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Thoughts: Black Mesa.

Note: I’m aware Black Mesa is a mod made by amateurs and so reviewing it to the same standard as a professionally made game may be a little unfair, but honestly I think that Black Mesa is a good enough product that if you stood it next to 90% of the games that have been released this year it would make *them* look like shit, not the other way around.

If twenty years playing video games has taught me anything it’s that it’s important to manage your expectations. Pre-release hype and marketing has always been around and will always be around, and it’s not particularly a bad thing having as many people as possible know that your game exists and is coming out soon. It’s a sales tactic that clashes badly with my policy of desperately avoiding any and all information about games I’ve already decided I’m going to buy (XCOM is especially bad for this having recently dumped an actual pre-release demo onto the internet three weeks ahead of release), but in general I can’t fault developers and publishers for doing it. It’s a good idea if you do it right. The problems only start if you continually fail to hit your release date, at which point your marketing can backfire badly by whipping people up into such a frenzied state of anticipation that not only is every subsequent failure to release the game seen as the worst kind of incompetence, but the final product can never live up to what people have built it up to be in their heads. They will inevitably be disappointed one way or the other, and that kind of thing can end up being utterly toxic for a game’s prospects; Daikatana and Duke Nukem Forever would not be remembered as two of the biggest jokes in gaming history if they hadn’t had some rather unfortunate publicity associated with them. It’s okay to release a bad game (well, it’s not okay, but it’s a forgivable sin). It’s less okay to proclaim it the Second Coming and then release a bad game.

This is why Black Mesa had a bigger problem than most games when it finally released a couple of weeks ago. It’s a remake of one of the best games ever (Half-Life) in a brand new engine (Source) that has been in development in one form or another ever since the release of Half-Life 2 back in 2004. Eight years ago. That’s eight years of expectations to fulfil and eight years of failing to produce a finished product this game has to make up for, which is a tricky thing to manage any way you look at it. It’s to Black Mesa’s immense credit that it (mostly) pulls it off.

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