“Good morning, and welcome to the Black Mesa Transit System.”
March 6, 2020 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Black Mesa [YouTube][Game Trailer] [Digital Foundry Comparison/Review]Black Mesa was once a humble video game mod — but as of today, it’s a full-fledged remake of Half-Life, newly released out of Steam Early Access. Developer Crowbar Collective finally launched a 1.0 version of Black Mesa, which updates the 1998 first-person shooter with smarter enemies, levels built from scratch, and a level of detail that wasn’t possible two decades ago. Black Mesa has been sort of playable for some time. It launched as a mod for Half-Life 2 in 2012, earning overwhelmingly positive reviews. Then, Valve granted permission to make a standalone commercial game, and an incomplete version appeared on Early Access in 2015. Late last year, Crowbar Collective released the ending — a dramatic reworking of the infamous Xen levels, one of Half-Life’s weakest areas. Now, in 2020, the whole game has been polished into an official non-beta release.” [via: The Verge]

• Black Mesa, The Ambitious Fan Remake Of Half-Life, Has Finally Hit Version 1.0 [Gamespot]
“Black Mesa's initial launch in 2012 also coincided with the introduction of Valve's Steam Greenlight program, which allowed users to vote for games to be added to Steam's storefront. Black Mesa was one of the first games to be voted on by fans and approved by Valve as part of the program, and soon after Valve approached the team about releasing Black Mesa as a commercial project. With full access to the latest version of the Source engine, and the ability to earn money from the project after working as volunteers for so many years, Crowbar Collective agreed. The game then launched in Steam Early Access on May 5, 2015. At this point, the Xen sections were still a work in progress, but Black Mesa's Early Access release allowed for valuable feedback and bug testing from the community. Eventually, after a couple of betas and some stress testing by players, the full Xen chapter was released on December 24, 2019, which brings us to now and the full release of version 1.0. "Through luck, hard work, and maybe a bit of ignorance, we didn't shy away from our goal of bringing this game to completion," said project lead Adam Engels in a blog post celebrating the 1.0 release. "We are proud of what we built. We think this upcoming 1.0 release is the best, most polished, and most fun version of the game yet."”
• 'Black Mesa' Is Not the 'Half-Life' You Remember [Vice Gaming]
“It's more like Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho than the cleaned-up and "digitally remastered" release of Star Wars. It's not just a bunch of high resolution textures, but a meticulous recreation of a long, complex, and beloved game in a more recent engine, with a few embellishments. Black Mesa's ambitions were so exciting when I first saw a trailer for it in the 2000s that I decided I wouldn't play it until the entire thing was finished. Different parts of it have been playable for years, but last week Black Mesa's developer Crowbar Collective started beta testing the 1.0 release of the game, meaning the entire thing is playable, beginning to end, including the game's last chapter, Xen, which takes place on an alien world. [...] What this means in practice is that Black Mesa tells the same story with a lot more fidelity. This is clear from the game's opening and iconic tram ride, where the player spends a long time looking around and absorbing the Black Mesa facility before being given any agency. What was once a giant, bare wall the player passed by is now a diorama of meetings rooms and labs filled with props—coffee cups, piles of papers, computers—and populated with more detailed character models going about their business. These models are one of the biggest improvements Black Mesa brings to Half-Life.”
• A masterful remake that improves upon a classic [Eurogamer]
“Black Mesa starts with a ballsy opening gambit, an introductory tram ride that's longer than the one in the original Half-Life. It's odd to think such an iconic moment in FPS history was one of the less-liked aspects of Half-Life on launch. Extending it is a deliberate move on Crowbar Collective's part. It gives you more time to notice the extra details they've added into the introduction. Black Mesa is more populous than in Valve's original vision, with scientists loitering around the newly introduced railway station, and guards manning security checkpoints that didn't exist in the original. It isn't merely visual stuff that's changed either. The carriage's welcome message now sounds like it's emanating from a speaker, while a whole new soundtrack plays its opening notes out as a 27-year-old MIT graduate begins his worst day at work. It's a statement by Crowbar Collective. We're not messing around, nor are we slaves to every pixel of Valve's game. This, ultimately, is what defines Black Mesa. The willingness not just to replicate, but to attempt to improve upon the core experience of Half-Life. To refine what works and, crucially, remove what doesn't.”
• Xen doesn't suck anymore. [PC Gamer]
“Half-Life is still great, but feels increasingly stiff and dated as the years roll relentlessly on. But Black Mesa being built on the foundations of Half-Life 2, borrowing its weapon handling and chaotic physics simulation, makes for a much more dynamic and engaging first-person shooter. And thanks to an abundance of movable and breakable objects, and devilish traps that frequently cause explosive chain reactions, the stricken research facility has never felt more reactive, unpredictable, or dangerous. But let's talk about Xen, because this is where Black Mesa makes its biggest statement. In the original Half-Life, Freeman's arrival on Xen was, for most players, something of an anticlimax. It's not as bad as people remember, but this otherworldly expanse of floating platforms, bizarre alien flora, and grubby textures is a low point for the game, with frustrating low-gravity platforming and a tedious boss battle against a giant testicle. But after years in development and several delays, Black Mesa achieves the impossible and makes Xen one of the best parts of the game. The new Xen is stunning to look at, and feels genuinely strange and otherworldly—as this cosmic place-between-places should. Shortly after teleporting there, Freeman finds himself gazing across a vista of weird floating creatures and a swirling, vivid nebula. Comparing both versions of Xen side by side, it's almost comical how much of an improvement this is.”
posted by Fizz (32 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
I really wish Steam had given us a proper Half Life 3 sequel, instead we're getting Half-Life: Alyx which feels very much a thing only created to sell more Valve Index units. Maybe the sequel we all want will happen some day, who knows, but in the mean time we have people like the Crowbar Collective putting in thousands of hours into this remake, clearly a labour of love. I might pick this up and venture back, it looks beautiful.
posted by Fizz at 10:10 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


I fully admit how beautiful and awesome Half-Life: Alyx looks, I just wish it wasn't in VR. Like just give us this story but without the VR. Bah.
posted by Fizz at 10:13 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


Well, goodbye weekend.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 10:17 AM on March 6




I came to Valve games via the Orange Box, so I don't have quite the nostalgic attachment to the first game that a lot of people do, but... heck, I'll give it a whirl.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:32 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Something that is sometimes said of good remakes is that they are the game you remember playing, rather than the game you actually played. From the footage, I think that the visuals in Black Mesa are the best example of that I've ever seen. The love of the source material (which remains in my top 10 games of all time, and is almost certainly the only game I've completed multiple times) is so obvious in the..."exuberant care"?... that has been given to every element. It sounds like that is true of the gameplay, too.
posted by howfar at 10:38 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


To prepare for Half-Life: Alyx, I recently played through Half-Life (non-Source) and Half-Life 2 and I think all of the various single-player DLC-like expansions for both. This was my first time playing any of them other than a brief attempt at the first game some years ago. It's impressive how fun these games are to play, even now, even without a nostalgia factor. This remake looks really good, but no doubt it had incredible base material to work with.

Also, for anyone who cares, Half-Life, Half-Life 2 and its two episodes are free to play on Steam until the release of Half-Life: Alyx later this month.

Fizz: I really wish Steam had given us a proper Half Life 3 sequel, instead we're getting Half-Life: Alyx which feels very much a thing only created to sell more Valve Index units.

Valve doesn't care about the Index specifically, they care about VR, which is a big differentiator for them. The Index for Valve/VR is like the Pixel lineup for Google/Android, an attempt to guarantee that quality hardware exists for the software. Similarly they're making Half-Life: Alyx to motivate the VR software market. VR in its current state has been around since 2016 and the number of good games is low, and almost none with the polish Valve is known for. Valve's free "The Lab" collection of mini-games from 2016 is still one of the best.

I do VR with the Samsung Odyssey+ which is regularly on sale for $230, and you can use it at your desk. The $1000 perpetually-out-of-stock Valve Index that requires a whole spare room, is not necessary.
posted by bright flowers at 11:02 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Rise and shine, Mr. Freeman. Rise, and shine.
posted by mhoye at 11:05 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


Also, Marc Laidlaw, one of the main writers for the Half-Life series, essentially posted a plot summary online for Half-Life 2: Episode 3 back in 2017. I don't think Valve is ever going to make a Half-Life game called "Episode 3" or just "3" or "Half-Life: Dog" or whatever, that picks up directly after the end of Episode 2.
posted by bright flowers at 11:06 AM on March 6


I'll likely never make a post about it, but the Oculus Quest is a total game changer. 6 degrees of freedom (ie you can walk around) in a completely self-contained headset that is relatively affordable is remarkable.

There has been a chicken/egg problem of there not being enough of an audience for VR games for companies to spend money on making them, and then no one bothers getting a headset because there aren't enough games. With the Quest having been out of stock since December (ie, a ton of people bought one in the past 3 months), I'm hoping that changes. I got in as a playtester for a game that I'm not supposed to talk about but suffice to say it just wouldn't work in anything but VR and the experience of playing it is nothing like anything I've played in my ~40 years of gaming.

There's a Half Life port I might actually get around to playing this weekend.
posted by booooooze at 11:23 AM on March 6


Maybe Black Mesa?
That was a joke
Haha
Fat chance
posted by Pastor of Muppets at 11:43 AM on March 6 [14 favorites]


A fellow scientist!
posted by dr_dank at 12:27 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Wolfenstein 3D and Doom may be the games that kicked off the whole FPS thing, but Half-Life is the first truly modern FPS. It's the most recent common ancestor of pretty much every FPS that followed except for a handful of games that are explicit throwbacks to the pre-HL era. And it pioneered storytelling approaches that are now standard throughout the industry, across genres.

I bought Black Mesa when they announced the release date for Xen, though I haven't dipped my toes into it yet. I'm looking forward to giving it a shot when I need my nostalgia fix.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:34 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Maybe Black Mesa?
That was a joke
Haha
Fat chance


I came in here to quote this. Thank you!
posted by gemmy at 2:15 PM on March 6 [5 favorites]


Robert Yang, who did some work on this, is currently playing through and examining the level design as part of his ongoing Level With Me series (possibly NSFW, since he also makes sexy games).
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 2:16 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Yeah, HL remains a truly amazing, groundbreaking game and storytelling experience. It's unparalleled. It's the first game that really blew me away since the first time I played Wolfenstein.

FYI, it looks like HL isn't free to play anymore, but it IS super cheap --- $9.99.
posted by uberchet at 2:29 PM on March 6


uberchet: If you go to Half-Life on Steam at https://store.steampowered.com/app/70/HalfLife/ without logging in, you should see a light gray box with the text "Play Half-Life"/"Play for free! Ends in 3 weeks" and a green "Play Game" button, which lets you play the game for free but doesn't add the game to your library permanently. You can also buy it for $9.99 using the "Buy Half-Life"/"Add to Cart" option below that, but I don't recommend buying it now since the game gets a 90% discount during pretty much every major Steam sale, along with similar discounts on other Valve games.
posted by bright flowers at 4:01 PM on March 6


Similarly they're making Half-Life: Alyx to motivate the VR software market. VR in its current state has been around since 2016 and the number of good games is low...

...suffice to say it just wouldn't work in anything but VR and the experience of playing it is nothing like anything I've played in my ~40 years of gaming.


Taking Virtual Reality for a Test Drive - "Of all my out-of-this-world moments, the most sublime were those I spent in the Stanford swimming pool... I felt as if I were scuba diving along the ocean floor. I passed coral reefs and a shipwreck and swam with manta rays and singing humpback whales. Later, with a seal as my guide, I explored the lost city of Atlantis and then, after a slight technical glitch, glided through outer space, beholding Earth from afar and inspecting the Hubble telescope up close."

Wolfenstein 3D and Doom may be the games that kicked off the whole FPS thing, but Half-Life is the first truly modern FPS.

marathon :P
posted by kliuless at 4:48 PM on March 6 [4 favorites]


I've played Black Mesa going back a year and a half ago, and it was kind of buggy. My flashlight wouldn't turn on and I couldn't pass one of the crushing machines. Frustrating experience, otherwise everything I'd want in an updated Half-Life.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:38 PM on March 6


I was fairly interested in this until the DF review/preview noted that combat had been updated and made more challenging. My twitch reflex isn't what used to be and finishing the game was challenging enough the first time. The chance of me even making it to Xen is about zero, especially with a game controller rather than twitchy mouse and keyboard.
posted by wierdo at 9:16 PM on March 6


I remember playing the original Half-Life for the first time. Early in the game when Gordon is starting to venture out of the labs and office areas, looking for a way out of the facility, I found a ladder leading down into darkness.

I thought, "No way am I going down there." And then kind of marveled at how I'd never had that feeling of reflexively reacting as if I were doing something real rather than playing a video game.

Also, one of the headcrabs jumping out at me made my head lurch back out of the way so hard it ripped the earbuds out of my ears.
posted by straight at 12:10 AM on March 7 [3 favorites]


I played an early version of Black Mesa, and mostly enjoyed it, although I'm not sure I'm in the right frame of mind to go back to the full game. I think maybe I'm tired of games trying to scare me? I downloaded the demo for the 2016 Doom the other day, and all I could think is, why are you throwing all these gross things at me? Why is this so stressful? And, I mean, the original Doom occupied just thousands of my hours. Something's changed, and I have to assume it's me. Scary skeletons met some need in me ages ago, that they don't anymore.

So when I was watching the videos for Half-Life: Alyx, all I could think was how constrained it felt. I don't know how it actually plays, of course, but the videos made it look very, "Walk to this point. Look out, spooky people with turkeys on their heads! Shoot! Thank you, now walk to this point." A fun-house at the fair. I'm sure it's very pretty, and I'm sure people will enjoy it, but after waiting 150 years for a new Half-Life game, I don't know, I expected to be much more excited over it. Instead of this combined feeling of, "I'll never play this because I can't afford a headset" and "when real life is so scary, why would anyone want a jump scare?"

Oh good grief, I didn't mean to sound so dead inside. I hope people get many hours of enjoyment out of these games. Especially Black Mesa, because it represents something so different than we usually see in the tightly controlled world of intellectual property, a creative endeavor, a labor of love, actually allowed by the original owners. That's a good thing!
posted by mittens at 7:47 AM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Half Life: Alyx does look like a very on the rails kind of game. I'm impressed with the animation and how far VR technology has come, but I wear glasses and I have no intention of getting contacts, so unless I shell out thousands of dollars for a custom VR headset with prescription lenses (which is a thing you can do), I'm kind of out of luck.

Ah well, plenty of other games out there for me to enjoy and Black Mesa looks like the remake we've always wanted.
posted by Fizz at 8:04 AM on March 7


Also, for anyone who cares, Half-Life, Half-Life 2 and its two episodes are free to play on Steam until the release of Half-Life: Alyx later this month.

PSA: Anyone looking to revisit the original Half-Life 2 these days should check out Half-Life 2: Update instead. It's a community mod that tweaks the rendering and fixes a bunch of outstanding bugs (a while back Valve updated Half-Life 2 to a newer version of the engine, which caused a number of issues that they never bothered to fix).
posted by neckro23 at 9:49 AM on March 7


Half Life: Alyx does look like a very on the rails kind of game.

And I think that VR games will continue looking this way forever. (The ones that aren't cockpit games, at least.) It's not a technical limitation, it's a biological one. The kind of smooth movement that works and looks good on a fixed 2D screen completely wrecks proprioception in VR. Even the people who don't get outright sick report that they can only play for an hour or two before hitting the limit of their physical tolerance.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:19 AM on March 7


The VR game BONEWORKS (capitalization included), which came out last December, is similar to the original Half-Life as mentioned in the Wikipedia link, in fact deliberately mimicking it in some obvious ways. It can also cause VR nausea/discomfort, and at launch you couldn't save mid-level, which was annoying on longer levels especially with the nausea, though they added mid-level checkpoints later in a patch. BONEWORKS is what I think a more open, less constrained, less on rails Half-Life game would be like, and it's not something that I think a lot of players, especially players new to VR, would be very comfortable with.

Fizz: I haven't tried wearing glasses with VR but from looking around it seems some headsets work as-is depending on the glasses and the face, or there are options for custom lens/inserts for less than $100. Of course it's up to you but if your glasses are the only barrier and you really want to play Alyx or VR generally, there are options.
posted by bright flowers at 3:00 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


> marathon :P

I'm so bummed to have only now learned the 25th anniversary edition shirt was a thing and is now sold out.
posted by mrzarquon at 3:16 PM on March 7


> I wear glasses and I have no intention of getting contacts, so unless I shell out thousands of dollars for a custom VR headset with prescription lenses (which is a thing you can do), I'm kind of out of luck.

I wear glasses with an HTC Vive and it works fine. I understand it might not work AS well for larger lenses but depending on your prescription/lens height it might be playable.
posted by fomhar at 5:15 PM on March 8


The chance of me even making it to Xen is about zero, especially with a game controller rather than twitchy mouse and keyboard.

The nice thing about most Source engine games (incl. Black Mesa) is that it has a bunch of built-in "cheats" for the single-player mode. I enabled 'buddha' mode (like 'god' mode except you still take damage all the way down to 1 hp) for especially difficult spots during my pre-Xen Black Mesa playthrough, and you can also do things like give yourself more weapons, ammo or health, adjust the amount of damage your weapons do, change movement parameters, etc.
posted by Aleyn at 11:33 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I had to stop playing HL2 a while back because it started messing with my head. I would be turning a corner and think "There are probably going to be barnacles dropping down from that bridge up ahead, I should probably move to the side so I can avoid combine troops coming from the left." Like, I wasn't actually thinking it, but I had internalised a way of assessing a scene as if it were in the game. That's never happened to me with any other game but, to be fair, I now avoid spending extended periods on FP shooters.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:14 AM on March 10


Yeah, that's like when you try to drive in real life after playing a few hours of GTA, and even though you're fine, it constantly feels like you might swerve off a bridge or run over a crowd. It really gets in your head.
posted by mittens at 6:48 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]


I found Half Life: Alyx turns out to be pretty much as railsy as Half Life 2, but with some extra verbs available to the player. It works well, but a lot of what it does probably doesn't translate well to a trailer, so those are full of zombie-shooting (which is a little static, but more fun than it looks). It's not as open as something like Lone Echo, but I don't think that's because of the movement mechanics as much as just being a Half Life game that has to run at very high resolutions, very fast, without dropping frames, on consumer hardware.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 9:16 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


« Older We Want Control And We Won’t Make Weapons   |   Porn Moms Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments