Black Mesa: a love letter to Half Life

Last updated 13:04 19/09/2012

Black Mesa, the free downloadable mod for Valve's genre-defining game Half Life, is a love letter to fans of the original Half Life.

And what a love letter it is: it is a re-imagining of the PC game that - love it or loathe it - had a huge influence on first-person shooters that followed it. 

The original Half Life opened with a simple tram ride through the underground facility that is the Black Mesa research facility. Inside the train car is you - non-speaking scientist Gordon Freeman - heading to the anomalous materials laborator in the bowels of the facility.

When I played the original Half Life - I still have the game disc in a box in my garage - I paid little attention to the goings-on as Freeman and the tram travelled deeper and deeper into the Black Mesa research facility. I mean, I looked around but I didn't pay much attention to things.  Playing Black Mesa, I took the time to check out what was going on: panning my mouse left and right as I absorbed the re-imagined and much better looking research facility.

Using Valve's Source graphics engine, the original Half Life has never looked so good, with the security desk now much better visualised, the test chamber looking more impressive, and the cafeteria now looking like a cafeteria (hint: activate the microwave and watch it spark)

The scientists, too, in their neat ties and white lab coats, have never looked better -  and the head-crab controlled scientists have also never looked more frightening, either, as they shamble - rather quickly - towards initially unarmed Gordon. Character models look as good as they did in Half Life 2 but in familiar surroundings that so many of us wandered around back in the early days of PC gaming.

Black Mesa takes the solid ground that is Half Life and has polished it with a new look, new dialogue, subtly changed levels and all kinds of wonder. There are just so many memorable little features: the scientist performing CPR on a hapless guard after the experiment in the test chamber has gone terribly wrong; the security guard overcome by a powerful head-crab controlled scientist, tossing his pistol to you as he dies.

The labour of love for around eight years by a team of artists, designers, animators and graphics whizzes who worked, I understand, part-time on it, Black Mesa is an amazing feat and a must-have fans of the original Half Life game, or the series in general: plus it's free, which is a nice bonus.

I'm about a quarter of the way through - soaking it all in - but so far I'm amazingly impressed, although it took a few tries to get to grips using the crouch-jump for the first time. It's a big download though - around 3Gb or so - but personally, worth it if you want to see Half Life with a fresh lick of paint.

So, now we have a re-imagining of Half Life, what games from the past would you like to see re-imagined using one of today's modern graphics engines?

Other stuff you might be interested in: Game Junkie is on Twitter and you can email him here. He'll even answer your emails, not get some smart robot to do it. He also has another gaming blog here, but that needs to be updated more often than it is.


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