Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Reliving Gordon Freeman's Worst Day

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 2 Oct 2012 12:00
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It seems I can never truly get away from my work. Sometimes I envy people who have jobs they don't have to give a shit about, who can set them down for a week or two out of the year to go sit on a beach somewhere airing out their glistening flab. Me, even when I'm out of the country for a few days (at an expo, say, spending the nights getting taken out to dinner and the days signing everything that's put under my nose), my work never truly goes away. It's like it's attached to me with a bungee cord, and even if I do fling it away from me with all my strength it'll only smash back into me with greater force the moment I drop my guard.

No sooner had I gotten back from Escapist Expo a couple of weeks back that the promotions for my next novel Jam started ramping up, the audiobook for Mogworld got released on iTunes so I had to put out some promotional stuff for that, and then, of course, there was Black Mesa. It cheekily decided to finally release itself a day or two after I'd left Brisbane and I was only able to download it and have a crack after I'd gotten home and trimmed the overgrown pubic bush of work down a bit.

I remember reflecting when the release countdown started that it's bloody typical how this only happened after I did a retro review of the original Half-Life. The same thing happened with Duke Nukem Forever. But I have to admit I'm still a little iffy on the concept of a from-the-ground-upwards remake. It's like when they remade Psycho shot-for-shot in color. What's the ruddy point? It'd be like rewriting the Canterbury Tales to be about a convoy of software salesmen on their way to a convention in North Malden. It's iffy because these things exist not only to tell a specific story but to preserve the techniques and attitudes of the time in which they were created, allowing us to gain an insight into those times. He who forgets the past, to coin a phrase, might actually attempt to invade Siberia again.

And it's important to the history of gaming to preserve the original Half-Life, 'cos while it doesn't look quite so HD anymore, it's pretty crazy to think that they managed to do it with the Quake engine. And it might be a little quaint how it shows off boxy laser light shows like we're supposed to be impressed when a modern triple-A game can put the same amount of tech into depicting a dog guiltily farting in the corner of the room, but we can't appreciate that whole gradual path of improvement without having Half-Life in its appropriate context.

But that's just me tokenly being a big whinging sod trying to ruin everyone's fun, so having said all that, I'll be damned if I didn't have a pretty good time playing Black Mesa. It occurred to me while playing through that bit right at the start after the resonance cascade that the sequence was actually scary in a way the original hadn't been since my first playthrough, perhaps hadn't been at all. There's nothing quite like the Source engine for creating a creepy blacked-out environment with sparks coming out of ruined electronics.

The skeletal map layout is all basically the same as I remember, but while it doesn't feel like playing Half-Life for the first time all over again, there're enough new bits and bobs to create a ramshackle, poor man's version of that feeling. Like that bit where you emerge from a drainage pipe in the side of a massive cliff face with a spectacular view of the river valley, at which point I had to pause, eat a sandwich and appreciate the skybox for a bit.

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