Black Mesa is a first-person shooter game developed and published by Crowbar Collective. It is a third-party remake of Half-Life (1998) made in the Source game engine. Originally published as a free mod in September 2012, Black Mesa was approved by Half-Life developers Valve for a commercial release; the first commercial version was published as an early-access version in May 2015, followed by a full release in March 2020 for Windows and Linux.
Black Mesa was developed in response to Half-Life: Source (2005), Valve’s port of Half-Life to the Source engine, which lacked new features or improvements. Two teams wanted to improve on the Source remake, and eventually merged to become Crowbar Collective. While they had originally targeted a release by 2009, the team realized they had rushed to this point, and reevaluated their efforts to improve the quality of the remake.
Since then, attention to details, adapting the game to an improved version of the Source engine, and completely reworking the oft-derided final chapters of Half-Life (known as Xen) had lengthened the development efforts of the remake. Due to its long development time, the modification became notable for its delays on the status of its completion. Major changes include reskinned collection of textures, models, and NPCs; a longer runtime; improved level and puzzle design along with challenging enemy artificial intelligence, and additional dialogue and story elements.
The early-access version of Black Mesa received positive reviews, and gained more positive reviews as it was updated and improved. Reviewers praised the gameplay and attention to detail, comparing it to that of an official Valve release, and the improvements to the Xen chapters.
Black Mesa is a first-person shooter that requires the player to perform combat tasks and solve various puzzles to advance through the game. From a design standpoint, the core gameplay remains largely unchanged from the original base Half-Life game; the player can carry a number of weapons that they find through the course of the game, though they must also locate and monitor ammunition for most weapons. The player’s character is protected by a hazard suit that monitors the player’s health and can be charged as a shield, absorbing a limited amount of damage. Health and battery packs can be found scattered through the game, as well as stations that can recharge either health or suit charge.
However, unlike Half-Life: Source, which merely featured the original game’s assets and geometry ported to the Source engine, Black Mesa has been purpose-built from the ground up to take full advantage of the newest versions of Source, not just for its graphical capabilities, but for its myriad updates to the game’s physics engine, puzzle complexity, and platforming capability. The artificial intelligence of the enemy characters has also been improved over Half-Life to provide more of a challenge, with some of the combat spaces redefined to provide more options to the player. In addition, several narrative and design changes have been made to account for the numerous story threads presented via retcon in Half-Life 2. While most of the general design and progress through the game levels remains the same as Half-Life, the largest change in Black Mesa is the reworking of the game’s final chapter, Xen, which was generally considered the weakest part of the original game.
Black Mesa also includes support for the individual and team deathmatch multiplayer modes from Half-Life on similarly-updated maps.