Black Mesa Restores Cut Surface Tension Levels

The alien world of Xen is the biggest part of Half-Life still to come to its fancy remake Black Mesa [official site], but developers Crowbar Collective have been working on plenty more. Over the weekend they released an update heavily expanding the ‘Surface Tension’ chapter, adding back areas that didn’t make the cut before. They’ve also added dynamic shadows to outdoor areas, revisited and polished-up some levels, massively sped up loading times, and… it sounds like a cracker of an update for a game which was already great.

Surface Tension, to refresh your memory, is the chapter where Gordon has escaped from the bowels of Black Mesa and jaunts around on the surface. It has the dam, the cliffs with the fly-by, big battles between the aliens and soldiers, that airstrike puzzle, and lots of other big set pieces. Three levels were missing before, and all in all Surface Tension is now about an hour longer. As the devs explain:

“Surface Tension did not feel complete without its later levels. The end of ST is the part where the H.E.C.U start to lose, and it sets up the events for Half-Life 2. It’s a very important part of the Half-Life story.”

LambdaGeneration had a good interview in January with Black Mesa mapper Chon Kemp about Surface Tension Uncut. He’d previously made new versions of the levels as an add-on for the free mod version of Black Mesa, and has good things to say about how and why they’ve expanded Surface Tension in the commercial release. The whole chapter is improved, rather than just boshing on the new levels, as by then they had made new assets and techniques for other areas of the game – which they could re-use here.

The patch notes also detail changes like adding Cascaded Shadow Mapping for crisp dynamic shadows on outdoors maps, level load times “up to 75% faster”, improved AI for alien grunts, a bit of weapon rebalancing, translated closed captions for a few languages, and plenty more. Look, here’s what that swish shadow system adds:

Xen, of course, is still to come. Black Mesa is still on Steam Early Access for £14.99.


  1. soopytwist says:

    Damnit. Now I have a dilemma. Do I play Black Mesa again now or wait for the Xen update? Thanks a lot Alice. This is worse than trying to decide whether to play Starbound and Subnautica now or wait for their version 1.0’s

    • welverin says:


      IT will probably be a while before Xen gets added (that being a guess on my part).

  2. Kefren says:

    I own this but am holding back for Xen to play the whole thing in one glorious weekend. I’ve always loved the Xen bits. I recently replayed Half Life (Source), Opposing Force, Blue Shift, then Half Life 2 (plus episodes 1 and 2 – when is 3 coming out?) I expected to only play each one for a bit, but found myself once more immersed in each game and enjoying every minute.

    • soopytwist says:

      Episode 2 is marred somewhat by the overlong and tedious Strider battle. Hate it. Last time I played all the Half Life’s in order I quit before the fight… and I can never quite handle “that ending” to episode 2 anyway.

      • Kefren says:

        I must admit, every time I get to that I have to prepare myself, thinking “Oh boy…” You do tend to wonder when it will end, especially by the time have the buildings have been flattened. It gets easier on each playthrough – I think I did it on the first attempt recently – but is still quite stressful.

      • Greg Wild says:

        Curious. I personally loved the ending. Possibly the highlight of the whole episode.

  3. Moonracer says:

    I played the free version of Black Mesa a while back and got to the area with the room full of laser trip wires. Did they ever add an option that eliminates the need to crouch-jump for every jump in the game? I realize they were trying to recreate the experience of the original as best as possible, but it got old fast.

  4. Danda says:

    Crouch jumping sucks. There’s a reason only a handful of games have used it.

  5. dethtoll says:

    As long as huge chunks of the game remain unimplemented I refuse to accept Black Mesa as a proper remake.

    • BathroomCitizen says:

      Hell, I won’t even play Black Mesa just because Half-Life 1 *still* holds up so well!

  6. Carra says:

    Lovely but I can’t help but wonder why they’re implementing better shadows when Xen isn’t implemented yet.