Black Mesa Source- What Has Improved?

Friday marked the momentous end to the Black Mesa Source countdown, and the much anticipated release of the Half Life HD conversion that had gone silent long ago, leading many to believe that the project was abandoned. But it was never just a remake. Black Mesa Source was built from the ground up on the Source Engine, meaning for those who haven’t played the older masterpiece before, they can now do so free of charge.

However, the project was designed with the intention of bringing older players back into the world of Half Life alongside the new ones. Since the project’s inception, the team alluded to the inclusion of redesigned levels and tweaked gameplay, and after playing the game through myself (or at least what is available, as the project is presently incomplete), there is no denying that improvements have been made.

Black Mesa Source’s project team has made good on their promise to deliver a new experience to the player, in that from the even the opening scene, everything feels new, and not just the graphics: even the camera has been drastically improved upon. Whereas in the original game, as well as many first person games you find on sale today, the camera feels more like a floating eye, with little dynamic motion beyond what the player tells it do (go forwards, go back, maybe at a little bobbing animation). The opposite can certainly be said of BMS though, as every movement is reflected in the camera’s angle, such strafing causing the camera to tilt in the direction you are moving, rather than just glide along horizontally. Even the pacing of gameplay has been changed, in that before the player even finds the famous ‘Crowbar de le Freeman’, the game teaches you to fight with improvised weapons, extensively. The very first kill I achieved in BSM was the death of a headcrab I smashed with a garbage bin, followed by some zombies I incinerated with flares found on the ground here and there.

But it seems to have come with a price. Once you start encountering more enemies and fewer flares, a security officer with a handgun becomes your only hope, and thank god he is invincible, because the human AI is often lacking in finesse, to say the least. Granted, this rarely presents a problem, because the game is rather liberal with its distribution of ammunition; by the time I encountered a second AI buddy, I was already a one-man army brimming with ammunition, and I just let him take a few hits for me here and there. The enemy AI, being a bit more formulaic, plays like a charm, though, and even on easy mode, they present a good bit of challenge to the player, as one would expect from Half Life.

As far as actual level design goes, the puzzles have been designed so that the goal appears to be more straightforward, and getting to it is the real meat of the challenge. Stacking barrels has become a new past time of Freeman’s, it would seem, and ‘crouch-jumping’ has not at all receded in use. Technical aspects such as voice-acting, musical composition, and (naturally) graphics have been improved to such and impressive, they bear mentioning too, and the development team took time to add funny tid-bits here and there, like a photo-realistic picture of a baby framed in Gordon’s Locker, with a…disconcerting look on its face.

As far as noticeable issues go, loading screens have gotten up to par with the industry standard, in a bad way, mind you, and while at times it just made me fear that the display driver crashed again (getting to that, too), it became a real hassle when I had to figure out a redesigned puzzle that involved me going back and forth between three different loading areas many times, though with any luck, I’ll be able to dodge a couple weeks of taxes because the amount of time you spend waiting for these screens to load is enough to have anyone presumed legally dead. That was a bit of an exaggeration, I’ll admit; they still aren’t even half as long as the dreadful Skyrim loading screens, and at least because of Black Mesa Source‘s linearity, they mark objective progress for the player. Display driver crashes, as I mentioned before, were a big issue for me, though they may be just that: an issue specific to me. But then again I thought the same of the loading screens and everyone seemed to share my predicament there. You see what I never mentioned about my first kill was that after I threw it, the garbage bin bounced and kept going until it crashed into a glass panel and got stuck. When I tried to take it out, it began to have some sort of violet seizure before everything went black, and the graphics themselves, while they look excellent, will probably not go fully realized by many, as the maximum settings are a bit daunting for many machines.

All things considered, though, just remember the premise of the whole thing: it’s Half Life, we know that is going to be great- at the very least, it is as great as the original. All the added bits, plus a price of nil, were enough to get me interested, and I do not regret a single hour spent on Black Mesa Source. Presently, the game is incomplete, though, so don’t expect to spend an entire weekend drowning in nostalgia, however you can experience a good many hours of gameplay, and naturally the rest is on its way to Steam, thanks to the Greenlight Program.

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