Black Mesa: Source achieves goal

Atreyo Ghosh

The original Half-Life. The game is a hallmark in gaming history and revolutionized first-person shooters. Image used under fair use doctrine.

Note: The Half-Life series, and thus Black Mesa: Source, is rated M for Mature.
I choose video games the same way I pick books. Neither forms of storytelling hold much value to me if they lack a good plot. Video games can get away with explosions and innovative gaming mechanics, but at the same time, there is something lacking if driving plot is nonexistent.
That’s why I’ve played the Half-Life series numerous times; the games are controlled by plot first and action second, as opposed to the Call of Duty series, which relies solely on guns with a barely-existent plot. While Call of Duty sequels often add maps instead of new game play, Half-Life sequels add game play and an intriguing plot.
And in Half-Life, the gunfire and explosions often follow the plot.
Before the weekend of Sept. 14, I’d only played the first-person shooter Half-Life 2 and its subsequent episodes. I wanted to play the original Half-Life, but because of the time between the release of Half-Life and Half-Life 2, I was hesitant. After Half-Life, Valve, the creator of the game, completely overhauled the system and graphics for Half-Life 2.
There would be a huge disconnect between Half-Life and Half-Life 2 if I had played the former. Valve tried to remedy this by putting Half-Life onto the Source physics engine that Half-Life 2 used, but the game largely remained the same. I wanted to experience the plot from the first game that started this epic saga, but I wanted it to be a seamless experience with the sequels.
Enter Black Mesa: Source.
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Imagine that, after “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was released, a group of fans felt “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” had poor writing and detail compared to the Deathly Hallows. But instead of petitioning J. K. Rowling, the group decided to rewrite the first book from scratch, only using the basic plot and structure from the first book to make their new product.
This is essentially what fans did with Black Mesa: Source.
After Valve, a professional gaming company, released Half-Life: Source, fans found it inadequate. They wanted Half-Life to be the same quality as Half-Life 2. The fans embarked on a journey to recreate Half-Life with no prior resources. From 2004 to 2012, the group, christened “Black Mesa Source,” worked to make their vision a reality.
Their goal was to meticulously make the game as similar to Half-Life 2 in graphics and game play as possible, and they pushed back release dates to make sure the game achieved that. After a false release in 2007, the group went to a ‘the game will be released when it is done’ release date.
I stumbled upon the team’s website a year ago. After a few months, with no progress reports from the group, and unspecific release date, I began to lose hope in ever seeing Black Mesa Source released. But I refrained from buying Half-Life, hoping I was wrong. Then, this summer, the group created a Facebook page and posted screenshots. They did an interview with a gaming website. And then the unthinkable happened.
They put a countdown on their website. Black Mesa: Source was good to go.
On Friday, Sept. 14, the group put up ‘mirrors’ to download the game. A mirror is simply a website that you can download files from. I started downloading the files that night, and upon seeing a download time of 10+ hours, resolved to play the game when I woke up the next day.
Long story short, after finding corrupted files and needing to restart downloads, I opened Black Mesa: Source that Sunday. The wait was well worth it. The game was a perfect rendition of Half-Life 2’s style. The graphics provided for, as trite as it sounds, an immersive quality to the game.
I took on the role of the silent scientist Gordon Freeman as I walked the halls of the Black Mesa research facility. True to the Half-Life series, the makers of this modification (or mod) created a relatively open-world game which rewarded you, in the form of ammunition and health, for fully exploring an area. There was always one way forward, but if you wanted to meander around, the mod provided plenty of opportunities.
In the very beginning, instead of walking to the research chamber you were needed at, you could go around and bother other scientists and listen in on their lives and problems. If you felt mischievous, you could walk down to the lounge room and fry a scientist’s lunch before legging it.
Exploring and chatting with other scientists paid off in the end, when the experiment you were assigned to wreaked havoc on the entire facility. As soon as you wake up from the ensuing explosion, you see a scientist giving CPR to a comatose security guard in the hallway. All the scientists you spoke to earlier are dead or dying.
If you’re one for sympathizing with the characters, the game provides a heartbreaking situation. Scientists that had plans over the weekend won’t see the light of day again. At least, not as humans.
As you move through the game, the differences between the original Half-Life and Black Mesa become increasingly clear. Other games have good graphics for the sake of looking nice. In this case, the improved graphics of Black Mesa added to the emotional environment; the halls were all dark, save for the occasional fire.
If walking through the dark in a defunct laboratory, armed with only a crowbar, doesn’t scare you, perhaps we should throw some zombies in the mix. The experiment that caused the cataclysm created portals through which alien creatures enter the compound. One of these creatures has a tendency to make zombies out of humans. In the Half-Life series, there is nothing scarier than being in a dark area filled with zombies that enjoy slashing at you with claws.
Despite long loading screens (which often herald zombies or an ambush), Black Mesa: Source is an excellent game compared to professionally-made games. When Valve got wind of the project, even they gave their seal of approval. By enhancing the graphics of the original, the team created an immersive game with familiar characters and environments to Half-Life 2. The game play is exactly like Half-Life 2, and the team has preserved the plot of the original.
Black Mesa: Source is free to download and play, so long as you have a game on the gaming platform Steam that has a Source Engine. If not, the first-person shooter Team Fortress 2 is free to play and contains the Source Engine. The download will more than likely take 5+ hours to complete, and after that, you need to extract the files to play the game. There are dedicated forums on Steam and the Black Mesa: Source website if you run into any troubles.
I highly suggest you give the game a shot if you at all enjoy playing video games or reading. The game is immersive with a driving plot that will leave you wanting more. The years of waiting were well worth it, and the final product is mind-blowing. With Half-Life 3 nowhere in sight, Black Mesa: Source is a satisfying appetizer for the main course to come.
By Atreyo Ghosh