By Lazyaza 1 Comments
This was going to be my very long winded review of Black Mesa but GB seems to not be allowing review posts for the game for some reason so eh, it'll have to be a blog post instead.
I never played the original Half Life but I always planned to some day, such is the games legacy and reputation it always seemed like one of those "you have to experience this" kind of releases for the video game medium. Eventually I would wait so long that it ended up getting a fan remake that started development some years ago and would eventually see its completion in 2020 with the release of the final area.
Naturally I thought to myself oh, I'll just wait for that then it'll definitely be way more modernized and streamlined and fun and do away with a lot of the more prototypical elements of games from the 90s where many have aged poorly due to the fundamental nature of early 3D gaming and how innovative and experimental the decade was for games to both positive and negative results.
Having played and thoroughly enjoyed Half Life 2, its episodes and other source engine games I naively assumed that Black Mesa would take a lot of lessons from these and have itself polished to a fine sheen. After all with how much time had passed and how long this remake was in development how it could possibly not be amazing and perfect.
Upon finishing Black Mesa I now look back on everything everyone has ever said about the original Half Life, and how highly many have spoken of this remake in particular and wonder what in the hell is wrong with everyone.
I have played some terrible games in my life, some absolute utter trash but its rare for one to infuriate, bewilder and absolutely confuse me in the ways Black Mesa has. I don't know why I forced myself to suffer through this endless series of dull or miserable fight encounters, horrendously terrible traversal and endless numbers of bugs, glitches and just unbelievably poor design elements.
Where do I even begin. This is a game with a crosshair cursor that is so small and colored and designed to work in such a manner that it literally vanishes when you point it at enemies. You cannot literally see where you are aiming in this shooter.
The flashlight illuminates so little I was often thinking why did I even bother to click it on? why not allow me to see more? some areas are so dimly lit it was strange, gave me flashbacks to Doom 3 but I liked Doom 3. Consoles, door buttons, elevator buttons, items for opening things, anything you need to push can often be so small and out of the way simply visually locating them at all can require far more patience than one should need for a game such as this I would have thought.
Sometimes I would activate switches simply by mashing E over everything I could and going oh, I guess that was the thing. Pickups for slotting in to things would regularly get stuck in places and I'd have to grenade them to be able to grab them again or simply reload. Sometimes something would need blowing up, I'd use two explosives no dice, ah but the SPECIFIC explosive that works with it got it done, silly me, how foolish of me to not realize Black Mesa.
Worst of all the game uses green and red glowing details to reckless abandon which make the actual interactive things blend in that much more. Later areas literally have you shooting both green and red things as well, the visual player feedback of this game is a complete mess. Why are explosivies, doors, healing, powups AND ammo refuels all glowing green? for god sake pick some other colors. Logical visual consistency, where the hell is it.
Spots you can get Gordon to or through or not can be wildly random at times as well. So often was I finding my way around a level through seemingly pure dumb luck. I constantly felt like I was glitching him through something for progresses sake, going to spots in any other game would be unreachable and no one would ever think was otherwise the case. Many times I was so absolutely stuck a walkthrough was mandatory. Thankfully youtube exists but I should never have to do this to simply play a game from more recent times. Unbelievable.
Mesa is constantly doing things like this where you always think "do the people who made this understand what video games are? have they ever played a good one in their life?" I sincerely wondered this a lot. Some really basic stuff has gone neglected here.
The shotgun has such a narrow cone of fire it may as well be a rifle. It felt really underpowered too. A few of the weapons feel redundant or awkward to fire with no real satisfaction to them. I'm still not even sure how the sharks work, I throw them at enemies, on the ground and I could never really tell if they were attacking sometimes. Ammo runs out constantly and is peppered so oddly around the levels you basically are in a permanent state of either having near zero ammo or all of the ammo. Yet your crowbar is so overpowered it feels like a cheat to melee the dopey AI with. Yet somehow whacking headcrabs in this game feels worse than it ever has, and I'm not sure how they managed to make even that feel bad awkward. It's weird.
Some enemies dart around and move so insanely fast at times 9 out of 10 of your shots will miss them unless you are captain agility of maximum precision which I'm not, but still. I played this game on normal and felt like I was playing on extreme when these guys showed up. Which granted is partly me getting older but I can play plenty of modern shooters just fine but some of these enemies just seemed broken they were so unfair.
At least the alien enemies, in the initial levels are slower, and lean more on the side of annoying than challenging. It's mostly the soldiers and later Xen guys who seem to run around like they do. Despite having many powerful guns I still never felt like I was quite being given a fair challenge when enemy numbers got over two or three. A game that insists on using cover when their is little that seems intentionally placed and I honestly think any shooter that does this without it being a dedicated system is pushing the boundaries of what it should and shouldn't be doing on a fundamental basic gameplay design perspective. Just bad encounter design is constant here.
So the general combat is busted but I did feel like I could endure it and manage it to some degree, even when my cursor vanished or five invulnerable sniper rifle enemies were shooting me at the same time or forty enemies were attacking from all directions while I wondered why I decided to do this I still somehow, through some miracle managed to get by. I'm not going to lie though some encounters had me dying so much I had to cheat. Thank god all source engine games have the same console commands.
Even cheat codes didn't make this game that much better though. I felt like every time I had to resort to them it was a perfect summary of yeah this is really fucking bad, so bad I have to negate the gameplay almost entirely and yet I felt zero shame in doing so. Rather that than repeat the same dull or irritating fight once more.
Compared to the satan's asshole that is this games traversal though the combat is joyful. I literally had to noclip Gordon to make progress at times it was so infuriating. I cannot over state how much of an abject nightmare it is; so bad, so broken, so poorly designed it constantly felt like I was engaging with someones idea of masochistic fetishism. A game who's levels seem specifically made so you would hate it, so you would cry and scream and wonder why why whyyyyyy.
Even crouching to get in a vent in this game somehow manages to be more difficult than it should be. The amount of times I had to re-align, angle or jump just right just to get anywhere simple at all sweet mother on a cracker. I was in non-stop fear that I'd somehow nudge Gordon just enough off something to fall and sure enough the majority of my deaths were being a millimeter off where the game wanted me of course. Nothing about getting this right was rewarding, its just pure tedious frustrating level design. The opposite of a Mario or a Portal completely.
Almost nothing was ever challenging or satisfying, I constantly felt like I was just being forced to do things I didn't want to in a game that does all of it poorly.
Black Mesa is the kind of first person platformer where you will nail your long jump but upon landing will get stuck on the lip of a platform you only just barely made it to and then because of how the collision detection works will spend a minute desperately mashing your space bar and praying somehow you get Gordon up and on to the part he needs to get to in order to be allowed to continue walking.
Source engine games have always had a weird feeling like this to their traversal to some extent and a lot of what I experienced in Mesa seems to be down to the people working with this engine not understanding how to design levels around its limitations. Precise platforming in 1st person is always annoying at best unless your engine and levels are very smartly built with it in mind and automate much of it (Portal's secret to its greatness) and even the biggest budget releases can still screw this up as evidenced by a lot of the terrible parts of Doom Eternal this year as well.
So what kept me going, what was the real reason I wanted to play this game finally. Stupidly it was story and narrative and being able to appreciate Half Life 2 in particular a bit more I think. I wanted some context for that great game and the broader Half Life story and it seemed like playing the original would be important or was, as I long assumed. But I guess that's just not the case.
So did I get something out of this experience? I understood some callbacks in the sequel better now. I do like a lot of the visual elements, some of the re-created character models, enemies and especially later ares of Xen are pretty visually fantastic given I am familiar with a lot of that having watched plenty of gameplay of the old game. But its a small couple of positives among an ocean of misery.
It's just a shame that all that visual effort is ultimately wasted on a game I never want to touch again, you could not pay me to replay Black Mesa. But I did it, I endured it, I went through it and now I can say yeah, yeah I played Half Life 1 and I fucking hated it.
Or maybe I didn't? maybe the original ironically holds up a lot better than expected, I could probably play it and find out I suppose but between this, Alyx's VR exclusivity and the abandoned Half Life 3 the franchise sure has left a bad taste in my mouth in recent times. Maybe I hate Half Life now.
Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I just suck unbelievably at this specific game. I get the feeling I just had some real bad luck with it to some degree and maybe knowing the original intimately would have helped a lot with level navigation at least but ah well. What's done is done.
I really need to find better things to do with my time.