Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Black Mesa Review: Part 3 (Office Complex)

Chapter 4: Office Complex

                Gordon makes his way to the Office Complex where he was told to go by the first guard you meet. Part of the aura that surrounds the Half-Life franchise is being subtly directed on the next task at hand. When the game begins, you realize very quickly Gordon is late for work, and they are expecting him in the test chamber. After the resonance cascade, Gordon’s primary objective is to get to the surface as directed by Eli. However, that simple task proves to be much more challenging when Gordon finds out the tram is down and the whole complex is falling apart. Eli makes Gordon (and the player) realize that you need to keep certain scientists and guards alive in order to escape Black Mesa.

                What I also love about Half-Life is how Gordon is forced to go deeper and deeper and deeper into the bowls of Black Mesa before arriving at the elevator that leads to the office. The Office Complex is a sight for sore eyes (sort of speak)- an office environment is much more pleasing to the players after witnessing the destruction of the laboratory. There are plenty of hazards Gordon must solve; It shouldn't be easy as to stroll down the office hallways to the next level. There is also some fantastic foreshadowing to the player. “Soldiers are coming to rescue us. It can’t get any worse than this!”

                The Office Complex sequence originally designed by valve was supposed to be act as a “break” in the action. The original Valve design team controlled the pace of the game well by allowing for less hostile situations and more puzzles focusing on intellect. Half-Life 2 does this more beautifully than any other game ever did. But Black Mesa also does a decent job here. 

                The Black Mesa team did a fantastic job sprucing up the office area and making the level layout a lot more realistic. Specifically, the parking/road area- Yes it took Gordon seven minutes to arrive at the Black Mesa research facility via tram, but what about the office workers? Would they need to endure the same painful slow moving tram every single day? No, they can arrive via car. They don’t need level 3 access. Remember, Gordon arrived in the Office Complex after venturing through elevator shafts, sewer systems, freezer rooms, a long deep decent, crossing two broken bridges and a loading area.  The different levels of the facility are connected and only accessible for Gordon because of the resonance cascade and broken down complex.

                The second thing I really like is the restaurant area. Gordon arrives in an eating area and if the player progresses correctly, you can recruit up to four security guards and two scientists. They will follow you and help take out enemies in the restaurant area as well as a mini-finale before the level ends. Before reaching the mini-finale, Gordon needs to get through the freezer, which actually makes sense now that it is made clear the restaurant area is indeed a restaurant. Any restaurant would require a freezer to store food. Compare the original restaurant area (which barely looks like anything) to the Black Mesa restaurant area. Wonderfully remastered. There is even a nice little new event inside the freezer involving a female scientist and a different way to approach the puzzle, which is exactly the kind of re-imagining I would expect in a “remake”.

                Finally, I love the extra dialog thrown into Black Mesa with some female scientists. Why didn't Valve think there would be any females in Black Mesa? Some of the remade scene in Black Mesa have some of the NPCs adding commentary to what they are witnessing. This adds an entirely new element of immersion to the player. If a guard saw two scientists getting sucked into a ventilation shaft and seconds later body parts are spewing from the vent, they probably wouldn't keep that to themselves.

                One thing I've always hated in video games is making the player use ventilation shafts. The number of ventilation shafts Gordon is forced to crawl through is extremely high throughout Black Mesa. In Office Complex alone, Gordon crawls through 5 vents! First to solve the electricity hazard, second to solve the second electricity hazard, third to unlock a door and progress through the game, fourth for some extraammo, and a fifth to solve the freezer puzzle. But they’re not just vents, they’re HUMAN sized vents. Enough with the vents! For some reason I am less critical of these vents in Half-Life/Black Mesa opposed to the human sized vents in the futuristic Dues Ex: Human Revolution. For some reason, in the future, there are human sized vents connecting every building- even locked hotel rooms, police stations and apartments.