Black Mesa started as a free mod back in 2012, unfortunately, I have no experience with the game from that time. Black Mesa didn’t enter my gaming radar until it reached Steam in the form av Early Access, and while I wasn’t immediately impressed, nor interested exactly – I’m glad my outlook changed. Because, as it turned out, the updated version of the legendary game Half-Life is damn good! While I only have admiration for the GoldSrc engine (all those hours in Day of Defeat, and Counter-Strike), it is getting a bit long in the tooth. The Source engine, from Half-Life 2, which Black Mesa use is technically old too, but it does feel and look more modern, especially since Valve still updates it with new features.
While it’s not a one-to-one remake, it does follow the story pretty much to a point, with added minor events, and graphical and physics-based improvements. The only part that is major changed, and improved upon depending on viewpoint is Xen – the alien dimension world. So, how does it play? Fantastically well. Like I said, while there is nothing wrong with the original game and engine, it is pure bliss getting to see Black Mesa in full graphical splendor with added hilarious ragdoll effect to corpses. Everything physics-based is tremendously improved since large parts of Half-Life 2 were basically a physics demo made in the form of a game.
Nothing gameplay-wise has changed, at least in my opinion. I know people find the original Half-Life much faster, while Half-Life 2 remains clunkier, but to me, both games still have that old-school feel of fast-paced action with tight keyboard & mouse controls. I’m not an aficionado, though, beyond a half-casual approach to the games, and their engines. To me, and this will sound heretical to some, the heavily improved visuals are enough to me to prefer Black Mesa over the original. It just looks, sounds, and plays phenomenally.
Where I find the game stumbles is the last part of the game, namely: Xen. To be fair to Crowbar Collective, they didn’t have too much to work with considering this area in the original Half-Life was short and had an unfinished vibe to it. The devs had the idea to expand this part of the game, and while that is admirable, this part of Black Mesa meanders on for quite a bit, and the gameplay, at least to me, feels off. It has a lot less shooting and a ton of platforming segments. And since it’s an alien world, everything looks, well, alien, and personally, it’s not my favorite part of any game – everything is so unrecognizable. The alien world looks good, though, and it has a couple of cool areas that actually feel creepy – like the abandoned science stations. Unfortunately, instead of enjoying myself in this part of the game, I couldn’t wait until it was over. Some set pieces are incredibly gamey too, which always takes me out of any game. It’s a real shame this part falls and stumbles this hard while the rest of the remake is so good, because as it is if I ever would want to replay Black Mesa I will probably stop just before going to Xen.
Up until this point, the game is great, and worth any penny – especially since it’s a PC exclusive with tight old-school controls and feel to it. I do recognize that many do enjoy Xen, though, so it’s not like it’s an objectively bad area or something, it’s just a point in the story I didn’t enjoy that much, and the same goes for the original game, actually. Basically, my personal worst part of Half-Life was expanding upon, which I could have lived without, but I do appreciate the team effort of trying! Still, do I recommend the game? Hell yes. As said above, it’s a great remake, the graphical updates alone make it worth it just for the trip down memory lane – now with massively improved visuals.
Thanks for reading.