Half-Life 2 modification “Black Mesa” has revamped the original 1998 release. Valve’s Half-Life has won more than 50 awards, including an induction into the ‘Greatest Games of All Time’ list. But even with its renowned story line and its radical change to the first-person shooter genre, GoldSrc‘s outdated software doesn’t compare to the Source Engine of today.
‘Black Mesa’, was developed from scratch with Valve’s Source Engine, and rather than import models from Half-Life, every aspect of the game was recreated entirely. Textures, models and maps were all brought to life with the help of Source Engine.
While the dialogue and plot remained intact, Black Mesa’s Source recreated maps and areas more challenging than ever. For instance, players must navigate across a sharp drop by jumping from one precariously-hanging crate to another. Death after death ensued, paired with the very-realistic sound of a human body vs. concrete. After 50 or so attempts that resulted in a gut-wrenching ‘crunch’, the gravity was mysteriously reduced. The developer console can be so helpful.
Another positive aspect to Black Mesa was its throwback to Half-Life graphics. For instance, the radioactive waste pooling in the bowels of the facility was still an over-the-top shade of neon green. Instead of changing or dulling the color, the mod simply enhanced the textures around it. There were snapshots of the original title throughout the game, reminding gamers that this was meant to mirror, not change, the 98 release.
From the moment the Resonance Cascade occurs, the game immediately shifts to a grim, bloody realism one would expect from such a catastrophic event. The lights flicker dimly over one mangled corpse after another. A scientist is seen performing CPR on a security officer while blood spreads around them. Another scientist is blown to bits by a high-energy laser after screaming desperately for help. Players still have to push a button to send an elevator’s occupants plummeting to their death, but not before hearing their desperate screams once the cables begin to snap. As far as death goes in Black Mesa, they were lucky.
The gore is significantly more intense than what was seen in Half-Life, or even Half-Life 2. The headcrab zombies in particular were more gruesome than ever. While in the Valve releases, a zombie freed of its headcrab was still more or less intact. The skull was bloodied, but structurally the same. Black Mesa defied this completely. Headcrab zombies were found with the top of the skull and a significant amount of the brain completely eaten away. Some had elongated jaws that simply hung from the face and some were missing eyes and noses. The skin was extremely mangled and wet, evidence of its time spent in the mouth of a headcrab. In addition to headcrabs, many aliens could be found eating deceased Black Mesa personnel and HECU Marines alike, many of which were sprawled in ways that hinted they hadn’t been killed before the feast began.
While the maps and obstacles posed more of a challenge than Half-Life’s, the enemies were a whole other story. Aliens required significantly more cunning and ammunition to kill. For instance, the ‘Houndeye’ still emits the same shock wave, but the impact is more powerful and disorienting from Freeman’s point of view. Vision blurs, sound is muffled, and more Houndeyes quickly move in to continue the crushing wave. One of these enemies alone doesn’t pose too much of a challenge, but players caught by a pack must react quickly. It’s almost impossible to kill a pack or run to safety once one of the Houndeyes releases its wave. The others follow suit before Freeman has time to recover.
Black Mesa took the story of a popular 90s release and made it better than ever. Any fan of Valve’s Half-Life series will be more than happy with the blend of challenge and familiarity offered by Black Mesa. The Half-Life 2 mod is free to download from the Black Mesa website.