I may be in the minority, but I’ve always preferred Half-Life to Half-Life 2. Don’t get me wrong: Gordon Freeman’s second go-round was excellent, full of better characters, fun weapons, and Ravenholm, one chunk of a larger world, left me more shaken than most full-length horror games. There’s no place like home, though, and for me, Half-Life’s Black Mesa facility was home. Labyrinthine, yet with verisimilitude that made it feel like a real, lived-in place.
Black Mesa recreates Half-Life’s infamous science facility and alien planets, and then some. The mod went through development hell for years before the Crowbar Collective, the result of a merger of two indie teams, collaborated to rebuild their favorite game in Valve’s superior Source engine after Valve’s own re-release, Half-Life: Source, fell far short of what fans expected.
Crowbar succeeded, but not without paying a toll. Multiple delays, painstaking attention to detail, new releases of Source that necessitated upgrading to better tools and redoing completed work, and extensive testing, Black Mesa emerged, but in an incomplete form, featuring the eponymous facility but absent the levels set on the planet Xen that made up the game’s final act.
Black Mesa recreates Half-Life as you remember it, not as it was.
That was good enough for Valve. Black Mesa debuted in Valve’s Early Access program in 2015 and, after round after round of bug-testing and feedback, and the difficult decision by the team to build Xen from scratch so its areas amounted to (let’s be honest) more than a series of 3D platforming puzzles, the game hit 1.0 this year.
“Game” is the key word. Black Mesa is a mod, but standalone, and more than full-featured enough to qualify as a game. It’s the remake Half-Life fans have clamored for longer than they’ve clamored for Half-Life 3. It’s here, it’s finished, and it’s one of the best remakes as well as the Shacknews Best Mod of 2020.
Check out the other winners from The Shacknews Awards 2020 in our Year of the Games: 2020 article.
David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at davidlcraddock.com and @davidlcraddock.