Normally I wouldn’t talk at length about a mod, but Black Mesa has been a mod that has been in the back of my mind for a few weeks now, so I figured it was the perfect time to talk about it.
Once thought as vaporware, Black Mesa has finally seen the light of day, a remake of Half Life. Although without the Xen levels, though strangely enough I haven’t heard anyone complaining about that omission.
What may first strike someone playing Black Mesa is how NICE it looks for a video game mod. Made from the ground up, this game breathes new life into the dying Source engine. The Black Mesa Inbound chapter is a great sight-seeing tour for anyone who has played Half Life.
An incredible rendition of the Anomalous Materials lab, amazing fanservice with Eli and Dr. Kleiner, and the resonance cascade scene rendered in hi-def glory. This mod was beautiful nostalgia. Though by Office Complex, I was noticing some cracks on the surface…
When anyone goes about remaking a game, the first things they should do is figure out what worked and what didn’t work. Well, it’s easy to see what worked in Half Life; the scripted sequences, tight pacing, balance between combat and puzzle solving, and varied gameplay. It’s also easier to see what DIDN’T work; an abundance of jumping puzzles.
I think you see where I’m going with this.
My first warning flag started coming up as soon I saw the box-smashing room from Office Complex unchanged. This section from the original Half Life had you jumping across boxes dangling over a bottomless pit. Half Life was a shooter from the 90s, you sprinted faster than a speeding car and could jump like a man on the moon. Black Mesa is on the source engine, you run like a normal person and jump like a man in plate metal armor. Is this painting a clear picture?
Not only does Black Mesa retain the shitty jumping puzzles from the original Half Life, it also feels obliged to add in BRAND NEW JUMPING PUZZLES. My breaking point was nearly reached when I came to the cliff side section in Surface Tension and saw this.
Are you for fucking real.
I feel like two people were working on this mod; a fan of Half Life who realized its faults and sought to remedy them (i.e removing the vent maze from We’ve Got Hostiles) and a cretin who thought Half Life was flawless and wanted to make his own contributions (Why the fuck are there more jumping puzzles than there was in Half Life????) If the Black Mesa portion of this mod is to be trusted, the Xen levels are probably going to resemble a level from Alice: Madness Returns.
On the positive side; the guns are great to use, the 357 in particular being a standout in “fucking awesome” weapons. The soldiers are a TON of fun to fight and the lobby battle in Questionable Ethics is easily the standout moment of the mod by far. The music is excellent, atmospheric, and fits Black Mesa’s somber tone excellently.
More annoyances! The bullsquids now hit you with toxic vomit so you can hear your suit bark at you about “hazardous material” everytime you fight one! Being near radioactive waste makes the screen go fuzzy! Fucking annoying! The crowbar is lifeless and flat, why couldn’t they have just used the Half Life 2 crowbar is beyond me! I hate how every level is jam packed with headcrabs and zombies, it stops being fun and gets derivative very fast.
If you’re a fan of Half Life, you’ll love Black Mesa as a sight-seeing tour. If you’re trying to get into this Half Life business, I’d honestly recommend just playing the original. Half Life has aged very well due to its tight pacing and fun combat, so I’d definitely say to give it a shot. Black Mesa has many little things that seriously drag the experience down, but never enough things to make me outright hate it. Is it wrong to judge a free mod at such high standards? Well when the mod is this beautiful and professional looking I feel like I SHOULD hold it to higher standards.
OVERALL: A wonderful looking nostalgia trip with great soldier combat, but many little things that are just irritating, also BRAND NEW JUMPING PUZZLES and physics puzzles. Because those didn’t get old by the time of Half Life 2: Episode 2. Music is great though.