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Half-Life vs Black Mesa: gameplay differences between the two titles

Published: 07:57, 28 August 2020

We're not discrediting Black Mesa one bit - but when Half-Life came out in 1998, it was head and shoulders above its contemporaries. A game of the year that took awards for arts, graphics and most importantly - character and story development.

Black Mesa came out in March, and five months later in the spirit of ‘better late than never’, we would like to share what we think are the most prominent gameplay differences, and what to expect from Black Mesa when comparing to Half-Life.

Actually, there’s quite a number of differences, so we'll just go over the most significant ones related to gameplay that we noticed straight out.

Obviously there are differences in physics and graphics. Yes, we know we said this isn’t a graphics comparison, but if it affects gameplay, it should be mentioned. For example, enemies are much easier to spot in Half-Life, as the old engine has higher contrast in colours and simpler polygons.

Also, sneaking around corners to partially spot and hit an enemy might have worked in Half-Life, but will not work in Black Mesa. Depends on how well you remember Half-Life – I know it drove us nuts -  but sometimes a projectile would stop mid-air if aimed too close to an object. This does not happen in Black Mesa, though.

Projectile spotting mid-air in Half Life Projectile stopping mid-air in Half Life

NPCs behave more or less same in both titles, though a bit smarter in Black Mesa – which is to be expected. Differences we noticed that stand out the most are with Bullsquids, Alien Grunts, Vortigaunts and Alien Controllers.

Bullsquids in Black Mesa use same attacks as in Half-Life – they will charge at player from close and mid-range. The difference with their long-range attacks is that Bullsquids no longer spit a single projectile but a spray of acid projectiles, making it difficult to evade.

Alien Grunts sometimes appear without their armour and weapon in Xen and they rely on close range attack, but are easier to kill than fully-equipped Alien Grunts. There are significantly more Alien Controllers and Vortigaunts in Xen world in Black Mesa, then there are in Half-Life; and when together, they are a deadly combination. No need to kill Vortigaunts if they are not being mind-controlled, though.

What we also noticed is that there are no leaches in Black Mesa. They are minor enemies in Half-Life and are easy to kill, but we found them to be the most annoying of all Half-Life enemies, including headcrabs.

Tau Cannon and Gluon Gun in Xen really live up to their potential in Black Mesa Tau Cannon and Gluon Gun in Xen really live up to their potential in Black Mesa

Weapons in Black Mesa have generally less spread, particularly MP-5 and shotgun. Also, Magnum can be aimed down the sight, in the newer title, and seems to have less recoil than it does in Half-Life.

We always felt like some original Half-Life weapons, specifically Tau Cannon and Gluon Gun, are not given enough air time in Half-Life. But this is not the case in Black Mesa. So, go wild with Tau Cannon and Gluon Gun in Xen, as there are now green power crystals that recharge these weapons with Uranium-235 which do not exist in Half-Life.

We wish more weapons in Black Mesa had iron sight feature We wish more weapons in Black Mesa had iron sight feature

A feature taken from Half-Life’s sequel and the difference we liked most between the two titles is that in Black Mesa player can pick up and carry random items, which means if your health is full you may pick up a medkit and toss it ahead; same with HEV batteries and ammo. This is especially useful with ammo, as you can carry significantly less ammo in Black Mesa, than you can in Half-Life.

First HEV battery you pick in the game, probably First HEV battery you pick in the game, probably

When it comes to length of campaigns, Crowbar Collective expanded both Earth and Xen worlds. We played both titles intermittently, and did not exactly time the gameplay length - or maybe it was because we already knew the entire Half-Life campaign by heart - but Black Mesa seemed significantly longer.

Granted, at some points through Xen world while playing Black Mesa we just stood still and took a moment to stare into space, watching Xen birds, which may or may not have prolonged the gameplay.

What they did with Xen’s flora and fauna is just mesmerising What they did with flora and fauna in Xen is just mesmerising

First contact with Xen leaves you breathless First contact with Xen leaves you breathless

All in all, you cannot dismiss good writing. The story is so well written, that these games can be remade every 10-15 years as far as we are concerned. Of course, every remake of each game should be with a unique spin on it, just enough to make it interesting again – and Black Mesa has it.

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