It’s amazing to think back to 2004, nearly 8 years ago, when I made that purchase at Best Buy. G-man gave me a cold, analytical stare as I took up the box, put down my cash, and went home to play a game. It barely ran at 15 frames per second on my good ol’ Dell, yet still provided an excellent experience in the way that only a fantastically well-made game can. While we’re still waiting for the next installment, it’s always nice to return to past installments to fondly remember where it all began, and why we fell in love with this franchise. Sure, there are plenty of Source games out there delivering the goods in their own unique way: Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike, and Portal are all unique franchises, and it’s hard not to love at least one of them.
Today, however, we’re looking at a modification… One that has taken years to complete.
That’s right, I’m talking about Black Mesa: Source, a recently released Half-Life 2 modification that revisits the original Half-Life game, and filters it through the updated Source Engine, bringing us a quality modification that allows us to relive the moments we first donned out HEV suit and picked up a crowbar to take on the alien menace from another world.
Half-Life is the product of the 1996-founded company Valve Software, created by former-Microsoft employees Mike Harrington and Gabe Newell. After licensing the Quake engine, signing on as a studio under Sierra On-line publishing, they spent the next 2 years rewriting source code and developing an action-horror game that would become a popular sci-fi thriller. This ambitious project centers around silent protagonist Gordon Freeman, an MIT graduate in the field of Theoretical Physics working in a top-secret R&D facility dubbed Black Mesa, who, on a routine experiment with an “other-worldly material” results in the so-called Resonance Cascade effect, essentially opening portals from our universe into the mysterious Xen borderworld. Tucked inside your form-fitting Hazardous Environment suite (HEV suit), and armed with a crowbard as well as an assortment of weapons, ranging standard military weapons to alien biological devices, you’re thrust into a chaotic world where your allies are few, and everyone seems to want you dead.
The game was lauded for its unique gameplay, excellent level design, and memorable story, creating an intricate linear path littered with death traps, jumping puzzles, and enemies to shoot at, everything a shooter should be. The game grew in popularity when it released modification tools, allowing for the multiplayer centric Counter-Strike, and later allowing the induction of the resources behind Team Fortress Classic back in 1999.
With this latest incarnation, the same old formula for creating a unique shooter still feels as relevant as the day it was fully realized, incorporating the same feeling as Half-Life classic, while giving it a visual boost. There has been extensive work creating new assets to mimic the older games visuals in the Source engine, giving the game a refreshing, updated feel while still keeping to its roots, and only ever venturing from the beaten path to create new and interesting levels for the player to hop around in.
As a modification this game feels very polished, and rarely seems to have any technical troubles as you play. The game isn’t exactly free of glitches however, though mostly annoying, the worst I’ve come across is a single corrupted save, remedied by returning to a recent autosave, which the game hands out frequently. If I were to ever have any criticism for this, it would be that jumping is a bit too limited, and leaves you feeling like you’re hopping a mere inch off the ground, and can be an extremely frustrating experience when coming across a platforming section. The ladders can also prove to be irritating at times, especially when dismounting at the top of said ladders, where it will act as if you’ve hit a barrier, forcing you to move down then up again, or fiercely pounding the jump key to dismount. Any other arguments presented to criticize the game, like the inclusion of the original, and terribly programmed “long-jump” feature, are quieted easily by just how well-crafted the rest of the game is. I should also mention, the soundtrack is genuinely awesome and adds to the atmosphere of the game, from the slow electronic drones in empty industrial landscapes to the guitar-backed action sequences. It all comes together to make a worthwhile experience.
This release of Black Mesa: Source is only at 90% completion, so as you reach the Lambda core, and be met with a message “Awaiting New Data” before the credits roll. While you won’t be given the chance to experience the Xen borderworld this time around, it seems like the team is still working to finish the finale of the game, with a possible release around, or after Christmas. Where this does seem like a letdown to most, it should be noted that the end levels to the original Half-Life were less than stellar, with a broken long-jump feature and large amounts of irritating platforming segments, I think we’re better of enjoying the majority of what we have. That fact this is a modification means you’re free to download and play it with no cost to you as a player.
Believe me when I say that it’s worth playing. If you want to see where this all started, this is definitely the right place.