Hands up if you haven't played Half-Life before. Embarrassingly, that's me. One of the all time greats and I missed it. It's been available to play on Steam for ages, but I find it hard to muster the enthusiasm to play a game from 1998 when I'm already behind with games from 2015. This week, though, I'm thrown a bone by Black Mesa, a total remake of Half-Life 1.
In preparation I fire up the original Half-Life 1, a game that put story front and centre of the first-person genre. Hell, the game started with a tram ride to the bottom of a great underground secret base, and all you could do during it was stand and watch. Audaciously brilliant. And even in 2015 the game is so clean, so clear and so seamless. You don't wait for story beats - they play at your pace. But today, Half-Life not only looks old, it feels old.
Truth be told, I wasn't enjoying myself. I was having a particularly hard time hitting headcrabs with my crowbar - probably because I'm an idiot but it was frustrating nonetheless - and the whole thing started to feel like forced museum appreciation rather than genuine entertainment. But Black Mesa set that right. It not only looks more up to date but there's new dialogue, new characters, even the gameplay has changed through seemingly small but meaningful additions such as being able to pick things up and move them around - the physics stuff that made Half-Life 2 and the Source engine once so great. On top of that, encounters have been tweaked, set pieces altered - it really is Half-Life remade.
But Black Mesa isn't new. Will Porter wrote about it for Eurogamer in 2012. And even three years later, Black Mesa isn't very different, and back then it was free - still is from the game's website. You see, Black Mesa is a mod. Fans - a couple at first but more now - took it upon themselves to bring Half-Life up to date. And this all began more than 10 years ago in 2004. Black Mesa would go on to get such a following that it was eventually sanctioned by Valve for a full Steam Greenlight release. Valve saying 'yes OK sell your game that is basically our game' - that's snazzy indeed.
Now, Black Mesa costs money: £14.99, if you want to own it on Steam Early Access. There are reasons, of course - this will eventually be the final version and there's beautifully chaotic old-school multiplayer throw in. It's also a way to support what has already been made as well as fund the remaining part of development. The campaign is 85 per cent done and the team wants to hit a certain standard with the rest, and there are more multiplayer things to add as well. It's not the best time for a paid mod, given the Skyrim furore, but I feel comfortable telling you this is not the same thing.
Black Mesa makes Half-Life a valid entertainment choice for 2015. It's a serious achievement. Now, off to the test chamberrrrrrr with you.