Black Mesa in the test: is the Half-Life remake convincing?

Author: Florian Zandt
Date: 2020-03-23 10:15:00
22 years after the release of the original and five years after the early access start, the new shooter edition is ready. Our test clarifies whether this time was well invested.

By the way, the screenshot gallery already tells you visually. But there's more to a good remake than just looks.

This is what it looks like

That's what it sounds like

What also contributes to this are the expanded dialogues that draw us into the world of Black Mesa. Scientists discuss current research projects in more detail, for example, even if the characters themselves remain one-dimensional. This is partly due to the fact that some characters share the speakers - and they don't always sound professional, but sometimes just too stilted.

Instead, a dynamic and gripping soundtrack now accompanies important parts of the game. For example, when we go into the field for the first time against the HECU soldiers wielding submachine guns and shotguns, who thanks to significantly better AI sometimes attack us from the side, strategically use grenades and withdraw to set a trap for us.

The sound effects are only partially based on the original. The noises when switching between weapons, for example, are identical, while the newly and very fairly distributed medstations now sound different. Important: The crowbar is in no way inferior to its model from the original half-life in terms of sound and effect.

A modern game flow

This particular weapon is also a good example of the extent to which Black Mesa does things differently than the original. Namely not only in the obvious things like the graphics and the sound, but also in small details. If we find the crowbar still on the floor in Half-Life , it is stuck in a door in Black Mesa, and we have to pop the thing out first, so earn it.

The development team not only relocated the weapons in the levels, but also adapted the flow of the game to modern conditions. For example, the smaller switch puzzles now require more manual labor. For example, before we can put two Tesla coils into operation to defeat a powerful opponent, we have to pick up two power cables and plug them into the sockets provided.

This modernization does not stop at the puzzles, but also becomes clear in the level design. An example: The section "On rails", in which we steer a tram through an underground transport system, was unnecessarily angled in the original and characterized by a lot of backtracking. The remake clearly detoxifies this level and, with its successful lighting, even creates a slight horror atmosphere in places.

Xen is finally good!

Keyword atmosphere: While the levels on earth for Black Mesa were more or less simply polished up and, in the case of the outer levels, increased, there is a lot of work going on in the alien home Xen . Even the first steps on the completely redesigned planet are breathtaking: extraterrestrial air rays fly past us, everything shines and glitters, in the distance the tower that houses the final boss is bathed in eerie red light.

On our way through the extraterrestrial world we keep finding remnants of the research expedition that triggered the alien invasion, and we explore an abandoned base of scientists. All of this is implemented excellently and much better than in the original; especially because we get a deeper insight into the alien world. A cherry on top: Black Mesa explains why the originally hostile Vortigaunts support us in the sequel, Half-Life 2.

Black Mesa has limits

With Xen, however, it becomes clear what the team has not managed to do quite so well. Because the original Half-Life was characterized by a consistently crisp level of difficulty; in the newly designed version of the alien planet, this drops significantly compared to the levels on earth. Some work still needs to be invested here.

And despite the harmonious atmosphere, the limits of the source engine become clear on Xen. With newer technology, for example, one could have gotten even more out of particle effects. Apart from the technical aspects, we would have liked to have fine-tuned the hopping passages . They are more than annoying and sometimes disrupt the otherwise very successful flow of the game - especially because climbing ladders feels much more inflexible than in the original.

A half-life for everyone

With all the love that Crowbar Collective has put into the remake, we have to finally ask ourselves an important question: Who is Black Mesa for? For nostalgic people who have since failed because of the original's graphics? Or for those who don't know Half-Life but finally want to know what all the adulation is about? Or for people who have no contact with the series and are simply looking for a new shooter?

We think: The Half-Life remake appeals to all groups. Hardcore half-life fans will find a successful mix of the atmosphere of the original and comfortable innovations . Newcomers can look forward to a modern shooter with an interesting story that transports the charm of a bygone era into the here and now, without looking old-fashioned.