• Tariq Slee-Egeler

Black Mesa - A Welcome Blast From The Past

I recently started streaming again (I am streaming a lot these days. Shameless plug twitch.tv/impulse101tv) and decided to play Black Mesa, as I realised that the complete, version 1.0 release was available. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I have been waiting for this since about 2008 when I first heard about it at school; it probably surprises no one that me and my friends were gamers as teenagers. I always said I would wait for the full version to release before doing a full playthrough of not only it, but also the other Half-Life games, as the last time I properly played through all of them was back in 2008ish. I was in still in school!

So when I saw that version 1.0 of Black Mesa had been released when browsing through my Steam library, I thought now was the perfect time to get back into streaming with a full playthrough of all the Half-Life games. I am still undecided whether I will include Opposing Force or Blue Shift or whether I want to keep it to Source only.

At the time of writing I have reached Xen, so I'm quite far in the game. Forget that, I took a break from writing this to go stream and I have now finished the game. All I can say is that I absolutely love it. No jokes, I think Crowbar Collective did an amazing job on recreating that original Half-Life feel. Everything felt very Half-Life, which I would expect as it is essentially a remake of the original. However, unlike most remakes, it stays true to the source (hehe puns) material, however it also isn't afraid to push the boat out and improve on aspects that were originally not the best. The prime example of this is, for sure, the updated Xen levels. Every part after the Lambda Core chapter feels incredibly new and vastly improved.

Instead of being a simple platform jumping exercise, Xen is a full-fledged chapter where you explore all around this weird, alien landscape. Gonarch's Lair is an absolute nightmare of a boss fight on hard difficulty that rather than just having two phases of "shoot boss until boss moves to next area or dies", it starts as a simple boss fight, then has you traverse an entire level, much like the previous Xen chapter, only this time with a giant four legged alien trying to kill you, with a final confrontation in this big open room (this part had me stuck for a loooooong time...). Interloper was... Interloper. I hated it in the original with the, in my opinion, tedious system of conveyor belts and flying zappy aliens. It was better than the original, as it made it more clear about the whole Vortigaunt slavery thing and I really did enjoy the mechanics that gave my Gluon gun infinite ammo in certain set pieces, but it was a long series of conveyor belts and jumping from platform to platform that moved up and down. Nihilanth was a vast improvement over the original, as the original was simply "shoot it loads until head opens, then jump on boost thing and shoot inside the head". In Black Mesa, you have these different shields to contend with and his attack variety is far more than just "zappy balls or portal". However, on that point I would've liked it if he still had his portal ability, as I did find that interesting in the original (and was sometimes an opportunity to grab some extra ammo).

Also, the music score is fantastic. It felt like official Valve, but modernised. If I heard it in an official Valve game, I wouldn't be surprised. It was really well put together. Another item that really stood out to me was the variety of headcrab zombies. The only ones in the original game were, I believe, scientist zombies, so it was really great to see security, HECU marine and even HEV hazard suit headcrab zombies, the latter having the HEV suit glitching out with a creepy glitchy voice.

Black Mesa is on the Steam store for £15 or your regional equivalent. Seriously, just go get it. It's fantastic. Probably one of the best single player games I have played for a long time. Well worth the purchase.

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