Sunday, August 2, 2020

Black Mesa - Game Review

Black Mesa

DEVELOPER Crowbar Collective / PUBLISHER  Crowbar Collective


After16 years indevelopment,Crowbar Collective’s remake oftheoriginalHalf-Lifeis(basically) complete.WhileBlackMesa:Earthboundwas releasedeightyearsago,thatversiononlytookplayers from GordonFreeman’s arrivalatthefacilitythroughto histeleportationtoXen.However,Half-Life’sfamously underwhelming finalewas leftout,asCrowbar Collective optedtospend more timefashioning itintosomethingspecial.

Thatsecond halfofthegame isfinallyout,and callingit a second halfisn’tan overstatement.Crowbar Collective’s interpretationofXen isnothingshortofremarkable, comfortablytranscendingValve’soriginalwork,and making BlackMesa notjusta remake buta game initsown right.

Beforewe discussthismore recent update,though,it’sworthbrieflygoing overCrowbar Collective’swork on updatingtheBlackMesa partsofthe game. Eightyearssincerelease,these partsholdup remarkablywell.While theyundoubtedlyshow theirage in certainareas,BlackMesa stilloffers a massive visualupgradeoverthe originalHalf-Life.Key scenessuchas theintroductorytramridehave been packed withadditionaldetail,while thescientistsand guardsofthefacility arenow uniquepersonalitiesrather thaneerieclones.

 What made Black Mesa particularly interesting was that, although it was broadly a recreation, it wasn’t afraid to add itsown spin on certain aspects of Half-Life, even making editsto the original structure where it felt necessary. Certain hapters, such as On a Rail and the mid-part of Surface Tension, had the more tedious sections edited out. It still treated the more iconic moments of the Half-Life story with therespect they deserved though. The resonance cascade, themonster in the Blast Pit and the battle with the helicopter inSurface Tension were all carefully recreated. Even without the Xen chapters, Black Mesa is an astonishing bit of work; a fan remake that goes above and beyond what anyone could have expected. Freed from the constraints of remaining faithful to the original (because nobody cared that much for Xen anyway), Crowbar Collective has let its imagination run wild, creating whats effectively a whole new chapter in the Half-Life story. The Xen portion of the original Half-Life consisted of four chapters, named Xen, Gonarch's Lair, Interloper and Nihilanth. Black Mesa follows this structure, but radically expands and alters the content within those chapters. The first chapter itself is a prime example. In the original Half-Life, this chapter is just a few minutes long, and consists of Gordon hopping across a few floating islands down to a larger island at the bottom.  Black Mesa's Xen, by comparison, offers two solid hours of nonstop exploration and combat, in the prettiest and most detailed environments we've ever seen created in the Source engine. The opening few minutes are a barrage of kaleidoscopic alien vistas, a vast expanse of rocky islands teeming with strange plants and wildlife. Crowbar Collective's work brings the Source engine about as close to modern production values as possible.

Beyond the visual improvement, however, Black Mesa's Xen lends Half-Life's alien world a far more coherent sense of place. The ecosystem shows us multiple different types of environment, ranging from those indigo islands to lush green swamplands with leaves the size of cars. It also shows us the Black Mesa facility ' s own attempt to explore Xen in much greater detail. One of the early highlights sees

you exploring an abandoned mobile laboratory established by the Lambda team on the planet itself. Xen has its fair share of combat encounters, but the focus is more on exploration and puzzling. That all changes in Gonarch's Lair. Previously a straightforward boss fight, Crowbar Collective has expanded this chapter into a spectacular cat-and-mouse chase through Xen's seemingly Endless subterranean caverns. There are some incredible scripted sequences in this chapter. One sees you trapped in a tiny cave while the Gonarch stabs at you from above with its pincer-like legs. It ' s phenomenal, breathless material that’s up there with the best action sequences from Half-Life 2. Gonarch's Lair is the highlight of Black Mesa's Xen remake. By comparison, Interloper is where Crowbar Collective stumbles. Most of this chapter takes place in a huge alien factory, where Xen's overlord, the Nihilanth, creates the foot soldiers in its army. Its an impressive piece of level design that features puzzles galore. Unfortunately, its also too long, and repeats the same beats and environments too many times.

There are good bits to it, but you'll be glad once its over. Luckily, Black Mesa ends on a high, with the titanic battle against the giant, baby-headed Nihilanth. In the original battle, Nihilanth had the ability to teleport Gordon into various different places. Crowbar Collective has wisely decided to remove this ability, refining the battle into a straightforward and spectacular grudge match. If you ever wanted to know what it's like to have a building thrown at you, well, Black Mesa has you covered. At the time of writing, Black Mesa isn't 100 per cent finished. Crowbar Collective is making some final updates to the multiplayer side of the game, as well as polishing up a few areas of the Black Mesa facility itself to bring it more in line with the visual fidelity of Xen. Even without those final tweaks, however, Black Mesa remains a stunning update for Half-Life.  It s comfortably as good as any remake from major studios  in recent years, happily sitting alongside big-budget redesigns such as Shadow of the Colossus and Resident Evil 2. If youre thinking of replaying the Half-Life series in anticipation of HalfLife: Alyx, we strongly recommend starting with Black.

Credit :RickLane

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