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Black Mesa Source: Re-Visiting Retro

Fourteen years ago, Valve Corporation released one of the most influential first person shooter games ever seen in the industry, in the form of Half-Life. Half-Life presented the gamer with an engaging storyline which mixed science fiction with a mostly earth-bound location, offered a combination of realistic and completely alien weaponry and threatened progression through challenging puzzles spanning entire areas.

In the days before maps and in-game hints, the player would be forced to explore often vast and confusing areas in order to advance. A few weeks back marked the release of Black Mesa: Source, a complete re-creation of Valve’s original hit. What would you say if your favourite childhood game was re-released today?

After convincing my grandparents to buy me the 15-rated game at around ten years old, I was introduced to a game which I have played through multiple times on every difficulty setting, including successive sequels and the critically acclaimed Half-Life 2. However, this article is not the place for discussing my love of Valve’s successive games. Instead, I want to highlight the success of a motley crew of highly talented individuals who have grouped together, culminating in the creation of something amazing.

Black Mesa: Source, is a complete and utter re-build of the original Half-Life, utilising the widely available Source engine which has allowed a complete update of the graphics, character models, soundtrack, audio, physics and AI. The game has been entirely built from the ground up, meaning that every second witnessed and heard in the gameplay has been recreated by this team of dedicated modders and fans.

The completely original soundtrack is worth a special mention; Joel Nielson, the creator of the soundtrack, explains that he ‘wanted to try new musical genres and styles in Black Mesa, while still maintaining a Half-Life “feel”’. You can decide for yourself whether the soundtrack adheres to it’s predecessor’s legacy but one thing’s for sure, I love it. The mix of ambient and aggressive tracks in relation to what’s happening in the game action wise is perfect, whether you’re riding a cargo elevator infested with enemies or donning your hazard suit for the first time.

The time and effort which has been put into this game is clear when you play the ‘mod’ for yourself; the original release date was marked as ‘late 2009’ when the stark reality is that the game was only released recently, on September 14th 2012, a production time of around seven years in total. Another highlight of the mod is that all you need to play the entire game is a computer and a Steam account; it won’t cost you a penny to download and install. Perfect for a student budget!

The mod also takes into account a more modern approach to gaming; lots of casual gamers can easily get frustrated or annoyed when the way forward is not entirely obvious. In order to combat this, the mod has changed a fair amount of level design, to cut confusing or multi-branching sections, while remaining true to the original in order to sate the appetites of Half-Life veterans.

As a kid, a lot of people had their favourite games on ‘retro’ consoles such as the PlayStation, Sega Mega Drive, or N64; a couple of popular choices that come to mind are Crash Bandicoot, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pokemon Red/Blue, or Super Mario 64. There are obviously multiple others that I’m sure you’re thinking of right now and wondering why I didn’t list those as well, but I’m interested in what responses would arise if these old games were to be re-built and re-released on newer platforms which made them look and feel better. Would you revisit your favourites to feel a sense of nostalgia through the lens of current generation technology?

If you have a Steam account, and you’re interested in burning a few hours free time on a very well made sci-fi FPS, make sure to check out the mod website at www.blackmesasource.com and the soundtrack (also free!) at http://www.blackmesasource.com/soundtrack.html

Liam Ross

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