a while…



You’re only missing out on the Xen levels which would be a good spot to pick back up on when they’re released.


The “Bad” seem fine. We know its no 100% complete yet, and the others are irrelevant to a remake of HL.


- No Gravity Gun

The fuck?

And what’s wrong with crouch jumping? Also I don’t understand the comments about health stations and sprint. Health stations have always taken a few seconds to heal you up and HL1 had always run, so you were boosting around really fast all of the time.


- A lot of crouch-jumping
- No Gravity Gun

Holy fucking shit, you’re retarded.


It seems he was grasping at things to complain about if that’s all he’s got. As it stands there is more here to recommend than there is against. I do love how nice it feels, although the opening seems oddly self-referential. You’ll know it when you hear it.

Plus you forgot to mention – female scientists! Black Mesa facility has now become an equal-opportunity workplace! :D I don’t know, I kind of thought it was cool, looking out of the tram and spotting that the first time…


Zisheng Chen should learn to play.


It’s a more a list of “things that are annoying” in an otherwise fantastic remake. Remember, the “Good vs. Bad” section is more for people who either haven’t read, or can’t be bothered, reading the words of the review. Think of it as a warning for newcomers to Half-life who might be familiar with more modern FPS tropes. Naturally, people who already love the original Half-life know that those minor points carry no weight.


Yeah but…no gravity gun? Crikey, what sort of “annoying” is that? Might as well start complaining because it doesn’t have a portal gun. Why can’t I use morph ball? Hey, I hear this mod doesn’t enable you to spirit walk, what sort of crud is this?


It’s simply a point that is being made for people who may have played Half-life 2 but not Half-life. It’s highly unlikely, but it’s merely something that should be mentioned for people who haven’t read the entire review.


Retarded review.


Bah, the Xen levels taught me how to platform in 3D. Skills like that proved useful later in (gaming) life anyway in terms of dexterity.

As for the review, I think it’s a tad unfair to call the reviewer retarded just because he was scraping the bottom of the barrel for things to mark down on the “Bad” list.


Zisheng Chen,

Yeah but I think the point of the “bad” section is to note things that are, well you know, bad. I fail to see how most of those points actually detract from the experience at all, except the slow loading times maybe?


Yeah but…no gravity gun?Crikey, what sort of “annoying” is that?Might as well start complaining because it doesn’t have a portal gun.Why can’t I use morph ball?Hey, I hear this mod doesn’t enable you to spirit walk, what sort of crud is this?

oh man, I wish I had the lol smiley


Retarded review.

Intelligent feedback.

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