First Impressions: Black Mesa

I acquired Black Mesa from Humble Monthly a couple of years back, if I recall correctly. At the time, the only thing I knew about it was that it was a fan-created project that aimed to remake the original Half-Life (aka “The Black Mesa Incident”). It was billed as the same game, but with some quality of life improvements and “reimaginings.” When I first downloaded it, the title was in Early Access and the devs were talking about things that were going into recreating Xen, which is the final portion of the original. A couple of years later, and here we are. The game is complete, and has left Early Access. Despite being tempted to check it out on more than one occasion, I instead decided to see when/if it would be completed, and thankfully this one made it through the EA slog to full release.

First things first, I applaud the team for already having widescreen support built into the game. It should be a given in 2020, but I’m not surprised when a game ships without this support. Graphically the game looks and feels like Half-Life, but has a weird mixture of new and old tech that is somewhat confusing. Don’t get me wrong, I was instantly hit in the feels during the introduction and tram scene, but portions of the environment look like 1998 and other have higher res textures that look great. Where this remake really shines is with lighting and atmospheric effects.

The scene above where the reactor goes wild and you are temporarily teleported to another world was particularly good looking, but unfortunately doesn’t make as much of a showing via screenshots. Whatever the case, I can appreciate the love and care that when into recreating this beloved classic in a newer-but-not-new engine. I’ve only just played through the first couple of chapters, where shit hasn’t entirely hit the fan just yet, but I have enjoyed what I’ve played so far and it has brought back a bunch of memories from my high school days. The story doesn’t seem to have changed at all, but apparently there were improvements to AI, particularly the soldiers and alien fighters in later levels. It feels just like playing the original, but I can enjoy it on my modern machine, and for that I’m thankful. I do wish it was more of a remake on the level with the latest Quake/DOOM/Wolfenstein reboots, but it will do. Now can we have Half-Life 3?

Also included in the package is multi-player, which was for a time one of my favorites until modders made full on new games with the Half-Life engine, and then it was more about Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, and this other one I can’t remember the name of but you play as space marines vs. aliens. Whatever the case, multiplayer is supported, but I haven’t given it a whirl just yet. I’m curious to see if there’s an audience for it, with the loads of competition that’s probably just better. At the end of the day, I’m happy to see this game make it out of Early Access and I hope it’s a way for a new generation to fall in love with Half-Life, and the shooter genre in general. I’d recommend it for the nostalgic feels, though I’d say it’s a must-buy if you somehow haven’t played the original.