December 25, 1998: I awoke to a household of worried adults as I was told that a transformer blew up during early hours of the morning, that the power had been out for almost five hours and my mother was worrying about the food spoiling in the refrigerator. It was looking to be a pretty sad Christmas indeed; my sister was unable to use her brand new CD player and then I unwrapped a present that would ultimately change my life forever.
During the next six hours I must have read the box and manual fifty times, transfixed on the amazing graphics and sense of general awesomeness that oozed from the box. When the power switched on I immediately uninstalled every piece of software on our computer; at the time we only had a 500MB hard-drive and Half-Life required over 300MB to function. My father and I sat down for the next few hours, and the rest they say is history.
Why am I telling you this story? Because I want you to know that Half-Life holds a special place in my heart. In my opinion it is one of the most important games of all time, particularly in the PC market. When I heard a bunch of rogue modders were planning to re-create something this important I was beyond skeptical.
Black Mesa, the fan-made re-creation of the original Half-Life is the greatest HD remake of all time, and is the first HD re-release that actually warrants a wad of cash, yet they are offering it for free.
Over the last few years we've become accustomed to the idea of paying a premium fee to experience some of our favourite and lesser-known games with a fresh coat of paint. Sony has made a habit of re-releasing their franchises such as God of War and Ratchet & Clank to great success while other studios have used a HD remake as a testing ground for franchise awareness, which was certainly the case with Beyond Good & Evil.
It makes sense in some instances; Beyond Good & Evil developed a cult following, was hard to find in its original form, and releasing it on digital services was a fantastic way to see if the market would be interested in a sequel.
I was even happy to see The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D appear on the 3DS earlier this year, despite it being the 4th version currently available on the market, the first on a handheld however meant I could go ahead and play it on the morning commute.
However considering I've purchased most of these HD-remakes at full price sometime earlier, and a lot of them feel like nothing more than an upscaled port that honestly doesn't look amazingly different when compared to their original source, I often feel cheated out of my $50 - $80 despite the nostalgia factor.
That's where Black Mesa really stands out. It's not a coat of new paint, nor is it reliant on nostalgia to give it wings. A dedicated and talented group of modders took a game they loved and re-built it from the ground up, admiring it's strength from over ten years ago while maintaining its weaknesses. They've thrown some minor improvements here and there that actually enhance the feature set, yet nothing that would have you thinking it was entirely different to the original and throw your arms up in anguish.
Not only does it go a long way to prove that modders have world class skill, but it also shows that despite being over ten yeras old, Half-Life is still a premiere game that can hold its own against the heavyweights of today's gaming industry. I don't know if that's a compliment for the quality of Valve's debut or perhaps a statement on our industry today.
Black Mesa sets the bar for what gamers should expect from a HD-remake. Instead of a money making exercise, we want a real HD-remake that reminds us exactly why we loved the original in the first place. We need more than just upscaled graphics and little differences. I want to look at a HD-remake and be wowed like I was when I saw Black Mesa for the first time.
By Stephen Heller