Black Mesa is a mod by the Crowbar Collective (formerly known as the Black Mesa Development Team) for the Source Engine that recreates Half-Life 1. It has been in development since the release of Half-Life 2 in 2004, and has had its first release, which runs from the starting chapter Black Mesa Inbound to the climactic Lambda Core chapter, in September 2012. The final four chapters, constituting the Xen part of the game, and a multiplayer component are still under development and will be released at a later point.The time put into developing the mod certainly shows. Each level is updated and expanded, characters behave much more realistically, and the famous 4-scientist problem has been eliminated through the use of procedurally-generated faces. Add to this the fact that it's entirely free, and you really have no excuse not to give it a go.The game has been given the Greenlight status on Steam and the developers were also given the chance to sell the game on Steam for a low price. The free version of the game will still be supported.
Black Mesa provides examples of:
Adaptational Badass: Houndeyes. They didn't pose much of a threat in first game, but if you're not careful here, they'll mess you up.
The Gargantuas weren't immune to explosive weapons in the first game, but the mod now grants them invincibility to all attacks outside of scripted events.
The HECU helicopters are a lot more durable. Originally, they would be destroyed after being hit with just one rocket. Here, they can take up to at least a dozen rockets before going down.
A-Team Firing: Averted; the soldiers are pretty good shots, which will come as a nasty surprise for people expecting the usual MO of Half-Life enemies to be ineffective at long range. This also goes for the security guards.
Ambiguously Gay: The scientist who complains about those ridiculous ties and other fashion faux pas. At first you might think he's just very fashion-sensitive, but then he clinches it with this line to Gordon:
"I say, that suit certainly flatters your fundament."
Adaptation Expansion: Other areas (most noticeably the Surface Tension dam and the Questionable Ethics lobby fight) have been significantly expanded, along with extended NPC reactions and why quite a few of them can't come along with you (for example, the first security guard stays to attempt to contact the surface, a scientist in a dumpster craps himself when he sees a headcrab fly at him, the scientists in Office Complex are either too cowardly, or can't leap across the broken elevator shaft, et cetera, et cetera). There are also female scientists this time. The mined building in Surface Tension is greatly increased in size and there's even MORE mines in it than before.
Alternate Reality Game: The "Pizza Code" mystery. Initially believed to be a simple easter egg ("The Pizza is a Lie!"), a number of cryptic hints and puzzles were found scattered throughout the game, and as forum users made progress solving puzzles, more layers were discreetly revealed by the developers. For a sense of how in-depth the ARG is, it's been over two years since it was discovered and it still has yet to be solved.
Art Evolution: The game's art style is noticeably more grounded and realistic than the original Half Life's.
The marines now use appropriate vehicles (the Bradley was replaced with a LAV, the F-16s were replaced with Harriers, the trucks were replaced with Humvees) and wear more realistic looking uniforms (the "powered combat vest" was replaced with modern plated body armor and they no longer wear balaclavas). The various mortar pieces throughout Surface Tension were also replaced by TOW missiles, and the weird double turrets in On A Rail were replaced with normal M2 Browning machine guns.
Alien Grunts have been slimmed down significantly; they're still muscular and tall, but they don't look borderline cartoonish like in the original. Their armor also covers more of their body, namely more of their lower stomach and legs, making their designs look a bit more sensible, as presumably they'd still need free space around their third arm.
The Vortigaunts now have their Half Life 2 Episode 2 shiny athletic look, as opposed to their original, cretan look. They also don't hunch as much and are taller.
Zombies now come in a security guard variant. In the original games, they only showed up in Opposing Force and Blue Shift, alongside Military zombies. In addition, the headcrabs now can leap off corpses if they're not headshot, a feature that was supposed to be implemented in the original Half-Life, but was ultimately cut due to being too complex.
The Black Mesa facility in general is much more sensibly designed, somewhat averting the No OSHA Compliance of the original game.
There's also small but nice touches made to the design of some of the weapons. Prime example, the shotgun: in the original game, the secondary fire of the shotgun would cause it fire both barrels at once, at the cost of accuracy and pump time. The problem? The shotgun didn't have two barrels- unless the ammo tube was supposed to be the second barrel, but that would leave no room for the ammo.Black Mesa changes this so that, instead of firing both barrels at once, the secondary fire simply fires two shots in quick succession, which is possible with a real life SPAS-12. Gameplay wise, it amounts to the same thing, but the attention to detail is certainly appreciated.
Nearly anything that causes gibs will vaporize the gibs after a set amount of time (namely, the sterilizers in Questionable Ethics and the Gluon Gun). This is due to the Source engine having a hard limit on objects.
Artifact Title: For a long time in the development stage, the mod was titled ''Black Mesa: Source". The "Source" part was removed after a request from Valve, but many still refer to it by this name, and the mod's official site has remained registered in that name.
The marines. They flank, use teamwork, throw grenades to flush you out, and cover each other just like the marines in the original game. However, unlike those marines, these enemies don't depend on hard scripting to perform those actions, so they can run and shoot at the same time and are even more accurate with their automatic weapons.
All enemies are significantly smarter; it's not just the marines. Even the Vortigaunts will use basic squad tactics, like covering each other and flanking.
In a minor example in "Power Up", you could escape the Gargantua in the first game through a door while he was distracted with killing marines, and he would forget about you until you wandered in again. Not this time. He goes right to the door you went through after killing the grunts and actually reaches in if you're near it. Suffice to say, a lot of players got burned by that one unexpectedly.
Artificial Stupidity: Then again, there are some bits. Similar to a bug found in Half-Life 2, it's possible with proper timing to sneak past the Apache Helicopter by holding an oil barrel in front of you, and, like in the first game, enemies were oblivious to targets that suddenly hid in front of them, and comrades killed behind them with a noisy weapon.
This can also apply to the marines at random intervals, as they will sometimes drop all pretenses of intelligence and run around blind corners in single file, right into your line of fire.
Awesome, but Impractical: Snarks, even more than the base game. The idea of using little alien bugs to rip your enemies to shreds for you is cool, but the throwing distance is so short that, unless you're doing it from the high ground, they're more likely to attack you than your enemies, and are slower than they were in Half-Life, as well as less damaging. Worse, one achievement requires killing at least 10 enemies with snarks.
Black Comedy: In the form of a Brick Joke; in "We Got Hostiles", one of the VOX announcements calls the Service Team to the elevator in Sector C. As in, the one that just fell hours before.
At one point in the game, a scientist gets killed when a ladder hits his head after falling off of it.
Bland-Name Product: Among others, "Tittles" instead of "Skittles" and "Coca-Bola" instead of "Coca-Cola". On the more creative end of the spectrum are "Alpine Hue" (Mountain Dew) and "Rambler's" (Walker's, or Lay's in the US).
Not just limited to drinks and snacks: There's a workshop in Black Mesa with a DeWALT chop saw with a "DeWOOT" logo.
Bloodier and Gorier: The added detail available from the new Source engine allows for unprecedented levels of gore in Black Mesa. Along with the usual blood splatters from kills, almost every enemy can be gibbed by explosions or especially powerful weapons and blood (both human and alien) and bullsquid acid will regularly splash on Gordon's arms and weapon in disturbing detail should he be injured, attack an enemy up close, or get caught in an enemy's gibbing. Dismembered body parts also litter Black Mesa.
Special mention goes to the poor guard and scientist who are the victims of an overcharged Tau Cannon. The guard's limbless torso is 20 feet away and his smoking boots are standing in the middle of a massive puddle of blood, blood is splashed all over the walls and floor, and bits and pieces of the scientist next to him are scattered around.
Body Horror: The headcrab zombies are now very detailed. You'll wish they weren't.
The Marines may not always know where you are, but with the aforementioned blindingly-fast reaction times, it really doesn't matter.
Darker and Edgier: The original suffered from not having graphics advanced enough to properly portray the horrific events taking place at Black Mesa. Let's just say that this has been... rectified.
Once Black Mesa's security system gets taken over by the military, VOX sounds much more angry, livid, and threatening, as opposed to his robotic, emotionless (for the most part) voice in the first game.
You can backtrack, grab a physics object, and break an elevator window with it, but as soon as you crawl through, the elevator comes right down.note However, thanks to a quirk of the Source engine, you can then wedge said physics object between the ledge you're on and the elevator, causing it to get stuck there forever (or at least until you load the next area, in which case the elevator will still be crashed but the scientists will be down at the bottom of the elevator shaft, alive and well).
The security guard who berates the lack of a ponytail on Gordon. This detail was taken out during the mod's development when it became unnecessary for an actual player model, and was part of Gordon's Half-Life 1 model, and was in the original concept of Gordon in the very early stages of Half-Life 1 (a very hairy Viking-like man named Ivan). Also, the 3rd person NPC of Gordon seen in Opposing Force sports a ponytail and sunglasses.
A scientist argues that repeating an old experiment that inspired his career in science is perfectly worthwhile to show how far the science has progressed with technological advancement, while two others point out that repeating an old work is hardly meaningful. Doubles as a bit of Self-Deprecation.
A monitor found in Questionable Ethics displays one of the maps in the Hammer Editor.
It was always a question regarding the original Half-Life as to why Black Mesa's security system would indiscriminately shoot at both the Xen aliens AND the Black Mesa employees. The mod's answer? The military took control of the system.
When you pass the first dead soldiers, which are by one of the turret guns, you'll be surprised that their guns are missing unlike the original. Since the military took over the security system, they wouldn't activate them with their soldiers in there, hinting at that the soldiers were killed by aliens in this version and their guns were taken by their comrades. OR they were killed by the turrets and, upon realizing their mistake, the soldiers' comrades moved in stealthily to recover the weapons. Either way, you wouldn't want the people you're trying to kill get their hands on automatic weapons.
Not to mention all the new dialogue excuses for why scientists/security guards can no longer follow you such as the security guard calling for help mentioned above.
Subverted for the Mined Building in Surface Tension. On the outside of the building, there is a scientist that is supposed to be killed by a sniper. It is possible to save him as the sniper's laser sight is visible. However, the dev obviously never thought anyone would save him as he doesn't comment on the sniper if you save him and he won't follow you. The second sniper is also screwed up. Without a tarp covering his hole, it should be easy to spot and kill him, but if you look into the building there is no actual character model there and the laser clearly originates from empty space. Lastly, the devs didn't set the mines to go off if certain elements from the environment hit the beam, like broken box parts. While that's acceptable becuse of how Source's physics work, it doesn't explain why the lasers can't go through a chain link fence or why mines set on boxes hover in middle air if the box is destroyed.
Early-Bird Cameo: Barney, Eli Vance and Isaac Kleiner, major characters introduced in Half-Life 2, replace the guard banging on the door (according to Blue Shift) and two of the generic scientists from the original. Eli is the scientist who sends you up to call for help and Kleiner greets you in the Spectrometer control room; their placement was based on comments by the series' writer, Marc Laidlaw, and the fact Eli states that he is the one who sent you to the surface.
Follow the Leader: Operation: Black Mesa and Guard Duty, Source remakes for Opposing Force and Blue Shift, respectively. Like the original two games, they're being developed by the same studio (though not by the same people as Black Mesa), and aren't sharing assets with Black Mesa. They're similarly in Development Hell, though.
There's also the cancelled Hazard Team, which was meant to be a Source remake for the PlayStation 2 version's co-op mode, Decay.
Enemy Chatter: The HECU marines have a lot more of this than the original. Some of it's pretty funny.
Foreshadowing: Multiple added lines make note of the Resonance Cascade, although it's funny to hear "It's going critical!" way too early in the game.
Gas Mask Mooks: The HECU marines, just as they were in the original game, with the exception of the commanders, who like in the original just wear berets. However, averted with the new medics, who wear helmets but no gas masks.
Taking damage causes a brief "chromatic aberration" effect that worsens with the severity of the hit.
A milder example: you'll notice Gordon's vision becoming slowly filled with static the longer you stay near high levels of radiation.
The Houndeye's attack distorts the screen and causes a tinnitus effect on the audio.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Hunter, the security guard with the Lambda Team. He writes you off and insults you when he first speaks to you, but if you follow the scientist's advice and restock at the armory, he wishes you luck on your mission.
One scientist in Sector C bemoans his daily chore of walking back and forth between computer screens and staring at them. Sounds a lot like the plight of any video game NPC controlled by scripted sequences.
Laser Sight: An odd variant - the Black Ops assassins, when cloaked, can be tracked by their mono-optical goggle, which glows red.
HECU Snipers are still identified by their laser sights.
Leeroy Jenkins: The security guard who rushes the tentacles in Blast Pit, armed with only a pistol. He gets gibbed for his trouble. Fittingly, his name was Leeroy Jenkins.
Ludicrous Gibs: While the NPCs and enemies sadly don't burst into chunky, high-flying gibs from falling a great height/repeatedly hammering their corpse with a crowbar/low-level explosions, it's made up for by individual body parts coming off by damage applied, and you can still see flying body parts with liberal application of .50 cal turrets, or direct impacts from a grenade.
A security guard mentions that Gordon used to have a pony-tail, as he did in the original Half-Life. He also tells Gordon to say "hi" to Dr. Cross, the HEV suit training instructor and one of the main characters in Half-Life: Decay, from him.
After the Resonance Cascade, Kleiner becomes fascinated by a headcrab, referencing him taking a headcrab called Lamarr as a pet in Half-Life 2.
For that matter, there's a portrait of Hedy Lamarr (the source of the headcrab Lamarr's name) in one of the offices in "Office Complex".
On one of the bulletin boards is a note from Otis that Security Desk B3 needs more donuts, Otis being the fat security guard armed with a Desert Eagle in Opposing Force and Blue Shift. You even find one instance of him holding a donut instead of practicing at the firing range in Blue Shift.
A guard says that Barney's bar tab is past due and he's dependent on others to buy him drinks. When you first meet him in Half-Life 2, he mentions that he owes you a beer. This in turn was reference to the generic guards' comments in Half-Life 1, pre-disaster, where they'd say "Catch me later, and I'll buy you a beer."
After you blow up the casserole in the break room, a scientist mentions that they'll never hear the end of this. In Half-Life 2: Episode 2, you meet Dr. Magnusson, who is still mad at Gordon for this incident.
HECU Marines (and occasionally guards) will scream "MY ARM!" or "MY LEG!", as the rebels did in Half-Life 2.
In an Easter Egg location, you can find Dr. Breen's poorly spelt plans for world domination, which involves befriending aliens and getting them to build him a huge tower. You also learn that he really, really, really doesn't like Dr. Vance.
Eli cant come [inside my big tower] cause hes a stupidface.
In one of the offices, a sign reads "In Case of Emergency, Use Nearest Crowbar".
The scientist in the locker room will talk about the HEV Mark IIIs, which didn't have an optional helmet. One of the big debates about Half-Life was if Gordon was wearing the HEV helmet that you saw on dead Lambda Team members, since he was impervious to getting headcrabbed.
The MP5 is a mixed case. Its grenades don't do as much damage and have a smaller blast radius, it doesn't have its fifty round capacity like it did in the original - now replaced by an ordinary 30-round mag - and its reserve ammo was cut down significantly (from 250 rounds to 150, and from 10 grenades to 3). On the other hand, it fires faster and a lot more accurately (especially if fired in 3- or 4-round bursts), and primary fire bullets are just as damaging as Glock shots.
Thankfully, one is to the player's advantage: Black Ops Assassins don't do the insane damage they did, or have their insane firing rate from the first game. They also retreat to hide more often, backing away when too much damage is done, and aren't as fast as they were, despite the higher jumps they can do. Even on Hard mode, they're easier to track down by the lights of their goggles (see Laser Sight above).
Another one: HECU Snipers now fire much slower and have a visible red beam, making them easier to see and avoid, and don't murder you in two hits.
Snarks don't travel as fast, which works for both the player and enemies - no longer will you get savaged by incredibly fast, hard-to-hit snarks, but neither will Marines.
Vortigaunts/Alien Slaves, on the other hand, got a significant buff. They can take more hits and had their attack speed increased significantly (it was all too easy to completely avoid their attacks in the original). They also come in larger groups and ambush you frequently by teleporting in, which is effective due to their fast attack time and accuracy. They do less damage per blast, though.
The Icthyosaur succumbs to a mere two crossbow bolts - or, if you're not that sort, less than one pistol magazine.
The Colt Python, on the other hand, got a significant buff. Ammo for it is far more common than before and its iron sights add a slight zoom effect. The only drawbacks are a slightly longer reload speed and halved ammo capacity, which don't really draw from the improvement of its practicality.
Alien Grunts do less damage, have less health, and do not appear as often.
Nigh Invulnerable: Gargantuas can't be harmed at all by your weapons. The only way to kill them is through scripted sequences (e.g. calling in an artillery strike).
Nintendo Hard: This game is considerably more difficult than the original. For starters, the Tentacles in Blast Pit are far more sensitive this time around (because they have an eye on top of their tentacle, according to a research note on one of the boards), the HECU's firing rate is no longer restricted to burst firing, now eating up your health like a cocaine addict with crack, barnacles can take four crowbar whacks instead of one in the series' official games, and the Vortigaunts, in addition to using basic squad tactics, charge up their attacks at the speed of the original's hard mode (read: almost instantly), and can actually take a few hits before dropping. Even the headcrabs react a bit faster than average. See also Artificial Brilliance.
No OSHA Compliance: Zig zagged. While going through the game you can see safety posters and equipment around the environment (the labs in "Questionable Ethics", for example, are rigged so the personnel are never exposed to the testing conditions) as well as handrails and safety fences everywhere (in fact, "Residue Processing" relies on you actually going out of your way to violate the safeties to proceed), but it's still played straight with the failsafes on the Anti-Mass Spectrometer and the giant fan in "Blast Pit" is just as unsafe and even more lethal.
Not His Sled: Some levels are changed, removed, or expanded in this remake, so knowledge of the first game isn't a complete walkthrough of this one.
The Shotgun isn't available until the end of "We've Got Hostiles", while the Revolver is available in the Shotgun's place in "Office Complex".
Most weapons in general are available later than they would correspond in the original game. The iconic Crowbar doesn't appear until Gordon enters through the vent in the lobby, and the MP5 isn't on the dead soldier's corpse near "We've Got Hostiles"; the first live soldier Gordon meets carries the first available one. The only weapons that don't follow this example are the Crossbow and all of the weapons in the fourth slot. (And, as mentioned above, the revolver is available significantly earlier than it was in the original - there, it couldn't be found until the beginning of Blast Pit.)
Thought you were in the clear when you saved all those Scientists in "Questionable Ethics"? You were wrong.
Offscreen Teleportation: Aside from the aliens that are teleporting into the facility as part of the plot, we have the guards and scientists that follow Gordon.
Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Your first trip to the lobby in "Questionable Ethics" has two HECU guards talk about going to see some of the female scientists, in a creepy manner.
Marine 1: Let's get this over with, my dogs are barking.
Marine 2: Oh hey. Why don't we go and try to wrangle up some of those lady doctors? (howl)
(they both laugh)
Remake Escalation: A memorable scene in Surface Tension is when Gordon crawls out of a drainage pipe to witness fighter jets flying through a vast canyon. In the original game, there was just one. In Source, there were two. In this game, there are three.
Scenery Porn: The devs really went crazy with the Source engine's considerable capabilities. The facility's large pieces of machinery (like the anti-mass spectrometer and Lambda portal generator) are considerably more detailed and feature complex moving parts. Meanwhile, outdoor areas have been completely redesigned to have a considerable "WOW!" factor. An example would be the scene where the player must fight an Abrams tank and a squad of Marines, while overhead military Ospreys are seen abandoning the facility as Air Force jets engage the aliens' organic flyers, or the scene where the player witnesses Harrier jets screaming past to bomb a distant target, which creates a visible shockwave that rattles the mesa as it hits.
Scenic Tour Level: The former Trope Namer returns in even more detail than before. For example, the first scene in the game, which was originally a brief stop, is now a busy transit station with several other people waiting to get on their trams.
One as early as Unforeseen Consequences. At the elevator that plummets to the bottom of the shaft, you can throw a chair through the glass, allowing the player to climb up the emergency ladder a little earlier then the player is suppose to. The elevator would still fall, but the scientists would, for some odd reason, be alive and well at the bottom of the shaft.
You can also place the chair near the edge of the elevator platform before the elevator falls, which actually stops the thing from falling. The scientists on the elevator will still be stuck in their "scared" poses though.
During Surface Tension, the modders added a cut-scene where you witness a scientist run out of a nearby structure to help a downed security guard that was shot by a HECU sniper in the area. A few moments later, the sniper would then kill the scientist as he tries to help the security guard. If you kill the sniper before he shoots the scientist however, the scientist remains on the field forever kneeling before the now dead security guard; showing that the modders didn't take into account what would happen if the player kills the sniper before the scientist is shot.
Spared by the Adaptation: Several NPCs that were normally done for without split-second reaction times are now far easier to save due to equal parts changes in script pacing and muscle memory.
The Stinger: If you successfully complete the Rare Specimen achievement (where you take a purple top hat found at the start of the Lambda Complex chapter and send it through the portal to Xen) and then beat the game, after the credits roll, a short bit plays out where a Vortigaunt finds the hat in question and tries it on.
Suspicious Video Game Generosity: The lobby of the Questionable Ethics lab has a bit more equipment this time around. Additionally, there's another first aid station and HEV charger right before you lead the scientists out into the lobby. One Genre Savvy scientist points out that it all seems a bit too easy. He's right. There's a new boss battle that wasn't present in the original game.
Too Awesome to Use: The Gluon Gun will vaporize anything in its way with ease, but runs through a full ammo supply in less than 10 seconds of continued fire.
One of the guards asks for help from Gordon with one of those critters, who apparently got onto his buddy's head and are making him act all weird. Right on cue, guess who walks out. The guard then proceeds to talk to his "buddy" as if he's all fine and well. You can guess how that ends.note If you kill the zombie before it gets him, though, you'll get access to the .357 much earlier than normal. His reaction seems to lean way towards being shell shocked, because he thanks you when you kill his "buddy".
A security guard, true to the original, rushes the tentacles in Blast Pit with only a pistol. Fittingly, his name was Leeroy Jenkins.
Took a Level in Jerkass: Some of the scientists and guards in Anomalous Materials are now short-tempered, egotistical, grumpy, or all three. Like the guard who witnesses you blow up Magnusson's casserole.
Video Game Caring Potential: Several NPCs that are there to demonstrate threats can be saved, and have lines if such a thing happens. You can even give a scientist stuck in a bathroom stall some toilet paper, making him thank you and granting the achievement "Brownian Motion".
Violation of Common Sense: Somewhere in the game, the player finds a busted gas pipe spitting fire down a hallway. Most people's first thoughts would be to turn the valve on that pipe to turn off the gas, but that causes it to blow up in your face. You're supposed to find a sprinkler valve and turn that on instead.
Welcome to Corneria: Some of the friendly NPC dialogue to each other doesn't match up, or turns into unusual cases of Deadpan Snarker: "Do you have any idea what's going on?" "Yes, sir."