Geekbox Reviews: Black Mesa

I’m happy to announce that we’re gonna start doing some game reviews on the website here and there, in a two-man conversational format that basically repurposes some of the coverage I used to do back at GameSpy. It’s a fun, casual format that my pals and I are fond of, and I’m hoping you all might enjoy the occasional review. For this first review, two of my longtime writers and former Geekbox podcast guest-stars, Eric Neigher and David Wolinsky, tackle the fan-made Half-Life remake, Black Mesa. Let us know what you think in the comments or on the forums; I’d love to get some feedback on the format and the overall idea of having written content on the site.

Black Mesa
Publisher: Black Mesa Modification Team and Valve Corporation (via Steam Greenlight)
Developer: Black Mesa Modification Team
Platforms: PC (September 14, 2012)
Genre: First-person shooter
Official Website:
Reviewed By: Eric Neigher and David Wolinsky

Eric Neigher, Pimp Daddy: I’ll just say it: Half-Life hasn’t aged well. Ironically, this might be because other first-person shooters have since done to death the things that Valve’s original magnum opus originated: killer A.I. soldiers, secret weapons and technology, combat suits, zombies, and all the rest. Because so many others have perfected Half-Life’s individual aspects, if you’re coming at crowbar-toting scientist Gordon Freeman’s adventure for the first time with the loving Black Mesa fan remake (by way of the Steam Greenlight project), it’s gonna feel pretty dull. David, I know you’re not really much of a shooter guy yourself, but do you think that’s what you’re feeling when you play? Or do you just not like the game, period?

David Wolinsky, Master Chief: I am not making the comparison at all, but the phrase “Duke Nukem Forever” entered my mind a few times as I played Black Mesa. I don’t want to fall into a debate about whether fan-made projects themselves merit existing; let’s just zero in on Black Mesa itself. The fact is, the creators spent years remaking it in Valve’s Source engine, and it should stand on its own. So: Does it?

I used to be a huge shooter guy — and if I want to go and experience Half-Life, I will go and play the original game that Valve made back in the ’90s. I feel like I’m in an old house with a new coat of paint. The A.I. scientists and other folks you run into might look better, but they still act like vacant-eyed robots. This is more like a half-measure — why stop short of tweaking everything and updating it, if they spent this long on it?

But to answer your question, it’s not that I dislike it… I just don’t really like it. It’s pretty middle-of-the-road. I’m also just less inclined to like it anyway; I’d rather see new ideas done, not remakes of old ideas that were fine the first time around. Am I just an old coot who should go back to prison, or do you agree at all? Did you find yourself liking it more than the original? How did you find the experience to be different and/or better?

Eric: I wouldn’t say I liked it more, but I appreciated it more. It’s nostalgic to go back and play this, and it’s gratifying, in a way, if you’re a big fan of the game or series, to know that others out there are just as interested in keeping the flame alive. I guess the real question for this one, then, is: How much do you like Half-Life? If you’re a big fan, I think you’ll dig Black Mesa a lot. It’s a hell of a feat for some guys with a level editor and some graphical tools, and that’s great. Then again, just because it was hard to make doesn’t mean it has any value. It might be hard for me to make a life-size sculpture of Barack Obama out of belly-button lint and then launch it into space to declare his supremacy as the one and only master of America, but that doesn’t mean anyone wants to fund the project. I know, because I applied for grants. It’s a very complex process, really, and I feel I deserved the money more than the guy who wanted to invent steaks made of chicken… but, hey, to each his own.

The point of all this is, Black Mesa is more an exercise in nostalgia than standalone gaming. We’ve seen plenty of other such exercises: remakes of Ultima V and VI by way of the Dungeon Siege engine, a completely new fan campaign for Wing Commander made with the FreeSpace engine, even a remake of Street Fighter with the Jean-Claude Van Damme engine. So it’s not like this is an uncommon phenomenon. But what does it tap into? Why, David — WHY!?

David: What does it tap into? That same sense of wonder and excitement we felt as kids when we’d have our court-appointed guardian or wolf read us same story over and over again. Humans love repetition, and — as a collective culture — we have a tough time with just letting stuff go. We’re terrified of death and don’t even want to discuss it openly at funerals, wakes, or brisses (brie?). Remakes are nothing new, and they’re becoming more and more common in games — it’s just that we usually tend to call them “reboots” now. Black Mesa is pretty much a 1:1 high-definition remake of Half-Life. So. I don’t think this is going to convert anyone who doesn’t already love the game or the series. I also don’t think it’s designed to. I also don’t really care how anyone else is going to receive it. My opinion? It’s fine. What are your final thoughts on it?

Eric: Yeah, I’m with you. It’s nothing earth-shattering (or even earth slight-crack-in-the-paint-jobbing), but it serves its purpose: keeping us connected to our gaming past, and maybe, just maybe bringing in some youngsters to the games we loved without having to lock them in a room with an old 486 PC and lying to them about communism actually still working as a viable economic system somewhere in the world.

FINAL SCORE: 756 out of 1260 crowbars to the face

6 Responses to “ “Geekbox Reviews: Black Mesa”

  1. sdf says:

    Awesome – yet another conduit for ex-GFWtards to stroke your string bean.

  2. TMonkey says:

    Great review, keep em coming.

  3. Josh says:

    This is great. I’m up for more Geekbox reviews.

  4. RestingCoder says:

    Nice review. I had trouble playing this with the first person platforming. I stopped about an hour in. Guess I’ll never be able to play HL1 again.

  5. GreenBean says:

    good job jerks, you guys just messed up some metacritic bonuses with your low review scores.

  6. WangDangle says:

    Why so low?

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