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Black Mesa (video game)

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BM portrait.jpg
Black Mesa

Crowbar Collective

Release date(s)
  • September 14, 2012 (free mod release)[1]
  • May 5, 2015 (Early Access release on Steam)[2]
  • December 6th, 2019 (Steam, complete beta)[2]
  • December 24th, 2019 (Steam, Full Early Access a.k.a version 0.9)[2]
  • March 6th, 2020 (Steam, version 1.0)[2]
  • November 28th, 2020 (Steam, version 1.5)[2]

First-person shooter, action-adventure, science fiction


Single-player, multiplayer


Windows, Linux


Keyboard and mouse




Joel Nielsen

"Run. Think. Shoot. Live. Source."
Black Mesa tagline, a nod to Half-Life’s original tagline

Black Mesa (previously known as Black Mesa: Source) is a third-party total remake of the original Half-Life. Its first part, including the Half-Life storyline up to the chapter Lambda Core, was released as a mod on September 14, 2012,[1] while an improved Steam version of the game was released on May 5, 2015. The remaining Xen chapters omitted from the initial release were released on December 24th, 2019, and the Steam release left early access March 5th, 2020.[2] On November 25th, 2020, the final “Definitive Edition” update was released, adding further improvements to the game.


Main article: Half-Life storyline

As in Half-Life, players assume the role of the protagonist, Dr. Gordon Freeman, a recent MIT graduate in theoretical physics, and also a recent employee at the titular Black Mesa Research Facility. After an experiment that goes horribly awry when an unexpected Resonance Cascade (an apparently completely fictitious occurrence) rips dimensional seams that devastate the facility, Gordon must fight to escape the now alien-infested facility as creatures from another world — known as Xen — subsequently enter through these dimensional seams.

The game is set during May 200- in a remote area of New Mexico, USA at the Black Mesa Research Facility; a fictional complex that bears many similarities to both the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Area 51.

As Freeman tries to make his way out of the ruined facility to find help for the injured, he soon discovers he is caught between two sides: the hostile aliens, and the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit, a military force dispatched to cover up the incident — including eliminating Freeman and the rest of the Black Mesa Science Team. Throughout the game, a mysterious figure known as the G-Man regularly appears, apparently monitoring Freeman's progress. Ultimately, Gordon uses the cooperation of surviving scientists and security officers to work his way to the mysterious Lambda Complex, where a team of scientists teleport him to the alien world Xen, where he must destroy the Nihilanth, the creature keeping Xen's side of the dimensional rift open.

The ultimate goal of the game is to recreate the original Half-Life from the ground up, using the advanced capabilities of the Source engine to create a new and more engrossing in-game world with more varied, complex environments and more challenging, realistic gameplay. Black Mesa features original textures, models, sounds, voice acting, and music (composed and produced by the game's sound designer, Joel Nielsen; fully available here) designed specifically for the game. However, the developers intended to preserve all of the gameplay elements from the original game, without adding entirely new enemies, weapons, or levels. The exception being the Xen chapters, which now consist mostly of original work, with cues taken from the original Half-Life. [3]





Development screenshot of the Anti-Mass Spectrometer.

Black Mesa was born of the discontent fans experienced when playing Half-Life: Source; when considering the living environment Valve created with Half-Life 2 using the Source engine, the original game fell far short of what many players thought could be done with the software, basically being a straight port, except for improved water and lighting effects along with the inclusion of ragdoll physics. Black Mesa was born out of two separate mod teams: "LeakFree", formed in September 2004, and "Half-Life: Source Overhaul Project", formed in October 2004 and led by Jimmy Headdon. Neither team knew of the other’s existence until Leakfree’s lead Jon Dominski began publicising in the, now forums. After discussions between the two project leads, the two development teams merged, resulting in a team of 13 members by the end of December 2005. According to the developers, "Black Mesa: Source was built and founded on the principle that Half-Life: Source did not do the original title enough credit... [Black Mesa] set out to reconstruct the original title, giving it new environments, models, and abilities.". Development was officially announced on January 1, 2005.

The release date for the project was originally set for 2009, but was delayed,[4] gaining the mod the status of vaporware,[5] until its final release date was announced on September 2, 2012, when the soundtrack was made available for download.[6] Black Mesa was eventually released in September 2012, causing the official website to crash.[7] The mod was available at no charge, and requires the free Source SDK Base 2007 to work as it uses Half-Life 2 models with custom textures, such as the crowbar, the Colt Python, the Headcrab, the Barnacle or the crow.[8] At some point, a remake of Half-Life: Uplink was planned, but it was eventually made by another person.

Most likely due to the amount of publicity given to an unofficial third-party mod, Valve Corporation privately asked the producers of the mod to remove the "Source" part from the title to avoid confusion on whether it is an official Valve product or not.[source?]

On November 19, 2013, the fifteenth anniversary of Half-Life's release, the developers announced that the complete version of the mod would be made available for purchase on Steam. There will also be a free version with minor differences from the paid version. The mod is also going to be on a "new engine" related to Source, but no more information had been released on this subject due to the contract with Valve. [source?]

On August 18, 2014, a Black Mesa Content Pack DLC for the Source FilmMaker was released.

On December 24th, 2019, the long awaited Xen chapters were released.

On March 5, 2020, Black Mesa 1.0 was released, and the game was announced as no longer being in early access.

On November 25, 2020, the final “Definitive Edition” update, which brought numerous improvements to the audio, visual and gameplay aspects of the game, was released.

Co-op mode[edit]

Although the cooperation mode was said to be included in the mod, on March the 17th 2010, it was announced that due to the great amount of problems to port and make co-op code working, the developers decided to stop its development and focus only on single-player and deathmatch.[9] It has been stated that since dropping the co-op mode, Black Mesa's chapters have been redesigned with only single-player activity in mind, and that the new "level design and gameplay don't lend themselves well to a co-op experience."[10]

Steam version[edit]

On September 5, 2012, Black Mesa appeared on Steam Greenlight, and was officially accepted by Valve to be distributed via Steam six days later.[11] On May 5, 2015, again at 8:47 a.m. MDT, Black Mesa was released on Steam as an Early Access Game at the cost of 19,99$/15£/19,99€.

The Steam version features a hybrid, alternated Source engine,[12] new visuals, new voice acting, updated gameplay, stability changes, custom modding tools, integrated Steam Workshop, Steam Trading Cards, backgrounds, emoticons, 25 Steam Achievements, and the multiplayer mode, along with six deathmatch/team deathmatch maps: Bounce, Gasworks, Lambda Bunker, Stalkyard, Subtransit, and Undertow.[2] The Xen portion of the game, omitted from the original Steam release, was slated for a December 2017 release, but was later released in portions in a public beta starting June 26, 2019, and released in full to the public on December 24th, 2019. The game later left early access on March 5th, 2020, being christened "Black Mesa 1.0".[2]


During its development, Black Mesa has received attention from several video game publications. It has been featured in articles from Computer Gaming World, PC PowerPlay, and PC Gamer UK magazines. Valve published a news update about the modification on Steam platform in 2007 saying that "We're as eager to play [Black Mesa] here as everyone else."[13]

After receiving a development version of Black Mesa in December 2009, PC PowerPlay magazine said that the game's setting "looks, sounds, [and] plays better than ever before". The "subtle" changes from the original Half-Life were said to have a "substantial" overall impact. They also noted the project's "frustrating" then-five-year development time, and current lack of release date, but added that the developers were making progress.[14]

After the mod was released, early impressions of the game were very positive,[15] receiving a score of 86/100 on Metacritic, based on nine reviews.[16] The game was praised for its high polish, with many critics comparing its quality to that of an official Valve title.[17][18] Destructoid praised the game for the improvements it made over the original Half-Life, saying it was "something that felt very familiar, [but also] very fresh."[19]

Awards and recognition[edit]


  • Mod DB Best Website Design of 2004 (3rd place)[20]
  • Mod DB - Top Unreleased Mod for 2005[21]
  • Mod DB - Top Unreleased Mod for 2006[22]
  • Vaporware 2009: Inhale the Fail (4th place)[23]
  • Vaporware 2010: The Great White Duke (4th place)[24]
  • Mod DB - Mod of the Year 2012[25]

Honorable mention[edit]

  • Mod DB - Honorable mention for Top Unreleased Mod for 2007[26]
  • Mod DB - Honorable mention for Top Unreleased Mod for 2008[27]
  • Mod DB - Honorable mention for Players Choice - Best Upcoming Mod 2009[28]
  • Mod DB - Honorable mention for Players Choice - Best Upcoming Mod 2010[29]
  • Mod DB - Honorable mention for Mod of The Year 2013[30]

Achievements and trophies[edit]

Both versions of Black Mesa featured 25 Achievements. The 1.0 version on Steam added an additional 25 for a total of 50 achievements.


The Black Mesa and Black Mesa: Xen soundtracks were composed by Joel Nielsen.[31]


The team contacted Mike Shapiro, the original voice actor behind Barney Calhoun and the G-Man. While he showed interest and support in the mod, he politely declined indicating he was not available to devote time to contributing to the mod.



The official website and its respective wiki served as the main source for most official images throughout the mod's development, though most have since been deleted from the site following a redesign after the game was released on Steam. All personal websites of the respective team members also provide further, exclusive images. This gallery consists of only a sample of all pre-release media released by the developers since development on Black Mesa began in 2005.




Concept art[edit]





Profile backgrounds[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Black Mesa Source: A Release Date on Rock, Paper, Shotgun
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Steampowered favicon.png Black Mesa on Steam
  3. Steampowered favicon.png Half-Life is 20! - Xen Trailer! on Steam
  4. Black Mesa 2009 Update
  5. LG favicon.png Operation Black Mesa And Guard Duty, The Two Gearbox Expansion Remakes Join Forces And Merge Into One Team/ Black Mesa (video game) at LambdaGeneration
  6. cman2k's post on the Black Mesa forums
  7. LG favicon.png Absolutely Anyone Can Play Black Mesa: Source, Right Now! at LambdaGeneration
  8. Things you should know about the mod - FAQ on the Black Mesa forums
  9. JamesKane's post on the Black Mesa forums
  10. Raminator's post on the Black Mesa forums
  11. Black Mesa on Steam Greenlight
  12. Black Mesa's official website
  13. Steam News from Friday, January 26, 2007
  14. PC PowerPlay magazine, issue 174
  15. Impressions: Black Mesa is awesome on Destructoid
  16. Metacritic.png Black Mesa on Metacritic
  17. Black Mesa review on GamesTM
  19. Review: Black Mesa on Destructoid
  20. Mod DB Best Website Design of 2004
  21. Mod DB - Top Unreleased Mod for 2005
  22. Mod DB Top - Unreleased Mod for 2006
  23. Vaporware 2009: Inhale the Fail (4th place)
  24. Vaporware 2010: The Great White Duke (4th place)
  25. Mod DB - Mod of the Year 2012
  26. Mod DB - Honorable mention for Top Unreleased Mod for 2007
  27. Mod DB - Honorable mention for Top Unreleased Mod for 2008
  28. Mod DB Players Choice - Best Upcoming Mod 2009
  29. Mod DB Players Choice - Best Upcoming Mod 2010
  30. Mod DB - Mod of The Year 2013
  31. Joel Nielsen official website

External links[edit]