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SummaryLike revisiting an old friend.
The GoodBlack Mesa Review
Welcome back to Black Mesa, Dr Freeman
The years 1997 -2000 were dominated by a chain of highly acclaimed First Person Shooters. Goldeneye 007, Unreal, System Shock 2, Deus Ex and Half Life are frequently seen as part of a watershed that stopped a growing army of endless Doom Clones. To get an idea of how quickly genre evolved, one doesn’t need to look any further than the tragic history about the failures of Daikatana and Duke Nukem Forever.
Amidst this flurry of shooters, Half Life is remembered for doing away with the idea of levels, and instead setting itself in the continuous Black Mesa facility. The story was emphasized through the use of scripted sequences which saw the storyline always unfolding in the player’s perspective. The result was that the game design was much more organic and logical, and served to tell the story. The game was an immediate hit upon its release in 1998. In 2004, Half Life was ported over to the Source Engine which was being heavily touted for Half Life 2. Half Life: Source, was a somewhat disappointing result, having used the out-dated assets of the original game with its much underutilised technology of Source. Of the differences, I noticed there was: • Real Time Lighting • Water reflections and • Rag doll physics Yup, that was it. The fan disappointment was so great that a team of 40 people got together in the end of 2004 and formed the Black Mesa Project to recreate Half Life from scratch in order to utilize the Source engines potential. Its nearly 8 years later, and now in September 2012, Black Mesa has finally arrived. Is it good? Read on.
The first thing you’ll notice is how gorgeous the visuals in Black Mesa are. Everything has been modelled in meticulous detail, from the wrinkles on the head of a bald scientist, to the buttons on the health station. We even get to see a young Issac Kliener and Eli Vance sporting black hair. As you can figure from this, minor changes have been made to fit with the continuity of Half Life 2. As a consequence, Barney Calhoun and many of his apparent clones is absent from the game, supposedly filling out his role in Half Life: Blue Shift.
Asides from its stunning visuals, Black Mesas other great asset is its love for the original, the overall map design remains familiar, and when there are changes, they are so subtle that you don’t notice them. About an hour into my trip through Black Mesas dilapidated ruins, I forgot that I was playing Black Mesa and was convinced that it really was Half Life. This does add a lot of excitement for veteran players, as they wonder through game wondering how it will visually recreate many of Half Lifes iconic moments. Another addition is the rerecorded voice overs which have superior sound quality, compared to the originals which sound like they were recorded over the phone. Unfortunately Michael Shapiro and Henry Robbins were unable to reprise their roles. However their replacements provide eerily spot on impersonations.
The biggest flaw in Half Life 1 , was that despite the ground-breaking decision to use the Black Mesa facility as the games sole setting. Black Mesa itself ultimately never felt like it had been lived in. Despite the facility tearing itself apart, the walls and floors still had a squeaky clean look to them. In Black Mesa, they now look dirty, old and destroyed.
The BadSadly at the moment Black Mesa is only 90% complete, as the project team have not finished designing the Xen levels. But based on the incredible work I’ve experienced from them, I can only look forward to seeing their envisioning of the finale between Gordan and the infamous Nilhilanth. Again, Black Mesa is a faithful recreation of Half Life, so if you didn't enjoy Half Life the first time around, this isnt the game for you.
The Bottom LineMany remakes fail to supersede the original, and many modders wouldn’t dare create a new game mode, much less take on a project as ambitious as providing a near- complete recreation of one of the most revolutionary first person shooters of all time. Black Mesa has done both, and for that it is an astonishing achievement.
With the team now focusing its energies on completing Xen in the coming months, we can only anticipate what major projects they’ll work on once Black Mesa is completed. Will we see the Black Mesa Incident from eyes of Adrian Shepherd and Barney Calhoun? What about a reimagining of Gordon Freemans time in City 17? Or the inevitable re-remake of Half Life when Half Life 3 roles out in Source 2? But alas, the future will come when it comes. Whats important is now. Now that Black Mesa is here, we all have a reason to go back and relieve Half Life all over again.