Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Black Mesa

Post-Launch Review
Black Mesa
Developer: Black Mesa Modification Team
Released: September 14 2012


Black Mesa is a (near-) complete remake of Half-Life, originally released in November 1998. Black Mesa brings the aging game into the current iteration of the Source engine with upgraded graphics and tweaked gameplay. It follows the now-classic story of Gordon Freeman, a physicist working for the Black Mesa Research Facility, caught in the middle of a catastrophic dimensional rift and the military response to the event.

At Launch

Black Mesa's Metacritic score is 85 - interesting given that Half-Life's score is 96, and noticeably strange when critics call it "Half-Life but better". Jumping was the only major widespread point of contention.

Post Launch

The team plans to work on and release the last few levels as an optional add-on.

The Good

Black Mesa features a lot of small modifications and improvements that aren't always immediately noticeable, but are definitely improvements. The increased background dialogue makes the facility feel more active and alive, and some of the weapons have tiny little improvements - like an iron sight on the revolver, which everyone used for sniping anyway.
Updated Graphics
The visuals aren't super modern top-notch, but they look better than almost anything I've ever seen on Source. The lighting is particularly well done, and along with the increased object and detail density, makes a lot of environments feel much richer than in the original game. Some chapters gain particularly great benefits from the overhaul, such as On A Rail and some of the labs, which were pretty sparse in the original game.
Kleiner and Vance
Two primary characters from Half-Life 2 - doctors Kleiner and Vance - were co-workers of Gordon's at the Black Mesa facility, but no one was named in the original Half-Life. The Black Mesa modders managed to fit them in rather seamlessly, providing a much more solid link between the two games. The only way it could have been better is to have had Eli mention that he's worried about his daughter.
Feels the Same
The graphics may be updated and fancy, and some of the finer details of the layout may have changed a bit, but Black Mesa is unshakably faithful to the original even where it deviates. You have to be very familiar with Half-Life to notice most of the changes. It shows that the modders played the original a lot and knew exactly what they were doing. If you ran through Half-Life multiple times, you'll have some great nostalgic moments as you see some classic levels updated in the modern Source engine.

The Neutral

Where It Ends
Black Mesa doesn't fully reproduce all of Half-Life - it ends before entering the borderlands dimension Xen. A lot of critics think this is a good move because Xen was definitely the weakest segment of Half-Life. On the other hand, the game doesn't really end - you jump into the portal to Xen and it fades to black. One of the absolute best moments in Half-Life was the shocker of a conclusion, and it's not present here.

The Bad

Crouch Jumping
For some inexplicable reason, the modders decided that almost every jump in the game should require you to crouch jump. This is a bafflingly stupid decision which makes jumping more difficult than it needs to be, and is really the only major flaw. The other stuff is pretty forgiveable, but this one... ugh, why didn't they increase jump height or reduce object height a tiny little bit?
A Few Bad Tweaks
Most of the changes are for the better, but a couple bothered me. First and most noticeably, the SMG feels substantially different. The accuracy and damage seem lower, and it now fires in bursts. It was my go-to versatile weapon in the original Half-Life, but here it feels neutered.
Difficulty has also been significantly ramped up in certain segments. Helicopters are much tougher than they were in the original game, but taken to a ridiculous extreme - it takes something like 10 rockets to shoot down a helicopter, but only 2 or 3 for a tank. What?!
Occasional Frame Rate Issues
In certain high-intensity segments (like the final battle) I noticed a significant drop in frame rate, and also sometimes in smaller areas for no apparent reason. Kind of annoying when every other Source game runs flawlessly on my machine at maximum settings.

Not Enough Voice Actors
I didn't count, but I don't feel as though I'm exaggerating much when I say I think there were only five voice actors for the dozens of scientists and security guards you meet through the game. At first I was pleased to hear that Dr. Kleiner's voice was replicated quite well, and then I was increasingly disappointed to realize that almost every scientist sounded like Dr. Kleiner. Undercuts his little cameo quite a bit.
Terrible Military Dialogue
What the soldiers say isn't so bad in and of itself, but it's weird because they don't seem to use contractions. For example, instead of "We're gonna kick your ass!" the soldier will shout "We are going to kick your ass!". It sounds very awkward.

The Verdict

Recommendation: play it.
Black Mesa is quite probably one of the best and most ambitious mods of all time. It's a very faithful update to one of the most revered titles in PC gaming, and it's a great introduction for someone new to the franchise or who skipped the original because of its age. I listed a lot of criticisms, but those are relatively minor issues that I nitpicked because I'm such a fan of the original. Everything that made Half-Life great is still here, and most of it is better.
Best of all, it's free. Get it from the official website.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe the reason that it only got an 85 Metacritic score is because of the fact it was only "Half Life but better".

    It wasn't a completely new take on it nor was it a god-awful take on it, it was basically Half Life 1+.