Thursday, 6 September 2012

Return of the Freeman

So, whilst we’re all still twiddling our thumbs and scratching our arses waiting for Valve to pull out their finger and deliver unto us the next instalment of the further adventures of Dr Gordon Freeman, it was announced earlier this week that Black Mesa would finally be released on 14 September. Well part of it anyway. It’s been eight years in the making and it’s still not actually finished. Even loyal followers of Valve seem unable to absolve themselves totally from the quantum peculiarity of Valve time (which the original resonance cascade may or may not be directly responsible for).

One day dammit, one day. 

Essentially a remake of Half-Life developed by around 40 modders using Valve’s Source engine, Black Mesa is the Half-Life community’s response to the barely noticeable and somewhat disappointing graphical changes to the original game when it was made available on Steam in 2004. But this is not just further graphical tweaks; Black Mesa is a fully realised remake. Supposedly it will divert little, if at all, from the main storyboard, but the more tedious parts of the original game have been streamlined and level maps increased in size to accommodate greater challenge. It has even been suggested that Valve’s marvellous AI routines have been tweaked and improved upon. If so, wowsers! As a bonus, Black Mesa makes Half-Life look just as crisp as Half-Life 2, if not better:

So, Black Mesa has the potential to be most excellent; although re-working a masterpiece means there is added pressure to deliver. Look at the remakes of most movie masterpieces, such as Psycho or the recent The Thing travesty. Oh dear. Then there’s the eight year wait which touches more upon Daikatana time, let alone Valve time. Let’s hope it’s just a perfection thing, rather than a ‘we’ve kind of ballsed it up’ thing. More worryingly, from the video sequence above, there seems to be a lot of swooping camera views. That means cut-scenes. One of the key reasons as to why Half-Life worked so well was that everything in game was witnessed from Gordon’s eye-view, absolving the need for an out of body experience and making the game more interactive as a result. Please, don’t let it be bloody cut-scenes.

'No to cut scenes'. Gordon Freeman, yesterday.

Anyway, enough of the pessimism! I’m sure it will all work out great in the end. Although Valve are not involved, there is enough Valve in the starting point for Black Mesa to rise above many a modern FPS. Despite only half a game (it ends in the Lambda complex around the point Gordon dimension jumps to the alien world Xen) there’s expected to be around 10 hours of gaming available, which means plenty of alien-arse kicking with the now iconic crow-bar. But the really awesome news is Black Mesa is being offered as a free download from the mod team’s main site. Bless them and their Tim Berners-Lee approach to sticking two fingers up at capitalism. Excited? I’ve just let out a little bit of wee…

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