As someone who has never, ever, ever played a game in the Half Life series, the hype around Alyx piqued my interest. What is it that makes these games so special that a decade after the last release, people are still chomping at the bit for more?
Of course, Black Mesa isn’t exactly Half Life, it’s a fan-made remake of Half Life using Valve’s Source engine, an engine I am rather familiar with from many hours spent playing CS:GO.
Since I haven’t played the original Half Life, I can only assume that Black Mesa is lovingly crafted to be as faithful to it’s source(lol) material.
Right off the bat, the movement felt familiar yet also very different to what I was used to. The mechanics and gunplay felt somewhat alien, but not really in a bad way. Allow me to explain.
As someone who isn’t great or terrible at Counter Strike: Global Offensive, I half expected the gunplay of Black Mesa to be very similar to that of CS:GO. Of course, there are a variety of weapons that are either very sci-fi or alien that wouldn’t fit in CS, so I’m talking about weapons like the pistol, assault rifle and shotguns.
It felt like these familiar yet generic weapons should have things like spray patterns, movement inaccuracy and the like, but I could run full speed shooting things as if the AR was a laser beam.
This really isn’t a bad thing because BM isn’t that kind of game where you want to go to all the trouble of learning difficult spray patterns and focus too much on the mechanics, the gameplay is intended to flow and allow the player to focus on the action. I am happy to report that it does so effectively, but that didn’t really stop my old habits of trying to jiggle peek and counter strafe. My habits as a CS player didn’t really interfere with my enjoyment of the game (except when a seemingly unfair amount grenades started raining down, since my brain is trained to think that each unit can only carry one which most definitely isn’t true for BM), and as far as I can tell BM didn’t really have any impact on how I play CS.
As for the platforming elements, I rather enjoyed these parts - it gave the game that old-school flavor and gave me some respite between epic gun battles against the aliens, marines or (later in the game) both. I’ve seen some reviewers on Steam complaining about these parts, and there were times I got just a little bored of them but not to the extent that it greatly affected my enjoyment of the game. The movement was accurate and fluid enough that it often felt good to nail a few successive jumps.
Similarly, the puzzles were satisfying, but after completing a few they get a little tedious.
Coming to the story, I thoroughly enjoyed becoming Gordon Freeman for 8 or 9 hours and learning about his experiences after helping to cause the “resonance cascade” that basically messes everything up. After completing the game, I feel curious enough to give HL2 a try to continue the story and see what happens afterwards, especially because of the distinctly weird ending. I think I understand why Half Life is such a well-loved series, even though Valve until recently seemed to be uninterested in continuing work on it.
In terms of graphics, I can’t say too much. It’s decent enough for the most part, it is built on the ageing Source engine after all. That said, it can be strikingly beautiful, especially towards the end when Gordon gets to Xen. I would say adequate, no particular need for better graphics.
I admire the fact that Black Mesa is entirely fan-made, and props to Valve for allowing Crowbar Collective to use their IP. Valve almost certainly got money out of it, but I do like the approach as opposed to, say, Nintendo’s treatment of the excellent yet ill-fated AM2R which I believe was far superior to their own remake of Metroid 2 - that is, the usual cease and desist trying to delete the project as well as the devs from the internet.
In conclusion, go play it. If you’re interested in Half Life, but can’t really stomach the aged graphics, it’s a real blessing that this was made. If you have played the original but were disappointed by Valve’s attempt at porting it to the Source engine, I think you will rather enjoy it.
I’d recommend this game to fans of story-driven games, particularly if you enjoy sci-fi and like shooting interdimensional beings in the face. Not recommended to people who dislike puzzles and only want to shoot interdimensional beings in the face.
Do you love Half Life? What’s your take on Black Mesa? Drop a comment below and share your experience!