Black Mesa, or Black Mesa: Source as it was originally called, is a fan-made recreation of the Valve Software classic Half-Life, remade within the Source engine.
Half-Life is already a classic video-game in its own right, but to see how much care and detail that Crowbar Collective has put in to make this game worthy of playing in modern times is genuinely incredible. Almost everything from the original game has been either improved completely, or added onto to refine the experience of the original Half-Life – this isn’t just a version of Half-Life with up-to-date graphics, this is a complete remake which even blows Half-Life 2 out of the water with how good it is.
The quality of the game itself is so good that you would have thought Valve made it – but it goes even beyond what Valve was capable of. Despite being a complete remake, it still has the same atmosphere that the original Half-Life had but better – Black Mesa actually feels like this massive science research facility – I think that’s what has translated best to Black Mesa, the limitations of the GoldSource engine have been passed and the Source engine has allowed for intricate and detailed level design to make it convincingly look like a futuristic but still relatively-close-to-life science construction.
Unlike Half-Life 2, you can’t just one-shot an enemy with your shotgun -ammo is much more sparse and thought has to be put into when to use different weapons. There was a few times where I found myself reloading because I had ran out of ammo clip and had used multiple shotgun shots on an enemy that probably could have just used the pistol instead. It’s so much more accomplishing when you progress through a game while making more informed, smarter decisions instead of just breezing though and just two-shotting every enemy in sight, which is something that Valve’s original games suffered from that Black Mesa improves on. As a result, fight scenes are more tense, more difficult and more satisfying when you clear an area that was full of army soldiers and all that remains is you and your gun.
Black Mesa has pretty much expanded on Half-Life’s original campaign, or has found ways to improve it, such as shortening the chapter “On A Rail” or completely remaking entire areas. The best example of this is Xen, which not only looks absolutely incredible, but has been renovated to play better and feel better. The original bosses and enemies are still there, but the area itself has been redesigned from the ground-up and it is a sight to behold. The first time you load into an area you’ll probably at least think “Holy shit” – It’s absolutely amazing what the Black Mesa team have done to essentially make entirely new levels for Xen, and to do it the justice it deserved after Gabe Newell himself had voiced his displeasure at the Xen from the original Half-Life.
I’m not trying to discredit how beautiful the rest of the game is, since all of it has an incredible atmosphere and design, but completely redoing Xen to that level is an incredible feat that deserves a lot of praise.
If there’s one thing that the game doesn’t shy away from, it’s exploration and independence. This is made abundantly clear when you see the amount of achievements the game has for very intricate and specialised actions – one of which includes carrying a pizza all the way to the end of the game where another is just refusing to progress the story at all. There is ammo scattered around every level, in small vents or on-top of desks in the facility – guns themselves are found as you progress through the game and they get increasingly more fun to toy around with in later areas.
I can’t even say that I’m shocked that Valve endorsed this fan-reimagining of the original Half-Life. It does so many things right to bring the game to current generations. It feels like it was made by a AAA studio but it wasn’t. This was a labour of love project for over 10 years and it just shows that the fans of game franchises can truly make something spectacular when given the right support and tools.
Black Mesa is an astounding from-the-ground-up recreation of Half-Life, bringing the game to modern standards in a fantastic way. It’s incredibly made in every single way. Levels, music, you name it. The years of hard work that it took to make this game real have absolutely been worth it, and the result is a phenomenal version of Half-Life for the current generations that does justice, and more, to the original game.