It’s been 14 years since the first Half-Life came into our lives. In 1998 it was a revolution in gaming, a first person shooter with an actual plot, some intelligent puzzles as well as a few labyrinths thrown in for good measure, and instead of giant, impossibly hard to kill bosses to end off a level, you’d have to figure out a way to circumvent some deadly trap in order to move on to the next section of the game.
Now a small group of programmers have released a revamped version of the game and they called it Black Mesa, how well has Half-Life held up the test of time?
Well, I’m ambivalent about it. First I need to mention that I enjoyed the first Half-Life perhaps more than any other first person shooter I’ve ever played afterwards, including Half-Life 2, Battlefield 3 and the Left for Dead and Modern Warfare series so the issue is not the game itself.
Although the new game looks great, it doesn’t look THAT great. Sure, it’s graphically a few notches above what the original was, the textures are better, the sounds are better, the weapons are better too if you can believe that, but in a way I was slightly disappointed. I know, I know, it’s hard to be disappointed in a free game and in most ways, the ways that count, I’m not actually disappointed, the game is still very playable even though it continues to stop and load forever, every time you walk past 25 feet and then if you walk back, it loads again!
Then there’s the way the “head bob” motion still makes you want to throw up after 10 minutes of playing, and the way that when you strafe the head sort of lags there and the whole room bends just for a second, increasing the nausea, it all adds up.
Put simply, the thing that still throws me off about Black Mesa, is the same thing that threw me off (and almost made me throw up) 14 years ago: Head bob in first person shooters should have been outlawed by the Geneva convention against the cruel and unusual treatment of military and political prisoners.
Head bob is obsolete in video games, and should be reserved to the Sims version of A Night at the Roxbury.
Back in 1998 I had commented about Half-Life in a gaming forum and I remember writing that if you looked up the word “phenomenal” in the dictionary, a hologram of the retail box of Half-Life would spawn into existence from thin air.
Can it still be said about Black Mesa?
Consider though, that my own expectations were so high that it would’ve taken something exceptional to satisfy them. Black Mesa is great, it looks great and feels great, but the element of surprise that Half-Life delivered is simply not there today, and none of the problems it had have been fixed.
Imagine if you had the possibility to remake something great, but flawed. If you could hatch a clone of Michael Jackson without the wackyness, a talented version of Megan Fox, a sober Lindsay Lohan or perhaps a reliable Alfa Romeo. The developers here had the opportunity to fix the few problems with Half-Life and make it into an absolutely perfect game but they didn’t.
However, this is a free game and as such, it’s impossible to beat, so I must recommend it, but I’m not going to give it two thumbs up, ten stars, an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy or an MTV Blimp. It does deserve a lot of praise for what it is, cosmetic surgery for a game that nobody bothered playing anymore because the graphics were outdated.