Black Mesa’s Xen Coming In Summer 2017

The makers of Black Mesa [official site] have announced plans to add the final section of their Half-Life remake, Xen, in summer 2017. They explain that it’s taking so long because they’re really fleshing out that alien world.

I do admire the confidence to declare you’re making Xen bigger, given how unpopular that section is with some players. They might be happier to hear you’ve decided Gordon Freeman’s muteness is because he’s really three dogs crammed into an HEV suit, so you’re replacing his pain sound effects with barks and yelps. But no, the Black Mesa gang are determined to make Xen proper good.

As developers Crowbar Collective explained in a post today:

“We want to do Xen the justice it deserves, and have it be the definitive climax to the Half-Life 1 story. To do this we have completely redesigned and expanded the Xen levels to what we think Valve would have done without the limitations of the time.”

Which sounds fair. I always enjoyed the promise and dream of Xen, a peek behind the curtain at an alien world filled with strange and unknowable life, but in reality I found it irritating and boring. I was fascinated by the ecosystem of hide-and-seek glowflowers, skyfish, healing pools, pokeplants, and butterfly-powered technology. But while I adored the look of the floaty worlds, I disliked platforming in them. I liked the mystery of its monsterfactories and portalzones but found them boring places to fight. With a big ol’ reworking, I do think Xen could be great.

The Black Mesans aren’t showing Xen yet but do share two in-editor snaps (one, two) to give a sense of scale. “Not only are our maps substantially bigger than the originals, there are more of them as well,” they say.

Black Mesa received a fairly big update last week. It added new Zombie Marines and more new art assets, made voice chat work in multiplayer, brought beta Linux support, and fixed and tweaked a lot more.

The game is discounted in Steam’s Halloween sale, down to £5.99/7,99€/$7.99. You’ll want this if you hope to (eventually) play Xen, as Crowbar Collective have said that technical limitations will keep them from bringing their fancy Xen to the mod’s older version of the Source engine. Considering Black Mesa has been in the works for over a decade, I don’t think £6 is a lot to ask.

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16 Comments

  1. Kefren says:

    I own this but am waiting until it’s all complete before I play it. Though I did play through the original Half Life and all the expansions recently, and had a great time (again).

    Oh, I liked Xen.

    • horrorgasm says:

      I liked it too…and I played Black Mesa back when it first released for free, as soon as they said it was “done”, only to get to the portal to Xen and jump in excitedly, thinking man this place is going to be awesome with the graphic upgrade, and then suddenly…THE END. Man was I pissed.

    • Vandelay says:

      I’m with you, the Xen hatred is overstated. Interloper, with all its low grav jumping puzzles was a low point of the game, but the rest was a really good realisation of an alien world.

      Pretty much all of the factory section worked really well, with the organic surroundings serving as a nice counterpoint to the metallic research facility we spent most of the game in.

      Giant testicle was… bizarre, but so silly that it was fun. The final boss was underwhelming and kind of annoying to fight, but was an interesting idea and builds some interesting lore, if you are into that sort of thing.

      Most of all, they actually managed to create something that felt like it had its own rules and society. Considering this made up a rather short section of the game, it is impressive to see the attention to detail they placed in, particularly when you reach the factory.

      It certainly wasn’t perfect, but I applaud Valve for pushing the game in that direction and for going out on something unique.

  2. Drib says:

    My copy of Black Mesa, picked up due to the current sale, seems to have some weird thing where loading any save disables all AI.

    Which pretty much kills it.

    The intro was neat though. A sorta-modern HL? Nice.

    • horrorgasm says:

      Oh yeah. I remember that happening to me too. I think it was just that the quickload button was also the same button for AI disable for some inexplicable reason. Just change the key for quickload and it’s fine.

  3. gunrodent says:

    Ah, Xen. I remember fondly the Lair of Gonads, where a giant testicle spider tried to tea bag me while taking shotgun rounds to the ‘nad. The final boss was less scary but more difficult to deal with.

  4. pH101 says:

    When I first played half life, I missed/forgot about/failed to grasp how to use the weird extra jumping your HEV suit was granted just before going to Xen (activated by pressing a key I missed?). Later I had to jump across impossible-to-make-without-magic-jump-key gaps between floating islands. After hours of teeth gnashing, I finally managed this section by detonating satchel bombs I had placed on the island behind me after jumping, thereby propelling me slightly further forward over the gap, while just about managing not to kill myself (a fine balance I can attest). At the time I was really surprised/impressed/annoyed at this puzzle, which had be stumped for ages. I thought it was pretty tough even by hl standards, and also unfair: after all, it was purely luck I had the satchel bombs left and enough HP to survive the blasts anyway (and I very nearly didn’t). Years later, I found out I was, er, doing it wrong.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      No, you were just thinking outside The (Orange) Box.

    • Massenstein says:

      That was some impressive dedication! I would have given up pretty quickly, I think, and cheated my way through.

    • inspiredhandle says:

      I similarly got stuck at the compound where you call in air strikes. I think you were meant to use it to bring down a wall or something? I just used the experimental laser thing to jump the wall (at the expense of most of my health). I remember having to start the next chapter (forget about freeman?) on about 5% health. Those were the days.

  5. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    I didn’t mind the Xen section but I didn’t love it either. First time playing on the PS2 version I accidentally quick-saved instead of quick-loading after falling off a platform which put an end to my playthrough. Second time on PC I ran into that glitch where the Gonarch doesn’t jump down after you. Third time finally finished it but used cheats to finish off the giant baby.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      More or less my sequence apart from the PS2 bit, the PC version didn’t have this problems as it kept more than one quicksave and had autosaves so the worst case scenario was having to repeat a section and that was very rare since quicksaving enough times in an unwinnable situation was difficult with the hardware of the time (it tended to freeze the game for a second or so). The Gonarch Glitch was resolved by a huge 113 mb patch that fortunately was given in various computer magazines.

      Mostly Nihilant was a problem because I didn’t grasp the mouse+keyboard setup at the time (i came from Dark Forces and Jedi Knight which could be played keyboard-only) so Nihilant was impossible without cheats for me the first time.

    • inspiredhandle says:

      Think I had the same problem on the ps2 with ol’ gonad not falling through.

      How good was decay split screen though? Amirite?

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        I actually never played it but always heard it was very good. Almost an early precursor to Portal 2’s co-op.

        I’m surprised Valve or a modding team have never done a Source remake. It seems to be the one part of the HL story everyone has forgotten exists.

        • inspiredhandle says:

          It’s sad that people remember blue shift and not Decay. It was a riot. Decay’s Colette Green and Gina Cross doubled down on Freeman’s voiceless crowbar wielding lunacy to great effect.

          The only thing that puts me off (in hindsight) is the fact that that numpty Randy Pitchford had something to do with it.

          Split screen death match was pretty cool too.

  6. Moonracer says:

    I finally plunked down cash for this. I’m glad that their vision for Xen will be realized. It’s an understandable challenge, but I think the end result will be special.

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