Black Mesa (video game)

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Black Mesa
Caption of Black Mesa
Developer(s)Crowbar Collective
Publisher(s)Crowbar Collective
Composer(s)Joel Nielsen
Platform(s)Microsoft Windows, Linux
  • Free standalone
  • September 14, 2012
  • Early Access
  • May 5, 2015
  • Full beta
  • December 6, 2019
  • Full Early Access
  • December 24, 2019
Genre(s)First-person shooter
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer
Comparison of the Anomalous Materials lobby room in Half-Life (top) and Black Mesa

Black Mesa (formerly known as Black Mesa: Source) is a first-person shooter video game, developed and published by Crowbar Collective. It is a third-party remake of Half-Life (1998), and was originally released as a free modification for Half-Life 2 on September 14, 2012. It received a standalone commercial release through Steam Early Access on May 5, 2015.

The gameplay of Black Mesa is reminiscent to that of the original game: the player controls Gordon Freeman, a scientist at the Black Mesa research facility in New Mexico, as he navigates through the complex after a botched experiment, with nearly uninterrupted control of the character. The main differences include: an entirely reskinned collection of textures, models, and NPCs; a noticeably longer runtime; and additional dialogue and story elements. The initial release in 2015 excluded the "Xen" chapters from the original game. A staggered release was used for the Xen chapters, with their entirety publicly released on December 24, 2019. A full release is planned by early 2020.

The project was initially announced in 2005, shortly after the release of the Source engine port of the Half-Life. Over the course of its nearly decade-long development, the game has been overhauled several times, including redesigns of several components and effects, as well as an added multiplayer mode. It has been featured in several video game publications, including attention from Valve. Due to its long development time, the modification became notable for its delays and dwindling updates on the status of its completion. Wired included the game on their "Vaporware of the Year" lists in 2009 and 2010.[1][2]

Black Mesa received highly positive reviews from critics upon its initial release. Praise was directed towards the gameplay and attention to detail, comparing it to that of an official Valve release.


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 Half-Life; 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. In addition, several narrative and design changes have been made to account for the numerous story threads presented via Retcon in Half-Life 2.


The plot of Black Mesa is almost identical to Half-Life's storyline, playable through the "Lambda Core" chapter.[3] As in the original game, the player controls Gordon Freeman, a scientist working at the Black Mesa Research Facility. He is tasked to place a sample of a strange material into an electromagnetic instrument, using the Hazardous Environment Suit Mark IV to do so safely. However, the sample material causes a "resonance cascade", devastating the facility and creating an interdimensional rift to an alien dimension called Xen, bringing its alien creatures to Earth. Freeman survives, finds other survivors, and makes his way to the surface with the protection of his hazard suit to get help. Upon reaching the surface, however, he finds that the facility is being cleansed of any living thing - human or alien - by armed forces. From other scientists, Freeman finds the only way to stop the alien invasion is to cross over to Xen and destroy the entity holding the portal open.


The "Surface Tension" chapter as it appears in Half-Life
The same scene in a development version of Black Mesa

With the release of Half-Life 2 in 2004, Valve re-released several of its previous titles, ported to their new Source game engine, including the critically acclaimed 1998 game Half-Life as Half-Life: Source. The Source engine is graphically more advanced than the GoldSrc engine used for the original games. Half-Life: Source features the Havok physics engine and improved effects for water and lighting. The level architecture, textures, and models of the game, however, remained unchanged.

Half-Life: Source was met with mixed reviews. IGN liked the new user interface and other technical features, but noted that it did not receive as many improvements as Valve's other Source engine ports.[4] GameSpy said that while it was a "fun little bonus", it was "certainly not the major graphical upgrade some people thought it might be".[5] Valve's managing director Gabe Newell is quoted as saying that a complete Source remake of Half-Life by its fans was "not only possible…but inevitable".[6]

Black Mesa began as the combination of two independent volunteer projects, each aiming to completely recreate Half-Life using Source. The Leakfree modification was announced in September 2004. The Half-Life: Source Overhaul Project was announced one month later.[7] After realizing their similar goals, project leaders for both teams decided to combine their efforts; they formed a new 13-person team under the name Black Mesa: Source.[6] The "Source" in the project's title was later dropped when Valve asked the team to remove it in order to "stem confusion over whether or not [it was] an endorsed or official product", which at the time it was not.[8]

Originally based on the version of Source released with Counter-Strike: Source in 2004, the project switched to a more recent version released with Valve's The Orange Box in 2007. This new version included more advanced particle effects, hardware-accelerated facial animation, and support for multi-core processor rendering, amongst other improvements.[9][10][11] The first standalone game came out in September 2012.

The team then stated that they had moved Black Mesa to Valve's new 2013 version of Source, with faster load times and Mac OS X and Linux support, as well as modifying it to be its own hybrid engine. The Black Mesa branch of the engine is a modified version of the Team Fortress 2 branch, as well as having features from games like Left 4 Dead 2, Portal 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. On October 27, 2016, the first Black Mesa Linux client was released to the public.

In addition to the modification itself, the game's thematic score, produced by sound designer Joel Nielsen, was independently released as a soundtrack in 2012.[12] Nielsen released the score for the Xen levels in 2019.[13]

Marketing and release[edit]

The developers released a teaser trailer in 2005, and a full-length preview trailer in 2008. They also released images, videos, and concept art during the project's development. Black Mesa was given an official release date of "late 2009" in the spring of 2009, but this date was changed to "when it's done" after the development team was unable to fulfill this date.[14]

On June 10, 2012, the Black Mesa development team announced that new "media" would be released once their Facebook page reached 20,000 likes.[15] This goal was reached on June 11, 2012 when 8 new screenshots were released, along with an announcement of the start of a "social-media campaign" towards their first release.[16]

On September 2, 2012, project leader Carlos "cman2k" Montero announced that the first Black Mesa release would take place on September 14, 2012.[17][18]

The first section of Black Mesa was released on September 14, 2012,[19][20] distributed as a free download.[21] It had been confirmed that Black Mesa would also be distributed via Steam; the remake was among the first ten titles whose release on the platform was approved using Valve's crowdvoting service Steam Greenlight.[22] The initial release consists of remakes of all Half-Life's chapters except those set on the alien world "Xen", which the team intended to expand for inclusion in a future release.[18] The development team estimated that the initial release of Black Mesa gave players eight to ten hours of content to complete.[18] In November 2013, the team confirmed they have been given the go-ahead from Valve to release a commercial version of the Black Mesa product via Steam. The team planned to use the additional funds to improve the game's implementation in Source and to include additional features; the free version would continue to be offered.[23]

Black Mesa was released on Steam's Early Access program for Windows on May 5, 2015, lacking the Xen sections as previously described.[24] On October 27, 2016, the first beta client for Linux platforms was released to the public.[25]

The release of the Xen part of the game has been difficult, since the Black Mesa team wanted to redesign the levels to overcome their poor perception that they had in Half-Life's original release. The team said, "We want our version of Xen to feel like it really belongs with the rest of the game in terms of mechanics, cohesion and progression," while at the same time, they wanted "to push the boundaries and explore this unique and varied setting; to build an experience that feels both fresh and familiar to players from all walks of Half-Life veterancy."[26] They have had to push the release of Xen off a few times; initially planned for a December 2017 release.[27][28][29] On November 19, 2018 the first trailer for Black Mesa: Xen was released, with a release date for the second quarter of 2019.[30]

Three playable levels of the new Xen area were released as part of a beta version on June 26, 2019. This beta was intended to help stress test the newly designed Xen, check game performance, and include other bug fixes.[31] The full beta was released on December 6, 2019.[32] Additional Xen levels were added over time, and by December 24, 2019, the full Xen chapter was released as part of the game's early access.[33]

The game's full release out of early access is anticipated for early 2020.[34]


On June 16, 2015, the first content update (version 0.1.0) for Black Mesa was released. It featured a new deathmatch map (dm_stack) and added a number of player models for the game's multiplayer component. It also fixed many bugs in both singleplayer and multiplayer.

On December 22, 2015, version 0.2.0 was released, dubbed "The Crossfire Update." The update added a new multiplayer map (Crossfire), new weapon models, graphical improvements (god rays), localization improvements, a Steam Controller configuration, and map balance updates across singleplayer and multiplayer.

On May 15, 2016, version 0.3.0 was released, dubbed "The Surface Tension Update". The update integrates a popular mod, Surface Tension Uncut, into the game (the mod's developer, TextFAMGUY1, had previously been added to the development team). The new content adds about an hour of gameplay to the game. The update also adds high definition shadows (using Cascaded Shadow Maps), faster map load times, and translation support for 5 additional languages. As with previous updates, 0.3.0 additionally contains game balance and level design changes across singleplayer and multiplayer, as well as programming bug fixes. Notably the game's Artificial Intelligence was modified in singleplayer.


In Surface Tension Uncut, an unofficial mod for Black Mesa, the Surface Tension chapter was expanded to include certain areas of the original game that were not released along with the remake, as the developer had left before his work was finished.[35] The developer, Chon Kemp, known on the Black Mesa: Community Forums by the pseudonym TextFAMGUY1,[36] also modified the On a Rail chapter to include the areas cut from Black Mesa, to make gameplay less tedious. Kemp was later hired by Crowbar Collective to remake Surface Tension Uncut for the Steam release, while the uncut version of On a Rail was published on Steam Workshop. Today, Kemp continues his work to finish the Xen chapters.[37]



Aggregate score
Metacritic86/100 (9 reviews)[38]
Review scores

During its development, Black Mesa has received attention from several video game publications. It has been featured in articles from Computer Gaming World, PC PowerPlay, and PC Gamer UK magazines. Valve published a news update about the modification on their Steam digital distribution platform in 2007 saying that "We're as eager to play [Black Mesa] here as everyone else."[43]

The project was awarded Top Unreleased Mod by video game modification website Mod DB in 2005 and 2006.[44][45] Mod DB gave the project an honorable mention in their choice of Top Unreleased Mod in 2007.[46]

After receiving a development version of Black Mesa in December 2009, PC PowerPlay magazine said that the game's setting "looks, sounds, [and] plays better than ever before". The "subtle" changes from the original Half-Life were said to have a "substantial" overall impact. They also noted the project's "frustrating" then-five-year development time, and current lack of release date, but added that the developers were making progress.[14]

Initial release[edit]

After the mod was released, early impressions of the game were very positive,[47] receiving a score of 86/100 on Metacritic, based on nine reviews.[38] The game was praised for its high polish, with many critics comparing its quality to that of an official Valve game.[42][41][39] Destructoid praised the game for the improvements it made over the original Half-Life, saying it was "something that felt very familiar, [but also] very fresh."[40]

Black Mesa won ModDB's Mod of the Year Award for 2012.[48][49] In 2014, Black Mesa was named by PC Gamer among the "Ten top fan remade classics you can play for free right now".[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Calore, Michael (December 21, 2009). "Vaporware 2009: Inhale the Fail". Wired. Condé Nast Publications. Retrieved September 22, 2012.
  2. ^ Calore, Michael (January 3, 2011). "Vaporware 2010: The Great White Duke". Wired. Condé Nast Publications. Retrieved September 15, 2012.
  3. ^ "Fans finally finish Half-Life remake Black Mesa". Metro News. September 4, 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
  4. ^ McNamara, Tom (November 18, 2004). "Half-Life: Source: What's the big hoo-ha?". IGN. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
  5. ^ Accardo, Sal (November 17, 2004). "Half-Life: Source". GameSpy. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
  6. ^ a b Elliot, Shawn. "Black Mesa: Source" (PDF). Computer Gaming World. Cambridge, MA: ZDNet (257). ISSN 0744-6667. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 16, 2010. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
  7. ^ Kelly, Andy (November 2, 2017). "The story of Half-Life remake Black Mesa". PC Gamer. Retrieved September 16, 2018.
  8. ^ Hill, Jason (February 16, 2009). "Your Turn: Returning to the Source". The Age. Archived from the original on March 30, 2010. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
  9. ^ "Source - Rendering System". Valve. Archived from the original on March 23, 2011. Retrieved August 8, 2009.
  10. ^ "Face-to-Face with TF2's Heavy". Steam. Valve. May 15, 2007. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  11. ^ "Interview: Gabe Newell". PC Zone. September 11, 2006. Retrieved September 20, 2006.
  12. ^ Nielsen, Joel. "Black Mesa - Soundtrack". Black Mesa. Archived from the original on September 3, 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2012.
  13. ^ Nielsen, Joel (August 1, 2019). "Black Mesa: Xen Soundtrack (2019)". Archived from the original on August 31, 2019. Retrieved August 31, 2019.
  14. ^ a b Kim, Paul (December 7, 2009). "Black Mesa: Why The Future of Half-Life 2... Is In The Past". PC PowerPlay. Macclesfield: Media House (174). ISSN 1362-2722. Archived from the original on April 1, 2010. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
  15. ^ Crossley, Rob (June 10, 2012). "Black Mesa returns to the surface - new 'media' Inbound". Future Publishing Ltd. Retrieved September 15, 2012.
  16. ^ Crossley, Rob (June 11, 2012). "New Black Mesa screenshots begin final release phase". Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  17. ^ Plunkett, Luke (September 2, 2012). "Black Mesa Mod Out in Two Weeks". Kotaku. Gawker Media. Retrieved September 15, 2012.
  18. ^ a b c "Fans resurrect Half-Life video game". BBC News. BBC. September 3, 2012. Retrieved September 3, 2012.
  19. ^ Hamilton, Kirk (September 14, 2012). "You Can Play Black Mesa Right Now". Kotaku. Retrieved September 15, 2012.
  20. ^ Cobbett, Richard (September 14, 2012). "Black Mesa Source released – download it now!". PC Gamer. Future Publishing Ltd. Retrieved September 15, 2012.
  21. ^ "Black Mesa FAQ". Black Mesa Development Team. Archived from the original on July 28, 2010. Retrieved November 4, 2010.
  22. ^ "First Titles Get The Community's Greenlight". Steam Community. Valve. September 11, 2012. Retrieved September 22, 2012.
  23. ^ Matulef, Jeffrey (November 19, 2013). "Valve gives Black Mesa permission to be a commercial product". Eurogamer. Retrieved November 19, 2013.
  24. ^ "Black Mesa". Steam. Crowbar Collective. May 5, 2015. Retrieved May 6, 2015.
  25. ^ "Halloween Update". Steam Community. Crowbar Collective. October 27, 2016.
  26. ^ McWhertor, Michael (December 22, 2016). "Half-Life remake's version of the game's controversial alien world looks great". Polygon. Retrieved December 22, 2016.
  27. ^ O'Conner, Alice (October 31, 2016). "Black Mesa's Xen Coming In Summer 2017". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  28. ^ Meer, Alec (June 20, 2017). "Black Mesa is dreaming of a Xen Christmas". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  29. ^ Lemon, Marshall (November 25, 2017). "Black Mesa pushes its Xen launch date back yet again". VG247. Retrieved November 25, 2017.
  30. ^ Brown, Fraser (November 19, 2018). "Half-Life is 20, so watch the impressive first trailer for Black Mesa: Xen". PC Gamer. Retrieved November 19, 2018.
  31. ^ Tarason, Dominic (June 26, 2019). "Black Mesa launches its first three Xen maps into public beta". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
  32. ^ Bourdeau, Ian (December 6, 2019). "Black Mesa is now playable from beginning to end, in beta". PCGamesN. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  33. ^ Brown, Fraser (December 24, 2019). "Black Mesa: Xen is finally out, but it's still in Early Access". PC Gamer. Future plc. Retrieved December 24, 2019. Crowbar Collective has put out a Black Mesa: Xen update today, as well as releasing the Half-Life remake's expansion on Steam, where it was previously only available on the public beta branch. Now you can access it normally and play through every level. Though still technically in Early Access, the full game is available.
  34. ^ [BMS] Adam-Bomb (July 6, 2019). "Some Release Dates". On August 1st we will roll out the complete Xen AND Gonarch's Lair chapters to public beta. Soon after (think weeks, not months), we will release the concluding chapters, Interloper, Nihilanth, and Endgame to public beta.
  35. ^ Pearson, Craig (January 9, 2013). "Mod A Mod: Surface Tension Uncut Beefs Up Black Mesa". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
  36. ^ Gera, Emily (January 11, 2013). "Half-Life mod Black Mesa receives restored 'Surface Tension' section in new meta-mod". Polygon. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
  37. ^ Petitte, Omri (January 10, 2013). "Surface Tension Uncut mod restores missing Black Mesa level content". PC Gamer. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
  38. ^ a b "Black Mesa". Metacritic. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
  39. ^ a b Kelly, Andy (September 17, 2012). "Black Mesa Review: Half-Life Still Packs A Punch In 2012 (With Help From Some Modders)". Computer and Video Games. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
  40. ^ a b Derocher, Joshua (September 23, 2012). "Review: Black Mesa". Destructoid. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
  41. ^ a b Ambròs, Albert (November 4, 2012). "Análisis de Black Mesa" [Review of Black Mesa]. Eurogamer (in Spanish). Retrieved March 30, 2014.
  42. ^ a b "Black Mesa review". GamesTM. October 12, 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
  43. ^ "Friday, January 26, 2007". Steam. Valve. January 26, 2007. Retrieved May 23, 2010. Congratulations to the Black Mesa for Half-Life 2 MOD team for picking up the Most Anticipated MOD Award for the coming year from Mod DB. Over 80,000 votes were cast for MODs built for a number of different games, and they have been crowned this year's most wanted. [...] We're as eager to play it here as everyone else.
  44. ^ Reismanis, Scott (January 26, 2006). "Mods of 2005". Mod DB. DesuraNET Pty Ltd. Archived from the original on April 19, 2010. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  45. ^ Reismanis, Scott (January 13, 2007). "Mods of 2006 - Player's Choice". Mod DB. DesuraNET Pty Ltd. Archived from the original on October 28, 2008. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  46. ^ stenchy (January 28, 2008). "2007 Mod of the Year Awards - Player's Choice Winners Showcase". Mod DB. DesuraNET Pty Ltd. Retrieved May 23, 2010. An honorable mention is due to the mod Black Mesa which continues to poll extremely strongly year after year, but misses out on a place in the top 5 because you cannot win a spot in the best unreleased category twice.
  47. ^ "Impressions: Black Mesa is awesome". Destructoid. September 15, 2012. Retrieved September 16, 2012.
  48. ^ "Mod of the Year 2012". Mod DB. DesuraNET Pty Ltd. December 25, 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
  49. ^ "Mod of the Year 2012 results video".
  50. ^ Craig Pearson (January 1, 2014). "Ten top fan-remade classics you can play for free right now". PC Gamer.

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