To Adam Engels and the entire team at Crowbar Collective, along with all the contributors over the last 14 years -
I just want to say thank you for the best gaming experience I have had in 20 years. In reinventing a classic you have in fact created another classic. Black Mesa is mesmerizingly good; a stunning tribute to the original and all great games.
I know you have received thousands of reviews, but I don’t care about them. I simply want to take the time to write to you, share a few thoughts, and let you know that the years of hard work you have invested in this project have paid off. You nailed it. You absolutely nailed it.
I grew up in the era of the classics: Wolfenstein 3d, Quake, Doom, Resident Evil. I first played Half Life when it was released at the impressionable age of 16 and, like everyone, I was blown away. Since that dawn of the FPS period I’ve watched the game industry boom while the quality of (most) games seem to diminish. In a parallel to the movie industry, quality titles are rare to find; either lost in the noise or replaced by the AAA design-by-committee bullsh*t that either rushes a game out before it is ready, or butchers original ideas into unrecognisable artistic failures.
Disappointing is the word I would use to describe so many games I have played over the last 15-20 years. Perhaps it’s me and I’m just getting older, I often wonder. Or I’m too hard to please. I’ve basically given up on mainstream games these days.
But as I played through Black Mesa, savouring it over 24 hours of play time or so, I was reminded again of what an unforgettable game experience feels like. The dark and mysterious plot; the slow paced exploration phases punctuated by intense action; the creative impressions of science fiction technology; the combat engine; the amazing atmospheric music and sounds; and the gorgeous art, creature and level design. I found myself literally breathless taking in some of the scenes, often using the shotgun to dust away enemies like a pleasant housekeeping chore, so I could get a better view. The subterranean nuclear reactor in lambda facility; the underwater cave on Xen and Xen itself. Outstanding.
Of course it depends on the person, genre and style, but the backbone of every great game is, without question, the storyline. It’s the key to the deeply immersive and memorable experience that many players seek. All the best literary art and media share this trait. And this is what Valve unquestionably nailed with half life (and indeed Capcom with Resident Evil). No matter how good your combat engine is, or how sexed up your textures are, the game is hollow without a twisting, powerful plot. Sure many games are a lot of fun without a serious storyline but they are never ‘great’ without this foundation. Upon reflection, I’m sure this is due to the inevitable growth in popularity of multiplayer style games which sacrifice the storytelling power of linear narrative for the freedom of open world playability and oversimplified micro quests.
I think of the half-life games as a subgenre themselves; they pioneered it. A first person shooter, science fiction, linear storyline, horror/gore/action/thriller, with a brilliantly dark and mysterious plot. Brutal yet beautiful. Paced in a way that allows long periods of exploration, mystery and realisation as the plot slowly unravels, before the mood is broken by hardcore action and combat scenes.
What I think is missing and unconsciously craved in the gaming community is a decent half-life subgenre-esque, cooperative FPS. A terrifying slow burning thriller that captivates players with the depth of the single player narrative, but does so with up to 6 players cooperatively. I’m not talking a fighter-console-warrier like Halo, I’m talking something deep, something akin to the Aliens brand. Implied terror. Mystery. Tension. Atmosphere. Horror. Then carnage. And I don’t mean Aliens: Colonial Marines (2013), but some of the thinking behind the base storyline of this game is on point. Sadly this game was shamefully ruined by lack of artistic vision, once again. In fact the one thing they managed to achieve was the corporate desecration of one of the most exquisite concepts in science fiction history. If the team at Crowbar could reinvent something like Aliens: Colonial Marines as a cooperative atmospheric thriller, mark my words I would be as frenzied as a fanboy on crack at an E3 showcase. As a fan, I really feel that this is the gap in the market, and I think you guys are the team to fill it. I believe this because all of you evidently love this genre just as much as me and you’ve spent the time recreating what you love.
I acknowledge you’re adding the co-op Beta to Black Mesa which looks awesome but note this is a mod, an afterthought that will never quite captivate the audience in the way a ground-up co-op build could. (i.e. there is only one developed character Gordon Freeman woven into the central narrative, etc.)
I know it’s really hard to do, and probably won’t make as much money as a cookie cutter mainstream game, but I believe people want to play cooperative FPS storylines, particularly on PC. The Left For Dead series is a brilliant example of co-op success, with the absolute loosest of storylines. Zombies. Guns. I’ve searched for good PC co-op FPS for years, and am still falling back to Left For Dead 2 which is now a decade old. I know there is Borderlands but this series is fun, not scary, and the plot is not that engaging for me. Friends love fighting their way through a campaign together. Why has a brilliant and scary FPS cooperative game not been made? If it has, please tell me.
I’m not sure what the next project is for Crowbar Collective, but if you are basking in the success of a job well done and soul searching for new ideas, I’d like to make an impassioned plea to explore the idea of a 1-6 player FPS cooperative thriller. A truly terrifying ordeal that fills players with cold dread as they unravel a sinister plot and come to terms with the scale of their predicament. This is the dream I’ve been imagining for years.
Thank you once again for reminding me why I love video games. To you and all those who worked on the Black Mesa project over the last 14 years: STANDING OVATION I know nothing is perfect, but you should be so proud. 10/10.