By now you should know I’m a huge fan of Half-Life. I even wrote the original review we have on the site for Half-Life 2 (http://www.projectcoe.com/pc/games/half_life2.html?var1=sc3). No one can argue that Half-Life changed first-person shooters forever. As a matter of fact when people talk about the history of first-person shooters, they say “pre” and “post” Half-Life. That’s how influential it was.
Before Valve’s seminal classic, ammo packs used to be found off in some corridor someplace, and enemy AI was anything but smart with 90% of the enemies simply rushing towards you. Half-Life changed all of that. Suddenly enemies would lob grenades at you if you hid for too long, ammo was found in storage lockers, or in logical places like security offices, etc. Half-Life also changed the way FPS storytelling was done. There were no cutscenes in the original game, the story was told from your point of view and it was entirely up to you if you would stick around and listen when someone was talking or just take off. The 1998 masterpiece changed the genre forever.
The problem is that it hasn’t aged all too well. Half-Life 2 introduced many genre-defining elements like gravity. Everything in the world had mass, you could interact with virtually everything in the environment and throw things around as if you were a child. This also gave way to the incredible Gravity Gun, one of the coolest weapons ever created. When Half-Life 2 was being developed by Valve, the studio created something they referred to as the Source engine, which has powered all their games since the 2004 classic. The engine not only featured a robust gravity system, but also allowed for impressive textures, dynamic lighting and many other modern graphical abilities that were simply absent from the original Half-Life.
Valve did a rather quick port job taking the original Goldsource (GoldSrc) version of Half-Life and up-scaling it via the Source engine. There were noticeable improvements in water and lighting effects, but the level architecture, textures and character models were all unaltered. The end result was a game that looked like it was made in 1998, even though the up-scaled version hit in 2004. Fans were somewhat disappointed. Gabe Newell, Valve CEO, said that a full fan remake of the original Half-Life using the Source engine was inevitable, and fast forward eight years, he was right. He also said so long as it was a mod and no one was going to cash in Valve’s properties, they would fully endorsed the project, and they’ve done just that. Black Mesa is among the first ten titles to see release on Steam thanks to the Greenlight project, although the timing for the release has yet to be announced.
Black Mesa was in development for over eight years. It started as a direct result of Half-Life: Source. People were simply not impressed with the remastered version of Half-Life Valve released. A group of 40 people, on a volunteer basis, took to the daunting task of not only recreating Half-Life from the ground up, but infusing more modern gameplay elements along the way, many of which were originally introduced in Half-Life 2.
Many fans, such as myself, were kind of reluctant to believe the project would be released on September 14th as we had heard time and again that the project was delayed right at the last minute. In fact Black Mesa sort of became an industry joke, much like Duke Nukem Forever. Well much to my surprise the project was actually released to the world two days ago, and I just downloaded it and wanted to give you my initial impressions.
Hands-down this is the very best fan remake of any videogame I have ever had the honor of playing. Truly, this is a game you need to download right this very second. I plan to do a full review in the coming days, but for now my initial impressions should be enough to get you to try it out. Remember, it’s completely free, and includes 13 of the 21 chapters featured in the original game. Yes, that means it doesn’t include the entire game, but I’ll take it after eight years of waiting!
So let’s get a few things out of the way right now. You’re going to need Steam, so go to http://store.steampowered.com/ and download the Steam client. Once installed click on View, then Tools. Scroll down to Source SDK Base 2007, right-click and hit Install Game. That’s the version of the Source engine which Black Mesa runs on and you can’t install the game without that SDK. With that done, go to http://www.blackmesasource.com/download.html and download Black Mesa. Install the game and once you restart Steam you’ll now see Black Mesa in your game collection. It even has achievements, and uses all the Steam overlay functions so you can stay in touch with friends, take screenshots, etc. Pretty awesome stuff for a free fan-made release.
From the minute you boot the game up it’s apparent this isn’t the same game Valve released in 1998, this is something much, much different. The visuals will floor you. Sure it looks about as good as Half-Life 2 did in 2004, but that’s significantly better than ’98’s Half-Life. The lighting alone left me speechless. The original Half-Life was a creepy game, but this just takes the cake thanks to the new lighting system. Lights flicker and bounce off walls, particle effects enhance lightning blasts and other projectiles, and then there’s the gravity. Yup, the developers actually added the same excellent gravity system from Half-Life 2, so you can interact and pick up objects in the environment.
That’s just the Source engine doing it’s thing, but it goes much further. This group of volunteers went back and remodeled everything in the game from the environments to the characters and everything in-between. The old JPG files used for the health stations are now completely 3D models, old low-res polygon characters have been completely brought up to date, and even friends from Half-Life 2 are featured, which I thought was a really nice touch, and actually makes Half-Life 2 that much better because it has a better sense of continuity.
I’m currently about two hours in, but I’ve been going extremely slowly trying to take in all the changes. I just passed the famous elevator scene, and completed the jumping puzzle where you have to get from one side of a canal to the other. This brings up one point that I don’t like very much, the jumping. In order to perform a “high jump” you have to press Ctrl and Space at the same time, which feels very out of place. The good news is that once the title is up on Steam officially, the developers have said they can easily push patches to the world, and integrate those achievements so they’ll be account-wide. So right now the jumping puzzles are a bit of a pain to complete, but I’m almost positive they’ll be fixed in the coming weeks once the title get patched.
I don’t want to go on any further, and these screenshots have likely said everything for me. Go download this game as soon as you can. I’ll have the full review up shortly, but I’d love to hear what you all think. I can’t possibly be the only Half-Life fan out there. I want to hear your thoughts!
Windows XP, Vista, or 7
6.9 GB of free hard drive space (not including *free* Source Sdk Base 2007, installed seperately)
Minimum: Pentium 4 3.0 GHz or AMD Processor, 1 GB RAM, Shader model 2.0, ATI 9600, NVidia 6600 or better, DirectX 8.1 compatible sound
Recommended: Intel core 2 duo 2.4GHz or AMD Processor, 1 GB RAM, Shader model 3.0, NVidia 7600, ATI X1600 or better, DirectX 9.0c compatible sound