Personal Reviews


#21

I expected Black Mesa to be a 1:1 remake of Half-Life and I’m glad that is isn’t. Some changes benefit the gameplay an make seem more realistic than the Original.
I really like Black Mesa but there are a few negative things I`d like to mention.

The level design is great but I am sad that some things/parts were cut out e.g. the sideway-elevators(?) in the generator room in Blast Pit and the missing parts in On an Rail and Surface Tension.
I want to write about On a Rail in particular. I hated this level in HL and I don’t hate it in BM and thats the point. It was always such a relief when you finally manged to get this maze of tunnels behind me. It fells like it would take ages. I miss that in BM.
I hope that some parts might return with the xen release but if they don’t, I can live with it

Next the voice acting. The guards are good but I don’t like the scientist. Imo they don’t bring across the mood. In HL their voices always had this subtle tune of desperation in them. In BM it seems like they would have to deal with a alien invasion twice a week.
The marines are good in some parts and no so good in others, there are a bit over the top sometimes.
I do realize that you guys did the voices yourself and had no professional actors and considering that you did a very good job.

Speaking of marines, their reaction time should be longer ant their accuracy and damage should be reduced a bit on easy and normal mode imo.

The helicopter should have less health, also I found the crashing animation rather strange, it just moved to rapidly. I think it should be more like the original or even HL2.

These are the things major things I wanted to say but there are little details that make Black Mesa feel less Half-Life than I hoped for. Maybe I’am too attached to Half-Life and need to find an distant view point to appreciate it more. If I look at it as a game on it’s own it is great.
Now that I know what to expect from you I am excited what you are going to do with Xen. I have complete confidence in you :slight_smile: .

A special mention for the hive hand pick up animation, that was so great and unexpected I almost felt sorry for it.


#22

I never played the “real” Half-Life 1, so this review is unbiased in the regard of staying true to the original story.

The detail put into this game really shows in the little things like the animation of the health/armor stations or the info-boards on the wall of the office that rotate. The levels seemed to have the same amount of care put into them. I’m a bit baffled by the comments of people saying the quality of the levels got worse over time. I didn’t see that at all. In fact, some of the later levels are the most beautiful parts of the game (the cliffs and the reactors).

The lighting, textures, and effects were really a lot better than I was expecting too. There were a few low-res textures, but they weren’t atrocious and were actually more the quality I was expecting for what they were (some of the older looking computer screens). Most of the textures for junk/computer screens/etc were far clearer than what you’d see on other source games. The little effects like tilting the camera slightly when moving side to side, the radiation effect on the screen, and the color effect (not sure what to call it) when you get hit really add another level of beauty to the game.

One thing that was different about this game than what I’d expect from a “modern” game is that it doesn’t hold your hand as much. You can get lost and confused. You can also have to replay the same part several times because you can’t make all the jumps or something. I love that about this game. It definitely has an old-school feel to it, without being too brutal.

There’s not all that much face time with NPCs, but when there is, you can get many more lines of dialogue out of them than I was expecting. Even if it’s just seven different ways to tell you to shut up and go away, the fact that they went through the trouble of putting in far more than a “normal player” (someone who doesn’t keep talking to someone who’s telling them to go away) would ever hear really says a lot.

The AI was pretty good, but could have been better. The biggest issue I found with the AI is that they’re not always able to hear you when they should. I encountered this a few times, but the one I remember is listening to them talk about making Freeman “pay” when something snuck up behind me and I shotgunned it in the face without interrupting their conversation. As far as combat and the stuff that really matters, I found it to be about average compared to what’s been done in commercial games.

The weapons were very nicely balanced. I found myself switching between the whole range of weapons much more than I normally do in games. I can’t speak much for the explosives or energy weapons (since I didn’t use them much), but all the other weapons felt like there were numerous situations where they’d each be the most appropriate choice.

A couple miscellaneous that don’t really matter at all but still bugged me:

The sounds the Barnacle makes seems to not match the quality of the other sounds. This is true for the Half-Life 2 series as well. It sounds like a really low fidelity recording, but maybe I’m just imagining things.

If you save the guys the first time a sniper is encountered, there’s no recognition for it. I know you’re probably not supposed to save the guy, because you’re not even supposed to know about the sniper until it’s too late, but if you do, he just kneels there silently forever. It would be nice if he acknowledged that you saved his life with a comment like “that was close” or “thank you”.

Sometimes the guard following you will have doors close on him.

Edit: The (excellent) music is too loud by default and can interfere with gameplay (though this can be fixed by the user)

Overall, even if you discount the fact that it’s free, it is a remarkable game that is both beautiful and fun with a nice old-school feel that’s hard to come by in modern games.


#23

I remember playing the original Half-Life in college. At the time it was absolutely ground-breaking. I played it obsessively and for the most part really enjoyed myself. Thinking back, I do recall a number of design decisions that rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t like the absurdly large scale of the environments (why were the Black Mesa Research Facility offices the size of airplane hangers?), I didn’t like the character voices (too silly), and I really, really, really didn’t like the jumping puzzles and confusing layout of Xen. But, in the grand scheme of things these complaints weren’t all that important. Half-Life was revolutionary and rightly holds a special place in gaming history.

Like a lot of people, I was excited when Valve released Half-Life: Source, but was very disappointed to learn that the visuals had hardly been improved. I half-heartedly replayed about half the game, but the graphics were so far behind the times that I just couldn’t enjoy myself.

Jump ahead to a few years ago when I learned that some fans were doing what Valve should have done: pulling Half-Life completely into the modern era with great visuals and updated gameplay. From day one I was excited about Black Mesa and over the years I would occasionally drop by to see what, if any, progress the devs were making. After a while I assumed the project was dead, but I was overjoyed to hear a few weeks ago that it was actually finished and being released to the public. On release day I fired up the torrent and an hour later started playing.

First off, let me say this: Black Mesa devs, you have done an AMAZING job. This is a monumental achievement. The attention to detail and incredible polish is a credit to your talents. The years of time you invested was well worth it and I’m in awe of your accomplishment.

Now, on to my review!

Visuals

This is where Black Mesa really shines. The new textures are fantastic and very detailed. In fact, they’re better than the textures in Half-Life 2 and Portal. That being said, I think the Source engine is starting to show its age, but that’s not a problem specific to Black Mesa. Once you’ve seen things like Crysis 2 it’s really hard to go back to the last technological generation. Still, Black Mesa achieves 100% of what it set out to do, visually speaking, and in fact exceeds my expectations in a lot of ways.

Sound

For the most part the sound effects, voice acting, and music all seamlessly come together and provide a polished, immersive experience. There were a few effects that seemed out of place, though. A noticeable example in particular came right at the beginning: there was something about the thud of the steps of the “mech” during the opening tram ride that seemed off. It just wasn’t the kind of thud I was expecting and didn’t seem very realistic. I’m also still annoyed by the scientists’ voices. They sounded dopey in the original and they sound dopey now. Granted, they’re intentionally cartoonish, so I suppose I can’t really find fault since it’s a creative choice. It’s just not a choice I’m fond of.

Gameplay

Black Mesa plays very much like the original Half-Life, with some subtle changes and improvements. I like the new running physics that introduce a slight horizontal sway when you make turns. The inclusion of standard Source-style interactive environments is very welcome. Black Mesa again lives up to the promise of being Half-Life, only better.

However, there are problems. In can summarize the issue best by saying that Half-Life-style gameplay is now hopelessly dated. Technology has improved an unbelievable amount over the last 5 or so years. From the very first moment of Black Mesa I was aware of this. The iconic opening tram ride is now simply painfully dull. The pauses while new areas load brings the game to a screeching halt far too frequently. The wandering through huge empty halls before the resonance cascade is boring. The “camera on wheels” approach to movement now seems very artificial. The blocky design of the environments seems old-fashioned. The AI is poor by today’s standards. The list goes on…

Conclusion

After that last set of criticisms it might seem like I’m really down on Black Mesa. I’m not. I think it’s a spectacular achievement and it’s exactly what Half-Life: Source should have been. Overall, it exceeded my expectations and left me very impressed with what a dedicated group of fans can accomplish.

That doesn’t change the fact that gaming has evolved since Half-Life. If you played the original then you simply MUST play Black Mesa, not so much because it’s a great game by today’s standards, but because it’s a wonderful and well-done trip down memory lane.

If you are a younger gamer that didn’t come of age during the late 90s, then Black Mesa is going to seem dated and clunky. That’s not because it’s badly done. Quite the opposite. Rather, this is just a natural outcome of the rapid and inexorable pace of technological progress.


#24

I’m only to Apprehension, and I must say, the mod is FANTASTIC. I love how you gave office complex a more creepy feel, I like the added new areas, I love the detail, pretty much everything about the mod is amazing, the only problems with it are, Eli’s voice isn’t the best sounding, the gargantua is too fast, and the soldiers seem overpowered. I give this game a AAA rating, it is just amazing, it really has the Half-Life feel.


#25

I disagree with the voice, BM’s Eli still has that “specific tone” in his voice as the HL2 one… the former just sounds like a younger castrated version of him :stuck_out_tongue:


#26

Caballeros, can someone explain what is wrong with Eli and his voice?
He sounds good enough to me. The voice changes when people age. It’s a very rare occasion when it doesn’t.

It’s completely possible that Eli went from this young voice to his old voice in 20 years span. There are millions of factors that can affect one’s voice - from the mood and language of the speaker to the food he ate in the morning :slight_smile:

The voice of Eli in Black Mesa worked fine for me. It makes his character “softer”, a bit more worried in places. It doesn’t sound as deep or low as old Eli’s, but it should not.


#27

I’m going to shamelessly plug my video review here, but I just wanted to say first that Black Mesa is what inspired me to even make a video review. This is not something I do all the time. I hope you guys find the review useful

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaj7gud8hnU&feature=plcp

And since I didn’t get to it in the video, I completely disliked Eli’s voice. He felt a lot more shoehorned than Kleiner. They managed to capture Kleiner’s personality in both the voice and the animations but only Eli’s face really made him seem like Eli to me.


#28

After a week of off-and-on play, I finished Black Mesa this afternoon. Fantastic game. Breathtaking, actually. I’d been following the Mesa development story since 2005, and had long ago given up the dream as hopelessly vaporware, or some sort of elaborate and weird performance art for Valve fans (like me) waiting year after year for Ep3/HL3. It’s been a true joy and pleasure to finally play this. It was well worth the wait.

Through the whole game, I only ran into two serious glitch/bug issues - a bizarre collision issue in “Forget about Freeman” (described full in an Issues thread) and a really temperamental control map used for calling in mortar rounds/air strikes. Other than a few minor framerate lags here and there (nothing that Portal 2 didn’t do as well on my machine), everything else ran very smoothly. A lot of commercial releases don’t ship this solid.

I only have a couple of critiques.

  1. I think On a Rail runs a lot more fluidly in BM than in the original, but I have to agree with those who say that stripping down that level loses something in the story. It not as clear in BM that this is the military’s peak level of control, and that now they’re really hunting down Gordon because they think they have it mostly under control. After Rail, it all starts going to hell for them. It wouldn’t be hard to fix this, it just needs slightly more exposition in places… a radio message or two might do it, or a Barney with a few things to say. But there’s something missing there, storywise.

  2. When the BM release was announced, I started a playthrough of HL1 on Hard. It was more or less a bloodfest. My BM playthrough was on Normal, so my perspective may well be skewed. But I kept feeling like certain enemy encounters directly translated from HL1 weren’t as tough as I remember them.

The biggest one for me was the attack helicopter during Surface Tension. Once I dealt with it at the dam (not really tough), it didn’t show up again until much later, at the end of its original HL appearance. The chopper in HL1 just stalked you throughout the map, and so when you finally are able to take it out, it feels like you’ve really accomplished something. Taking that whole encounter out just flattened the entire stress effect of much of Tension for me.

Likewise, the tanks weren’t very hard to kill, and were pretty slow to defend themselves, even more so than in HL1. Pretty easy to take out.

The grunts seemed significantly softer to me. In HL1, I always found them basically to be walking tanks. In this BM playthrough, after a while I was taking them down with shotgun rounds.

On the flipside, most of the other enemies seemed to be either balanced perfectly or significantly tougher than their oversoft HL1 counterparts. They were great, and the inclusion of at least two major ambushes not in HL1 were a lot of fun.

I also have to say that I absolutely love the BM treatment of Unforeseen Consequences. Much more so than HL1, the atmosphere and plot sequencing here really get across the idea that the Mesa complex has just undergone a cataclysmic disaster in a survival-horror sense. And that everyone is pretty much on their own, surrounded by death and terror from the darkness beyond. It was great for establishing the “we’re buried under Hell” story arc.

All in all, great work guys. Can’t wait to see what you’ve done with Xen.


#29

Introduction

Let me just start by saying this is the by greatest mod I have ever played and on a par with some of the top retail games I have played in my lifetime. The level of detail that has been afforded to every facet of the game, and the care with which each level has been sculpted, makes it so much more than a simple mod.

Over the years my anticipation for this game has often reached fever pitch, with the release of new media (that damn trailer in certainly didn’t help! :stuck_out_tongue: ) and gently tapered off again as I learned to control myself. So after all this waiting and years of building up anticipation for this game, I’m delighted to say I was not disappointed! :slight_smile:

I deliberately haven’t read any of the reviews posted above so as not to colour my own, but I would imagine the sentiments I’ve expressed here have been repeated in more than a couple of the reviews.

Review

From the first moments you get the feeling you’re playing something special. The train ride has been beautifully reimagined in intricate detail. The quality of this sequence sets the tone for the journey to come.

The entire opening sequence, from the redesigned front desk, to the redecorated offices and server farms breathe new life into a familiar part of gaming lore. The resonance cascade itself is sublime. The aftermath is where the game makes its first real departure its source material. I’m sure the words “Hey where’s the crowbar?” were uttered the world over! :smiley: This tiny, yet profound, change was an important one, as it changed the way I looked at the game. It forced me to treat the game for what it was, a new experience, and not a trip down memory lane.

I could ramble on forever, going chapter by chapter describing everything I loved about this game but finding words to describe what everyone has already experienced themselves would be futile. I will say this; Questionable Ethics was a highlight for me. The final battle with the grunts has the makings of one of the greatest moments in video game history, but it is also the perfect moment to bring up the few criticisms I have of the game.

I am not, like some other people going to shit on the voice acting, or the many deviations from the source material. To do so would be, in a word, perverse! I will offer what I feel are a few constructive criticisms.

As I alluded to above, the main criticism I have of the game, is one of balance. From perusing the various threads in the forums I can see I’m not alone in this view. It is clear to me that the scales of both the weapons and the monsters have been tipped in various ways. This is a good thing! It changes the dynamic of the game and makes Black Mesa, distinctive to its source material.

However there are a few changes I feel could be made to benefit the gameplay experience. The Grunts are too accurate and react too quickly. That memorable sequence at the end of questionable ethics would be even more exceptional if instead of being trapped sniping enemies from behind a crate I was able to run from cover to cover, gunning down enemies John McClane style without fear of instant death the second I break cover.

I am not suggesting that the Grunts HP or the damage they inflict be reduced, merely proposing that the odd bullet goes astray and that their reaction times are dulled a little. In fact reaction times are something that could do with being increased across the board. In the majority of instances when you come across an enemy they get the first shot off. It really shouldn’t be this way. A doubling of reaction times (especially when enemies are not previously aware of your presence) would go a long way to enhancing the gameplay experience.

On a personal note I would prefer if the mp5 packed a little more punch and had its 50 bullet magazine restored. In its current form it is both frustrating and of little use in the majority of combat situations. Which is a real shame as it’s my weapon of choice when roaming the corridors of Black Mesa. Also the Bullsquids could do with a few more HP, and the Vortigaunt blast could be a bit stronger! :wink:

My final criticism is of the sound effects. While the visual quality of the mod is uniform throughout the game, the same cannot be said for the ambient sounds. The ambient sounds in most sections are great, but in some sections are noticeably lacking. This regrettably has the effect of diluting the immersion of the game on more than one occasion. Unlike the small balance adjustments that can be fixed with a few cvars this is an issue that will likely not be fixed and one I hope you will take into consideration when designing Xen.

My other critique of the sound is the battle cries and sound effects of the three goliath aliens. Namely the Tentacle, Garg and the Ichthyosaur. The Tentacle’s bangs need to be much louder and audible throughout much of blast pit. The thunderous clangs of the Tentacle created a feeling of apprehension and claustrophobia in Half-Life. Without those feelings, blast pit becomes little more than another puzzle.

The same goes for the Garg, without the sounds of him growling as he shuffles about, the illusion of danger is lost, as in reality, with the way the level is laid out, there is very little to fear from him.

Finally the Ichthyosaur is very underwhelming. I know that in reality you shouldn’t be able to hear him outside the water. But without his heavy breathing, he’s not nearly as terrifying as he should be.

Summary

And that’s all I have to say! I could assign an arbitrary rating, but as I made clear at the start that this is the best mod I have ever played, I think my views are clear! :wink:


#30

I’m still midway through the mod but I’ll make a short review of the main points that concern me:
1: Storyline 10/10 - It very well followed the original story and even improved it in the places where it lacked explanation.
2: Details, graphics and design: 10/10 - Very complex, the labs look like labs and yet no lag on the default settings on my slowish machine. It surpassed my expectations in every way here.
3: Difficulty: 8/10 - Yes it has met my hopes to be a difficult mod on the hardest settings, BUT the AI didn’t make sense in some places. Example - sometimes the soldiers would find me in places where I’ve hidden well without any time for “looking”. I don’t complain about the long range accuracy though, they are supposed to be military trained anyway :slight_smile:
4: Bugs glitches and exploits: 9/10 - Very few noticeable bugs and no major bugs. No major glitches except maybe one which I won’t mention. No exploits so far (unless you count hiding for your life like a chicken ;p )


#31

I thoroughly enjoyed playing through. 95% is perfect, but I wanted to add my support to one particular piece of pieces of feedback:

Aggro-ing HECU need work (they should not have a 360 degree field of view to aggro, and should aggro more easily in terms of noises/damage), and HECU need to be more tactical. More grenades, more dispersion and using cover. I played on Normal, but only encountered 2 grenades in the whole play through and most soldiers would just stand and shoot. FEAR would be a good game to aspire towards for the HECU IMHO.

I should probably add the tactical air strike drop jobby didn’t work for me visually. I had to find the topic in the bug forum which told me how to interact with it. The cross hair from my gun vanished when I got close enough to use the map, but I got no visual response from it and had to guess where I was aiming from the last strike. Infuriating, and occasionally suicidal results ensued.

Otherwise I thought the game was well balanced, well paced and well executed in all areas.

Many thanks, and I’m looking forward to Xen!


#32

Note: Contains some spoilers for Half-Life, Black Mesa and Episode Two.

A long time ago when I was young(er) and (more) foolish I spent much time on the old Black Mesa forums and was steadily in the “purist” camp. I was shocked at how popular suggestions like adding in new visions/cutscenes where the g-man talks directly to Gordon throughout the game or having a giant portal to Xen open in the skybox during Surface Tension were. Now it wasn’t the actual dev team saying these things but I always felt rather outnumbered by the people who wanted such significant changes. It made me think if this is what the average person wants then it seems likely the devs think that too or that they would bow to the demands of the masses.

It seems my fears were pretty unfounded. The mod is very faithful to the original, too faithful in some ways even! Though I called myself and was called by others a purist I never wanted just Half-Life with better graphics, the graphics of Half-Life don’t bother me. I’ve replayed it many times through the years and it still looks good to me (and I prefer to use the original models to the HD pack due to how some of the enemies are redesigned).

What I always wanted from this mod was Half-Life updated to the Half-Life 2 feel. Half-Life with the same aesthetic and style as its sequel was always a prospect to be awed by. I will be honest that in this regard I was disappointed with a lot of areas. I can’t really hold that against the team. I had a very specific idea of certain things and I can’t expect them to read my mind and use that as a design outline.

Their effort has been herculean and their results over all are pretty damn good for a commercial game and truly outstanding for a mod. That said, I think a project that is ambitious enough to attempt to improve upon one of the most highly regarded games of all time deserves to be held to the standards of a full game and I won’t be letting the bugs and rough parts slide just because it’s a free mod. I think to do otherwise would be a condescension to the team. Unfortunately while there is tremendous quality in this mod, the quality is not consistent throughout.

Looking at the title screen of the mod for the first time pretty much summed up the whole experience. Here was this great view of the Black Mesa transit system. Scientists milling about and checking the lovingly textured schedule. Trams running to and fro in the background. It brings the Black Mesa Research Facility to life. Then I noticed an impatient scientist sitting on a bench in the bottom left corned of the screen, his leg shaking in agitation. Well, that was evidently what the team wanted to convey at least. What it really looked like was he had his foot resting on some sort of actuator that was robotically and rigidly moving his leg up and down in a motion that seemed completely independent of the rest of him. In short it was unnatural. It really drew me out of the moment. The whole mod is like that title screen; a great tapestry of work with tons of little details that drive me mad and unfortunately some not so little problems as well.

I’ll go through the various aspects individually:

Basic Gameplay
The basic run and gun gameplay of the Half-Life series is still present and the movement can be set to either be the Half-Life style always run or the Half-Life 2 style shift to sprint set up. One strange change is the addition of view bob and view roll which seem at odds with Half-Life’s kinetic gameplay but they can be easily disabled from the main menu before you start the mod. Another change is that Gordon’s jump height seems to have been reduced. Crouch-jumps are now required to climb almost any obstacle and running jumps need to be performed much more carefully to avoid falling short of your target. This adds little frustrations throughout the experience that seem rather needless.

The general mechanics of combat are unchanged but the difficulty of the mod is quite a bit higher than the original game in many places. There is a fine line between reasonable challenge and unfair difficulty and sadly I think many parts of Black Mesa fall a sizeable distance into the latter. I will go into more specifics of this in the enemies section bellow. Suffice to say I think the team do not understand the difference between making a challenge and just making the game harder.

I must make a special mention of Unforseen Consequences and the decision to make such major changes to the opening gameplay. I think the idea of denying the player weapons for a while was a good one, and is something Valve themselves did at the start of Half-Life 2, but it was ruined by the inclusion of flares and far too many zombies. What is the point of making the player helpless only to provide them with a gimmicky means of self-defence? The use of flares in the Half-Life 2 episodes ties into the use of the gravity gun throughout the game. In this mod it’s a gimmick that is retired as soon as you get proper weapons and renders any tension brought on by holding off on giving the player the crowbar moot.

On the bugs front I had some random crashes, mostly during load times. When I reached to the dam scene my Tau Gun had mysteriously disappeared and I could not equip it even after picking up ammo for it. I needed to spawn myself a new one in the console to get it back. If I wasn’t already familiar with how to use the Source console I don’t know know how I would have taken out the helicopter here. I would count that as a fairly game-breaking bug for the average player.

Characters
Certainly one of the best part of the mod is the improvement to the scientist and guard interactions. The voice acting for the guards and scientists is pretty solid and captures the charm of the original while expanding on it. While the faces and animations aren’t Valve-quality they are very passable for a video game. Few companies seem to be able to do faces very well.

The real improvement is they now react to unique situations. From leaving everyone behind in Office Complex to the guard taking cover behind crates in Questionable Ethics the little scripting touches really bring the whole thing to life. I always cared for my barneys, walters, einsteins and luthors but this time I felt they cared back. Having barneys backing me up with more weapons than just the pistol was also great.

The inclusion of Isaac was handled extremely well though I’m a bit disappointed that the story details/retcons present in Episode Two were not taken into account. I understand that the Anomalous Materials scenes were probably planned out well in advance of the release of Episode Two but this mod still came out after these details were revealed. Eli seems somewhat in the dark about the running of the experiment, which seems a bit odd considering that Episode Two tells us he was one of the people the g-man presented the sample crystal to (though I supposed Breen could have altered the test behind his back at the last minute). The more obvious example the lack of any appearance by Arne, either with the casserole or as one of the scientists who lets you into the test chamber (which the commentary track says was the inspiration for his personality and where I think would be the more appropriate place to put him).

There were a few bad moments of scripting amongst the good presentation though. The worst example by far I saw was if you save the scientist who’s intended to be the snipers’ first victim he stays crouched staring at the corpse of a security guard (whose ragdoll clipped through the floor and wound up in an extremely contorted unnatural position) forever. It’s not like that even requires cheating or foreknowledge, just quick reactions. Occasional stiff animation doesn’t help the experience either.

The voice acting for the female scientists did not seem as good as the male this is overshadowed by how atrocious the acting for the HECU soldiers is. It’s hard to believe that the voices of the soldiers and friendly characters belong in the same project. I saw some confusing justification of this when the On A Rail gameplay video surfaced but even if the voice acting is for some reason deliberately bad that doesn’t actually stop it being bad.

Enemies
The Acid Lion spit greatly improves the Bullsquid as an enemy. It makes it a better threat and more interesting. Previously the Bullsquid was no threat to a player who simply kept moving. The new spitting mechanics mean the player must actually be concerned with dodging rather than just moving. This difficulty increase is a fair challenge to the player. I do not feel the same about most enemy changes though. As for the design of the Bullsquid, the way the spit stains everything is a pretty nice touch but I found the design of the enemy itself lacking, particularly tentacles. They are not good. They only bed in one place and come across as far too rigid because of this. It looks outdated in an otherwise very good- and modern-looking mod. I’m pretty sure modern computers can handle more joints in the model.

The vision distortion effect on the Houndeye’s attack is a good way of making them a more credibly threat but the reduction in charge time is too much. In Half-Life the threat of the Houndeyes (little as it became to an experienced player) was that they attack in a pack and all start charging, requiring you to quickly deal with all of them either by killing them or just making them all flinch. The charge-up time with its distinct noise sent a clear message to the player. You had to deal with this quickly, but left enough time so that there was some build up of tension while you tried to defuse the situation. That was the beauty of a pack of Houndeyes; they form a living time-bomb and are deadly in groups the player doesn’t handle them well. The vision distortion improves their ability to operate as a pack (getting hit by one will make it harder to deal with the rest because it disorientates the player) but the faster attack just turns a fight with a pack of Houndeyes from generating interesting and unique gameplay to a game of whack-a-mole. It’s not really unfair or terribly hard, it’s just uninteresting. Houndeyes also have the strange habit of randomly having all their limbs fly off when you kill them, no other enemies seem to gib that spontaneously.

Zombies and headcrabs are just the Half-Life 2 versions in terms of gameplay, nothing really to say there. In terms of design they look exactly like updated version of Half-Life zombies. I would have preferred if they were more like Half-Life 2 zombies but they do look good. They die terribly though. They do not have a smooth transition to ragdoll. They jerk suddenly when they die (possibly the model clipping inside itself during animation?) and the headcrab just falls off vertically down with no momentum, plonking onto the floor like a sack of potatoes. It looks dreadful and you see it every time you kill a zombie.

Alien Slave AI needs some work. If they are unaware of your presence they will not react to you shooting them in the least. They don’t even go into a ready stance. They just stand idly and let you chip away at their health with the pistol. The fact that they attack really fast on all difficulty settings seems odd, they only attacked that fast on hard in the original and I thought that a good use of the difficulty settings when most games just adjust damage with difficulty options. The assassins’ cloak behaviour on different difficulties was kept after all. Design-wise the Vortigaunts need new animations. Need them. In Half-Life 2 the Vortigaunts have a bit of a proud warrior race thing going on. They stand upright and fight fiercely. They should not have the same body language in the game where they are enslaved. They should be hunched over, more animalistic, more beaten down looking. They should not stand up straight and proud.

AI wise the HECU grunts have the opposite problem to the Vortigaunts; they have super-senses. They will see you from any distance even if you’re crouched, not moving and mostly hidden behind cover or if you are above or bellow them. Unless they are acting through a scripted sequence they will be aware of you even if their backs are turned, making sneaking stealth impossible except in specific situations. The marines engage ferociously as soon as they are aware of you (which is always) and their SMGs seem to be more accurate than the player’s one. It’s almost impossible to avoid getting hit by them unless you’re taking them out from very long range which is impossible in most circumstances. The fights with them end up just being a case of headshotting them as fast as possible with the revolver because killing them ASAP is the only viable option to not taking loads of damage from them. They never give you respite and while that may be realistic behaviour it makes for frustrating gameplay. The fact that the player is often lacking adequate cover doesn’t help matters. There is little room for tactical gameplay against an omniscient, nigh-aimbotting foe. In terms of design I do not like the fact that their armour is blatantly not a PCV. Have some love for Gearbox canon!

In terms of general AI everyone is too concerned with killing Freeman. I attempted to observe a battle between human and Xenian troops (the one where an Osprey continuously reinforces the HECU side) and would just get torn to pieces as soon as I approached as both sides dropped what they were doing to immediately kill the man in the orange suit. This is not only frustrating but you’re causing the player to miss out on a really great set-piece. Watching a battle between the two forces is always a great moment to show off the game and AI. I actually opened up the console and used the notarget cheat just so I could watch the battle.

The Apache cliff fight is insane. Utterly insane. It never misses and kills you in a moment if you peak out of cover. It took me ten rockets and two fully charged tau canon shots to bring the thing down. These two factors make the entire fight a question of sitting in cover for a few minutes, briefly sticking one’s head out to fire a shot before ducking again. There is no room for error and no interesting strategies to take it down. In Half-Life 2 we have two similar enemie; the Hunter Chopper and the Gunship. The Hunter Chopper attacks in a similar manner to the Apache but the big difference being while facing the Hunter Chopper on foot one is constantly ducking between different bits of cover that are being degraded. You must move forward in these sections. In Black Mesa you are stuck behind a couple of rocks. The Half-Life 2 Gunship is a game of distraction, where you shoot out a rocket from safety before revealing yourself from cover, getting the Gunship’s attention off you before trying to steer the rocket in for a hit. The Apache, like many things in this mod, offers difficulty but no strategy. This is not why I play the Half-Life series and the gameplay in many parts of this mod has failed to capture the essence of what makes the series great games to play.

I find it passing amusing that the one enemy who always gives me trouble on my playthroughs of Half-Life, the Ichthyosaur, has been rendered pathetically easy to defeat. Two crossbow bolts? This is supposed to be a deadly game of cat and mouse put in a 3D environment. You must juggle the tasks of dodging the bites of the beast, surfacing for air and using your openings to land hits with your crossbow. All this has been rendered pretty much moot as the Ichthyosaur can be dispatched in moments with two well placed shots.

No complaints about the Grunts and Controllers by the way. They seem pretty spot on. In fact, I must apologise to the Half-Life: Short Stories team but I think I prefer Black Mesa’s Xenians to the ones from Human Error. Oh, and I mush just quickly ask, where are the leeches?

Environements
This was always going to be the make or break of the mod and overall I was surprised at how pleased I was with the locals in this mod, though the quality and design focus seems to vary a lot from chapter to chapter. Is the purpose of the mod to recreate the levels of Half-Life embellished with extra details and nicer graphics? Was it to smooth out the poorer design decisions of Half-Life? Was it to fix the more ridiculous and wacky parts of the levels that made no logical sense? If I had only gotten to play one chapter of the mod I would have had a different answer for different ones.

Blast Pit is the most obviously sanitised chapter. The more ridiculous parts of the generator room have been removed and replaced with a much more logical set up (though I miss Smithers’ insane hiding place) though the glowing green goo remains. I have no idea why is the team has made an effort to make the Facility more believable but then continued to use the Simpsons’ idea of what nuclear waste is like. There is a reason Valve made the radioactive waste in Half-Life 2 less silly when the adopted the more realism-based style. Having the glowing green goo remain in Black Mesa, though its alliteration adds appeal, is like playing Tehran Highway in Battlefield 3 only to discover when you reach the enemy base that you are not fighting Russian soldiers, but the National Army from Battlefiend Heroes. It is not a coherent design choice.

Questionable Ethics and Anomalous Materials seem to have gotten the most love with addition of details and better designs and are both a joy to explore. I suppose it fits that they are both still currently active labs while many of the other areas are more disused. I can’t say I love the shortening and simplification of On A Rail, a chapter I actually like in the original game, but I can see the purpose behind it. The addition of the raising the rocket set-piece was a very good idea and I applaud it. It almost makes me wish there were a third part to the launching the rocket series just to extend the whole sequence a bit more.

The fact that it was seen fit to give On A Rail an overhaul and Blast Bit a bit more logic really raises the question of why similar things did not happen to Residue Processing. I am actually in the pro-Xen squad as well as the pro-On A Rail squad but by god Residue Processing is a terrible chapter in both the original game and Black Mesa. The fact that the game slows down here and gives you a break from the action is not itself the bad thing. It is wise to give the player a breather between the action-packed chapters proceeding and following it (even if taking the players weapons away to do so is annoying). Residue Processing’s problem has always been that it is both silly and uninteresting. Nonsensical criss-crossing conveyor belts and pointless buckets of churning glowing green goo do not engage the players mind in any way and just provide an obstacle to get back to the entertainment. If this mod had been able to make Residue Processing actually fun that would have been a grand achievement in and of itself but it seems like the chapter out of the whole mod that the least effort has been put into. I think Residue Processing was salvageable if the dev team had replaced the uninteresting jumping with actual mentally taxing puzzles but it seems no one even tried with this chapter. It is not just the low point of Half-Life, it is now the low-point in its recreation effort in terms of what the team were willing to invest in it.

The rest of the mod provides a good standard of polish to the areas with some highlights and lowlights. The cliff scene vista is of course beautiful; as lovely today as the one in Half-Life was in 1998. I’m glad it was done justice.

The set pieces are hit and miss, with most being hit thankfully. For example both the scripted sequences in the lobby in Questionable Ethics are pretty good, but I thought the handling of the sequence I mentioned earlier where the Xenian and human forces engage each other was handled poorly. Not only does the overzealousness of the AI to fight Freeman get in the way of being able to watch the fight unfold but I thought the TOW missile launcher set piece was badly implemented. The idea of having to manually reload the launcher was a great one but if you’re going to have a mounted missile launcher that you must reload manually and fires missiles the size of your normal rocket launcher they should be damn powerful missiles. It should take out the Osprey in one hit or two at the very, very most and it should decimate enemies in a very wide radius (as a side note, two bullets from a 50 cal machine gun reduces enemies to a bloody mess but a satchel charge or TOW missile at their feat just ragdolls them, what?). If you’re going to have such a dramatically set up toy to play with use it should have an equally dramatic effect when you shoot it at things.

As a final passing remark on level design, Valve has, in their level design, set up a shorthand system for communicating intractable objects with the player without explicitly stating it. A greem light on a control panel, a red Valve or visible handles on a door should indicate that those objects have an effect when used. While Black Mesa for the mast majority of the mod follows good design practices to bring the players attention to what is needed, it does sometimes include elements that look like they should be interactable but actually do nothing.

Summary
This mod has highs and lows both as a stand-along product and as a remake of Half-Life. I would recommend that any Half-Life fan play it though I don’t think it’s going to be replacing my bi-annual playthroughs of the original. It is certainly one of the best mods I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. The enjoyment in provided certainly outweighed its frustrations, but the frustrations it provided were many.

Pros:

  • Beautiful translation of the original Black Mesa Research Facility to modern standards
  • Friendly characters are well animated, voiced and scripted and really helps build upon the charm of the original game
  • Sanitisation of some of the more ridiculous bits of level design from Half-Life
  • It’s the still Half-Life we all know and love

Cons:

  • Inconsistent quality and level design choices
  • A failure to understand the difference between creating a challenge and creating difficulty
  • Several AI problems
  • Random crashes

#33

Black Mesa is a really fun game and a great followup to Counter-Strike Global Offensive. In fact the graphics look like Global Offensive (which is a good thing not a bad thing) but the graphics look so real… I actually found myself crying when one of the scientists died and the game is very atmospheric and captures what made Half-Life Half-Life back in 1998. Black Mesa deserves to be on store-shelves and VALVE… please do everything you can to bring this game to every gaming platform… bring it to the 360, PS3, Wii U, Mac, and Linux! Because, this game deserves to be on those platforms. Also, one more thing I can run the game on ultra-high with some lag. It’s minor lag. It doesn’t detract from the gameplay.

Pros: I feel like I am in a super-top-secret government facility and I now know what Area 51 must be like.

The graphics: Outstanding I like the style of the graphics. It looks like Bioshock 1 meets Counter-Strike Global Offensive and it’s very vivid and feels very realistic.

Gameplay: Really cool, I love the direction it took. It’s really fun. And it keeps you in the action at all times. I was on edge just by seeing the Tentacle for the first time. However… too many damn zombies in Unforseen Consequences!

The levels: Beautiful, and really immerses you and make you feel like WOAH This is Area 51! This is X-Files all over again! cues X-Files theme

The weapons: I love the way the weapons sound and feel. My cons are this… they decreased the MP5’s ammo capacity from 250 to 150. They also changed it from 50 bullets to 30 bullets. And when we press one mouse click it does a 3 round burst…

Cons: It’s super difficult. Not kidding. As much as I love the game… the game is very difficult. The soldiers seem to have much better firepower than the player and I always have found myself typing in “givecurrentammo” and “god” on some instances because the game is super difficult… it’s killing me. Yes I have played difficult games… but it’s not SUPER difficult.

Yes I have played Resident Evil 1, 2, 3, Rage, Borderlands, Half-Life 1, Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One and Two, DOOM 1, DOOM 2, DOOM 3, DOOM 3: ROE, and much more. So I know what difficult is.

Black Mesa has it cons… such as… why did you decrease the shotgun shell capacity from 168 to 64? And this also goes for the MP5? Also, there is lag on some areas…

Overall Black Mesa is a great mod. It might have a few cons but this can be fixed by VALVE and when VALVE hires the team they can possibly port the game to Xbox 360, PS3, Mac, and Linux. I would like to see it on the store shelves. They deserve the money, the respect, and the acknowledgement. I hope VALVE hires this team… the whole Black Mesa did a great job brought tears of joy and sadness to my eyes.

I actually cried when a scientist died. So that’s a plus Black Mesa… you make the gamers actually convey emotions… also Black Mesa your game feels like an AAA game. So I give it a :freeman: :freeman: :freeman: :freeman: :freeman: :freeman: :freeman: :freeman: :freeman: :freeman: out of 10 Gordon Freemans… and may the crowbar be with all of you! Peace! :smiley:


#34

I’ve only had the chance to play the game yesterday. It is redundant to say that I’m as much of a half life fan as all of you and I’ve been waiting for this mod/game as much as you all.
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The review:

The game is incredibly well done. But at the same time it messes with nostalgia, and everyone knows that’s a very dangerous thing to do.

I’ll just point out random things.Mostly what went trough my head while playing it.

-I didn’t liked the zombies voices. They felt/sounded. like a cliche B-Type Horror movie from the 80’s. Specially when you burn a zombie, I’m really used to hearing the HL2 burning zombie sounds, so it felt really bad in comparison to that. The Zombies itself, man… I dunno why but they really felt like HL1 zombies, not HL2 zombies turned into “barneys” and scientists. And I cheered when I saw they were eating with their bellyes.

-The retconned content and the references from other major half life universe things. They were all there!! And I felt the game was a love letter when the barney asked Gordon about Gordon’s ponytail. Before playing I was afraid what kind of decisions they would make about retconned stuff. After playing I feel the game was completly made of mature decisions about that. Yeah some stuff were not as good as most people would have imagined, but it doesn’t matter it was all there.

-The soundtrack of the game is stupendous.Masterpiece. Nuff said.

-I can’t understand why people are saying that the game is too hard. I’ve played it on hard mode. And before playing BM on hard I’ve being playing HL1 on hard as well. Black Mesa is surely a walk in the park compared to HL1. Most of enemies will die with few crowbar hits. For example, the headcrabs on the original game on hard mode needed something like five or six hits of the crowbar to kill. On BM one or two hits is already enough. Soldiers are not made of steel as they were on HL1. In HL1 on hard mode there are times that if you don’t kill all of them with headshots you’re screwed. On BM , it’s a more realist game and they die as a normal soldier npc nowdays would die (And I only say that because shooting straight at soldiers heads with the common pistol won’t kill them and it’s necessary a lot of shots to do so). The difference comes in terms of AI, which in comparison to HL1’s AI is hugely improved. The AI is where the game’s difficulty is improved. [And I’m a fan of this type of challenge].

-I didn’t like the bullsquid eyes. I loved his acid spit. It was so nostalgic.

-I felt that the houndeyes were not fair to the original houndeyes, I mean, for me they were cute little “space pugs”.
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Kkrmubsgf8]
On BM they are hugly stuff. And that really annoyed me. Also the sounds
they make were really close to the original but not as nostalgic and cute as I expected. Their attacks were mindblowingly well done. But I really miss the “sonic beams/waves” on the ground when they attack.That’s something to think about on next patches :wink: .

-I just can’t!! Can’t !! Hit the Vortigaunts , now that they look like the cool dudes from Half Life 2. It’s almost like, I want to talk to them and say “Im your friend stop!!”. :awesome: . The thing is, you could also implement some of the abilities seen in the hl2 chapters (like when the vorts fight the antilions). Seriously, I was almost like “Stop hiting me and say cool things to me, cool things that sound like profound thinking!!”. Maybe this could be more HL1’ish if they looked more f*cked up from slavery.

-The game needs several balance changes. And a Ultra Hard mode [Were everything is unrealistic hard to kill].

-I don’t understand why the magnun came first. But I would’nt mind the change if only it was placed on the top of the same box the shotgun was. (But with few bullets and more bullets if you save the dude).

-About the balance changes, I feel the game has fewer places with hidden stuff. And I only say that because I explore A LOT. And it almost felt like the game was teaching me “do not explore”(For no reason though, just a feeling). But the secret places revamped from the original were just sweet.


[b]Atmosphere, feeling, first time playing:

-Overall the game is a stand alone game. And that’s great. But that’s also bad. Somewhy I could not recommend this to a friend new to half life without saying "Play HL1 first and then play Black Mesa and you will be ‘‘wowed’’ ". Basically because the feeling of Black Mesa wasn’t the same as half life. I didn’t felt as scared and claustrophobic and powerless as the original make’s me feel (even today). There were fewer moments in the game were it was possible to be surprised/frightened by a monster coming out of nowhere in a dark corner. I’m not saying there wasn’t moments like this, no… Actually there were moments where if I were wearing a headphone at the moment, I would have sh*t my pants up. But I didn’t felt the tension that the original game had. The scientists and barneys now being more intelligent beings relieve the player of the feeling of loneliness, because in the original they were so idiot beings you always thought of them as objects since the beginning. And loneliness is mostly what this game is about. [/b]

-I feel that some more scripted stuff could have been made. I mean, I’m one of those players who tries to believe and immerse into the game as much as possible. For instance, a scientist said something like “i think i could use a calculator”, I handed over to him an calculator and he said nothing. That really breaks the immersion, it doesn’t matter that it’s just an idiot detail. In the office complex for example, a woman said to another scientist “it’s ok it’s a human there’s nothing to worry about” (or something like that), then I saved and decided to kill the guy. What happens? Nothing. Even the 2 Barneys that were with me said even a single word.

-I also think the game could feature more unnecessary dark corridors. Corridors where nothing happens, because moments where nothing happens are also necessary for balance reasons.

-I really got disappointed with the resonance cascade sequence. The one were Gordon get’s teleported to several places on the original. And instead in BM’s version he’s teleported only twice. I’m ok with that if only after the Xen chapters release you extend the teleporting sequence and make him teleport to Xen as in the original (with the two bullsquids and stuff). Also, I felt that the vortigaunts staring at the player were too close and I think the scene was less “mystical” then what was needed.

-I miss the robotic voice speakers. The HEV voice saying stuff like “warning bla bla bla critical” (i dunno if it was there or not but I didn’t heard it).

-I missed the “underwater grinder thing” that was in the original game. (little before the introduction of the bullsquid, and little after the descending elevator with falling headcrabs part).

-Some uncut stuff were unnecessary.

-But where the game really shines is in the amount of detail. I’ve seen stuff in this game that I haven’t seen in any other triple A (AAA) game. I mean… gosh… You’ve managed to make a game with more amount of detail then companies with huge amounts of money!! That’s amazing. And there are mind blowing sequences everywhere in the game.

-The game is truly an example of credible gameplay and a true breakthrough of videogame logic. Some changes made sense to the point that the unchanged parts of the original game kinda doesn’t make sense anymore.

-When I was re-playing half life I couldn’t avoid if not to think (step by step), “will they put this in the game?” “Will they make it better?” “Will this part of the game be more cinematic?”. And … The answer to all of that was a huge Yes. [Specially the dialog with barneys/scientists common encounters during the game, was truly unique.]

And finnaly, it is now possible to understand Half Life in a new manner. New clothings but also more suitable ones.

And for the good and the bad.

A huge f*cking Thank You.


#35

How can you find HL1 difficult at all? I’ve played it on Hard too and I can do most of the game without even getting hit. Do you live in some alternate universe? Maybe one that borders Xen?


#36

I live on Xen. But that’s not the point. I’m not saying HL1 is extremely difficult… No… I’m just saying that compared to Black Mesa, HL1 is more of a challenge sometimes. But I’m saying that based purely on the ammount of damage the enemies must take in order to die.

Edit: Which game do you belive to be more difficult? Bm or Hl1 ?


#37

I find BM waaaay more difficult. Enemies react much faster and do way more damage. I find that EVERY enemy is dangerous if I let my guard down at all. In the original Half-Life enemies like houndeyes and bullsquids were little more than target-practice most of the time. Now though they are especially dangerous.

I also feel that the more limited ammo makes things more tense. One thing that always bothered me about HL1 was that you were never pressed for ammo at all. (HL2 did that much better).

In my opinion enemies being bullet sponges doesn’t really make for any serious difficult if they aren’t also doing a lot of damage. As I said, I can play through most of HL1 without even taking damage but that’s not as much of an option in BM. All those health kits and hev stations actually get put to use.

Point is, in Black Mesa I actually feel like I might die if I’m not careful but in the original Half-Life that’s not the case with only a few exceptions.


#38

I agree with some of what you said. But I still think BM was not that difficult… I actually had no issues playing it “casually”, even on hard mode and stuff… And about ammo, I agree that “the less ammo the better” (so it values the thinkful players and creates tension and stuff). But come on… Half Life 1 : 2 or 3 grenades to kill a bullsquid. Black Mesa: 1 grenade to kill a bullsquid. And bullsquids weren’t so powerfull as in BM (for instance in BM it is impossible to kill them with a crowbar, wich I use to do in HL1 sometimes), but although the damage they caused on you was lower in hl1 the fcking bastards would never fcking die.

About the sponge thing,yeah that’s true, but that’s part of improving the AI.


#39

I agree.
On rail was also sort of a transition phase of the game. I dunno how to explain but the feel of the game changes from that chapter on. Also on a rail was a typical valve puzzle kind of stage.


#40

I was going to say the same thing, it seemed like many of the maps lacked clipping brushes on protruding geometry (have a lot of experience with doing this from Quake-engine level design btw).

Although I have a feeling they may not have used many clipping brushes to not exceed their engine limits on brushes (though I forget how much this matters for Source so don’t quote me on that)