When I reflect upon all the accolades attributed to the original Half-Life, I feel inadequate in my inability to fondly celebrate how it revolutionized the FPS genre. I was in the 8th grade when it took the industry by storm, and I lacked any sort of analytical virtuosity. Besides, I dismissed Half-Life as just another entertaining game, and like the fanboy that I am, focused my attention on Aliens versus Predator (1999).
I had prepared myself to give Half-Life a second look when the Dreamcast port was announced, but only grew bitter because I felt its cancellation in 2000 was like a bullet to Sega’s brain. I was firmly entrenched in the (sinful) arts of warez at the time, and felt the 2003 leak of Valve’s source code for Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike Source a sort of poetic justice for the Dreamcast.
I had only asked Christ into my life that same summer and was still clinging on to the ways of my old self instead of my new self.
Nevertheless, we are going on ten years since the official release of Half-Life 2, and even though the rumor mill keeps turning, Half-Life 3 is the industry’s last notorious vaporware (Duke Nukem Forever was more like an atomic dookie, and Shenmue 3 is currently being crowdfunded). Meanwhile, the success of Steam and Half-Life 2, and L4D inspired Valve to bring the original Half-Life to its own Source engine since it was originally produced from a modified version of the Quake engine. While Half-Life gained many bells and whistles (unnecessary to list here) afforded by Source, it unfortunately retained the old textures and models.
Black Mesa: Source, now simply Black Mesa, began as the fusion of two volunteer endeavors to completely remake Half-Life in full glory of the Source engine, updated models and textures included. The Leakfree and Half-Life: Source Overhaul Project teams combined to make a crew of 13, and would balloon to 40 volunteers under the Crowbar Collective before Black Mesa would be “greenlit” on Steam in 2012, seven years after the original parties sought to do the game of their inspiration justice.
And justice has been served.
I catch a case of the feels as I endure the now excessively long tram ride into the Black Mesa Research Facility as the credits flash across the screen. Upon my arrival, I take my sweet time on my way to the HEV suit, interjecting myself into every immersively queued conversation, taking the time to speak to most NPCs that do not first initiate the banter. I notice that every (male) scientist sounds the same, not remembering this bizarre detail in the original Half-Life.
The experiment inevitably goes wrong, and Black Mesa then proceeds to toy with my emotions and my mind. My brain struggles to comprehend the paradox of playing a “new” Half-Life game in 2016 that is not Episode 3, but instead, a remake of the first game from 1998. As I make my way through the science labs, through the toxic waste processing plants, through military installations, and through mountainous desert, I yearn to be consumed utterly by Valve’s brilliant scripting, level design, and emergent narrative throughout the entire Half-Life franchise. I realize that I miss Gordon Freeman though he does not even so much as grunts or groans when he is shot or lands from a too-high place. I miss the awkward moments when Alyx glances at Gordon (or is she looking at me, that coy seductress!) with contorted eyebrows and abashed flashes of teeth that might pass as a smile because there ain’t no time for batting eyes because the Combine is coming. I miss the Alaskan Malamute-like howls of D0G as I also miss spelling its name. And of course, I miss Eli, and demand to know what will happen next.
The only reason that I am not giving Black Mesa the full review treatment is because the Crowbar Collective is not quite finished with it. Xen is missing, and along with it, the team promises to deliver a never-before-seen custom “epilogue” chapter to develop the transition to Half-Life 2 when Freeman awakens at G-Man’s beckoning. The good news is that Black Mesa already radiates excellence, and is available for early access. The bad news is it will remind anyone who plays it that Half-Life 3 is in limbo.
Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.
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