Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Black Mesa Review: Part 2 (Unforeseen Consequences)

Chapter 3: Unforeseen Consequences is part 2 of my review but chapter 3 in the game. Try to keep up. 

Quite possibility the best chapter name ever, Unforeseen Consequences shows the disarray of the research facility after the resonance cascade. Unfortunately this chapter is also where Black Mesa falls off the rails. And I don’t mean the game turns awful; but it’s quite clear the developers of Black Mesa are not Valve employees and the lore of returning to Black Mesa with the Source Engine is lost in a dull, predictable mess. It's hard for me to say those words. After all, this is a FREE GAME that was made by fans of the same series that I love. How can I criticize them for anything? But this is the problem with shot-by-shot remakes- the sense of mystery is lost, and the gameplay feels quite outdated. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty to admire in this chapter (along with the rest of the game), liquid nitrogen machines turning portions of the laboratories to ice, fancy new computer monitors and buttons to press, but if this were the result of Valve's first attempt, it would feel rather lacking.

                Examples of the mundane gameplay are the two unremarkable valve puzzles. I don't mean they were created by Valve Software I mean the puzzles involve the kind of Valves you turn. The first puzzle makes Gordon turn off two pressure gauges to allow a backdoor into a freezer to open. The main pathway is blocked so it's a puzzle to get the player to "look for anything you can turn or press". Not much thinking needed.

                The second puzzle involves Gordon dropping into the sewer system. The ladder to allow passage up to the surface is broken, so Gordon must flood the sewer to raise the water so he can reach the ladder. Of course this must be done in an area that involves quite a few ceiling barnacles which cause massive damage. 

                Unforeseen Consequences is also where Houndeyes, Alien Slaves (also known as Vortigaunts‎ from Half-Life 2)and Bullsquids are introduced. The Black Mesa source team did a great job revamping these creatures which causes more than just physical damage when Gordon is attacked. The Houndeye creatures distort the screen and cause the player to shoot out of the crossaire while the Bullsquids shoot an acid attack that covers the player's screen. Well done here.

                One thing I love about Unforeseen Consequences (as well as Anomalous Materials) is Black Mesa dev team introduced Eli. In Half-Life 2 we were introduced to Eli for the first time. Eli makes countless references to Black Mea science facility and him and Gordon working together before the resonance cascade. So the developers of Black Mesa included a string of dialog that links Gordon's relationship with Dr. Eli Vance. Superbly done. In both Half-Life and Black Mesa, Eli (although he is never mentioned by name in Half-Life) is heard speaking about concerns with the test chamber. Eli is an NPV that gives Gordon his next objective. "Get to the surface and let someone know we are stranded down here"  

Another thing I really like is how long yo go without a real weapon after the resonance cascade. Instead you need to use the help of the security officer or use flares to light enemies on fire. In Half-Life you picked up a crowbar relatively quickly, but you do not get the crowbar (or a pistol unless you fail to keep the security guard alive) until you reach the front security desk. Another great touch by the BM team.

                Some thing I really dislike. Apparently in the effort to reproduce Half-Life the developers forgot to give Gordon the ability jump over obstacles that are taller than a pencil lying on its side. This is one of the biggest complaints I have for the whole game and it makes puzzles like this one frustrating (of course I do it perfectly in this video because I'm awesome). Jumping does not feel right. Neither does getting off a ladder. You stick to the ladder like glue, and you need a very precise movement to escape from the ladder's clutches. The developers also made an exact replica of the descending elevator event to which the face-huggers that fall down the shaft, jump right over Gordon... no fighting needed. This occurs in the first game, and it also occurs in the remake. They could have put a little more thought into this event, but maybe they were trying to stay true to the first game. 

The full videos of the walk-through is below.