Black Mesa’s vision of Xen is bigger, bolder & nearly done


Sometimes, things just take time. When an amateur team remake an FPS classic up to AAA standards in a modern engine in their spare time? Yeah, that’ll take a while, but the patience seems to be paying off for fans of Black Mesa. While so so far the ambitious (and Valve-endorsed) Half-Life remake has mostly adhered to the structure of the original, developers Crowbar Collective reckon that they can do better with Xen. While the core concepts and story beats are still present, everything else is being re-designed from the ground up. It’s looking lovely, and nearing completion.

In today’s developer blog post, Crowbar Collective outline just how far they are into their total re-imagining of Xen. The answer: Very. Of the five chapters that make up the Xen part of the game, two are in the final spit n’ polish phase, two are in the late stages of development, mostly just needing art assets created and installed onto the map framework, and one chapter, Interloper, is being saved for last, with the entire team planning on finishing it up as their final piece of work on the game.

While remembered as being pretty rough and unpolished compared to the rest of the game (low-gravity platforming with brutal fall damage is a hell of a trip), the original Xen was at least a brief experience, maybe an hour total. Black Mesa’s version is significantly larger, and just the first two chapters alone are taking Black Mesa’s testers around two hours to get through. From the looks of the few screenshots released, there’s going to be larger environments with more human structures, giving it an interesting mix of familiar and alien design.

Crowbar Collective are clearly confident in their design, and to be honest, it won’t be too hard to improve on the original. Whether it’s good enough to make up a third of the game? I’m excited to find out. In the meantime, the developers are hosting a big multiplayer get-together for July 30th, for those wanting to try out Black Mesa’s robust deathmatch in busy servers. You can find the details of that in the dev-blog post here.

Black Mesa

Black Mesa is available via early access on Steam for £6/$8 in the summer sale, with the Xen update coming when it’s ready, although you might want to keep an eye on the project this November 8th, what with that being the 20th anniversary of the original Half-Life’s release.


  1. lagiacrux says:

    i bought black mesa a while ago after seeing some footage, but im waiting until the official release to play it.
    an upgrade on the old xen is very welcome and i look forward to replay the old game + new content.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Honestly, it’s worth playing through as-is. I think they’ve got some graphical improvements in the pipeline for the majority of the game, but nothing too major.

      Just think of Xen as an expansion. There’s also a bunch of user-made levels for Black Mesa, too.

      • haldolium says:

        I think by now it’s also okay to wait. I couldn’t and played it, I also probably played through the original 50 times or so, and when you hit the gate and the game (Black Mesa) just ends it feels odd, just because you *know* about Xen.

        BM, as it is, is absolutely awesome, no question. But yeah, especially with this there is a sense of missing something because it’s a remake of something else you know.

  2. Chaz says:

    After they’ve done this, can they make Half Life 3, because Valve obviously can’t be arsed?

    • kament says:

      hear hear

    • haldolium says:

      Yes, please. They would quite possibly deliver a better Half-Life³ in 2035-2040 as anyone could’ve ever dreamed of.

    • Krondon57 says:

      Aww hell yeah

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      There’s a fan team working on it, but the project is quixotic at best.

      Since Valve will never be arsed, I want Arkane to do it. They already almost made a Half-Life game, Valve knows them and is buddy-buddy with Bethesda, Prey doesn’t seem to be taking off as an IP (unfortunately)…it seems like a perfect fit to me.

      • hfm says:

        It probably sold over 2MM across all platforms, that’s not bad..

      • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

        As much as I love Arkane, I feel like Half Life is kind of the opposite of what they’re really good at. Arkane has amazing system-driven gameplay with large, porous levels and a large amount of player agency. Half Life on the other hand is known for excellence in laser-focused linear narrative with relatively little player choice and a focus on setpieces.

        • Megatron says:

          Completely agreed. Am playing Prey right now and loving it, and Dishonoured and Dark Messiah must rank as two of my most loved games ever.

          Half Life is definitely a structurally different beast from what Arkane do best, and I’d very much like Arkane to keep doing the wondrous things they do without having to pour themselves into a different shape for a while. (You can lump Frictional into that as well).

    • TheSplund says:


  3. rockman29 says:

    Please enable my high quality shadows again… it keeps getting broken, but I asked the developers and they said they are going to get a fix in soon, probably when this releases I guess.

  4. clonex10100 says:

    Hasn’t zen been “nearly done” for quite a while? IIRC it was supposed to release last summer.

    • PhoenixTank says:

      Have you perhaps only recently started following Black Mesa’s development? :) They absolutely follow Valve Time, despite not being part of Valve.
      Going on the RPS posts, it has been delayed at least twice from the last summer estimate.

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        To elaborate, they started as a fan project to port HalfLife to the source engine in 2004.
        They then spent the next few years working on it, and it was apparently getting close in 2006/7. Then they announced it would be released in 2009. Then it wasn’t, and then eventually they released everything except Xen in 2012.
        I think the most embarrassing part was when they actually took longer to release than Duke Nukem Forever, which had widely been seen as permanent vapourware.

  5. Jernau Gurgeh says:

    So, two parts almost complete, two parts well under way, and one part to be started?

    2 + 2 – 1 = 3

    I don’t need to say it, do I?

  6. Janichsan says:

    So, another two years until it’s complete?

    • Ghostwise says:

      You should pitch in to help, then.

      • jeremyalexander says:

        And why would he “pitch in to help”? It’s not for charity, it’s a 20 dollar game. I’ll be happy to pitch in to help if they want to pitch in some money. Once you start charging money, it’s a product, not a fan fic and with that come responsibilities like meeting deadlines. If they want help, or do it on their time, then it should have stayed free. Money changes everything. If your boss complained to you about not making a deadline you set out for yourself, would you say sorry, how bout you pitch in and help? Fanboy’s excuse everything, I guess.

  7. Carra says:

    Mmm, I can’t remember the year in which I played the released, free Black Mesa sans Xen.

    Was a great game though!

  8. Borgmeister says:

    Black Mesa is worth it. Tarts up the original nicely for the price of a couple of pints. Not sure how to feel about it being 20 years old though, I have clear memories of getting the demo of the original running back then.

  9. antiversedj says:

    I just completed the current version in 12 hours according to steam. I must say I enjoy games that don’t take less than 2 friggin’ hours to complete, especially if I waste 20€ +\- to play it. Of course, this one is ridiculously cheap on sale which really surprises me for its depth of quality. I don’t really regret playing it now, given the fact that Xen might just be around the corner, if the last chapters adds 5+ hours more, I can’t wait!

    I don’t even think that I’ve completed the original Half-Life game fair’n’square ever… This just got me playing the side-quests like Blue Shift and Opposing Force… That should kill some time until Xen comes around for BM :P

  10. Jernau Gurgeh says:

    I played this when it first came out as the HL2 mod. I was blown away by what they did. So glad to see they are close to finishing it, and they have done something different and more expansive with Xen. And at the sale price of £6 for a more polished standalone version, it’s a bargain. I just bought it even though I can’t actually play it, as I’m using a Mac now and I deleted my Bootcamp volume because Windows 10 sucks eggs (and not even Scotch ones). I may be persuaded to reinstall it for this once it’s done though.

  11. HiroTheProtagonist says:

    I got the standalone in a Humble Monthly a while back, and while I liked the new visual effects like blood splatters on weapons/arms and other Source engine niceties, the sound design ranged from lackluster Source sound effects (Half Life 1 had some of the most satisfying weapon sounds) to obnoxiously loud musical swells.

    Also, wasn’t Xen supposed to be finished around a decade ago? Seems like they announce “nearly finished” every 2 years or so to stir up some interest, then retreat and stop caring until everyone’s forgotten.

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