Signs of life at Black Mesa

An ambitious mod team breaks its three-year silence to cause a resonance cascade amongst Half Life fans.

Black Mesa: Source, which sounds like an exotic condiment when said aloud, was an ambitious total conversion of the original Quake engine-derived Half Life for Valve’s spiffy Source Engine begun back in 2004. In the eight years that have passed since then it has gone from perhaps the most eagerly anticipated Source mod in existence to something of a joke, losing the Source part of its title along the way to become simply Black Mesa. Yearly promises from the developers to “expect something soon” ceased being funny three years ago, and a prospective release date for 2011 came and went without anything to show for it. Many people have by now written Black Mesa off as vapourware, preferring to keep their hopes pinned on Valve themselves for either Half Life 2: Episode 3 or a fully-fledged third game in the series.

Now at last there’s a glimpse of something on the horizon for Black Mesa. According to a chap going by the moniker Hubicorn, webmaster of the mod’s official site, “a new website will be launched with the soundtrack in preparation for the mod. Fuck if we care about the current website. Just take a good look at it because it will be gone soon enough.” How soon exactly is still up for debate: the team have been saying they’d have something for us “soon” for years with nothing more than an admittedly very spiffy little trailer to show for it. In 2009 the team went completely dark PR-wise and barely anything has been heard from them until now. In addition to Hubicorn’s post, Black Mesa development team member Chris “Stormseeker” Horn popped up on the official Steam Half Life forums to reiterate the project wasn’t dead and that we “might be surprised how short” a time we’ll have to wait to actually play it. Chris also confirmed there will be Steam achievements to earn.

Half Life is an undeniable classic and a source (no pun intended) of fond memories for many gamers, myself included. Revisiting the Black Mesa research facility with today’s technology and associated graphical loveliness is something we’ve dreamt of doing ever since this mod was announced, but years of delays and broken promises have soured the dream for some people. Is this latest activity a sign that one of the most eagerly-anticipated mods in PC gaming will finally be gracing our screens before we die of old age? Or is it just a load of smoke and mirrors cruelly designed to keep our hopes alive, like a medieval inquisitor prolonging the agony of a suspected witch. Only time will tell of course, but my cynicism still tells me it’s a safer bet to put money on Half Life 4 appearing before Black Mesa does.

It’s a bet I’d be very happy to lose.

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Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.