Black Mesa: The last time I played Half-Life, I went the Saviour route and escorted as many scientists and policemen to safety as I could, reloading if necessary, so I decided to go for the Genocide ending. I played Blue Shift since then, so my patience for herding NPCs around is shot anyway. I haven’t played Half-Life dozens of times like some people apparently do (why?) so I don’t quite have every corner and vent in the game tattooed on the back of my retinas, but it’s somewhat odd that I even played it twice. Black Mesa is the sort of homage/remake where I can recognize the skeleton of what was a Half-Life level, but between the botox and the bloom I can’t quite see the Valve fingerprints (or my crosshair), whether the original Half-Life existed on this scale or twisted one way or the other or if Crowbar Collective are spinning it their own way. The Half-Life 2-style physics puzzles stick out here, both for their surprising frequency and the preposterous design as you repair the world’s most hilariously rickety industrial research wiring job of all time and float walkways with conveniently-placed Floatation Barrel Collection Apparatuses bolted to the bottom of them.
The weapons are much improved upon, and even the notorious SMG is tolerable when you realize you can sprint full-on with only a negligible impact on its aim. As much as I love Quake-era gibs, Black Mesa’s satchel charges are as sublime as they are miserly in distribution. The shotgun almost isn’t even comparable to, say, the spittle flying from a very angry man’s mouth mid-tirade. The crossbow mysteriously, inexcusably, no longer fires rebar. Considering that shooting at aliens, marines and mewling, cowardly, whiny, bossy scientists is most of what you’ll be doing in Half-Life, you’d think that giving it all a bit of polish and modern bite would make Black Mesa the definitive iteration to play, right?
Black Mesa feels like it gradually took more liberties on Half-Life’s maps as it keeps going. It’s a long game, though admittedly I’ve died often; I’m sitting at 15 hours and haven’t even reached Xen, which true to form is being expanded from its original design. Black Mesa has some of the best thick coloured industrial pipe architecture since Mirror’s Edge, and it’s pretty nice to see the Facility done up so lovingly. I think the sound effects are what get me, though. The near-miss bloops of the wall health stations, the off-pitch intercom announcements, the annoying flourescent buzz of the too-bright lightbulb prop, the too-rad guitar soundtrack during fight scenes… Half-Life was quiet, and stark in that brutalist sense that only low-poly games can really achieve, something that only shines through occasionally in Black Mesa. It’s not deathmatch Rats at the internet arcade, while it rains outside and your parents are already going to be mad so might as well stay. It’s not pulling the Playstation version out, forbidden for its guns, and sneaking down to the basement so you can play with the volume at the lowest still-audible setting (on a school night.) It’s a pretty ok shooter, though, the enemy AI is kind of shit.