Black Mesa Xen – Public Beta
As many of you will know, Black Mesa, a complete remake of Half-Life (1998) in the Source engine, was released in 2012 having been through a painful gestation period since around 2005. The game itself eventually went to Steam in 2015, but only up to the last mission before the Xen levels, which were promised on a ‘when it’s done’ basis. In June this year, three Xen levels were released on public beta and finally, the full beta was released on 6th of December. In order to play the Xen levels, you need to opt-in to the public beta as follows:
Right-click on the Black Mesa game in the left-hand column of your Steam library, then click properties.
Click on the Betas tab and select public beta – This branch is for our public beta.
Clearly, you need to have the main game installed and once you opt-in to the public beta, the content will download as normal. Please bear in mind that any previous saves are not compatible with the public beta version.
What’s Xen Like?
To be honest, I was never a big fan of Xen in the original game. It was confusing, often monotonous, felt like it was part of a different game entirely and it contained some crazily difficult moments, like the island hopping, which I could never get right. Most of the time I ended up falling off and into deep space or some kind of space-time-continuum. Also, there are a number of impossibly difficult boss fights that took me days, if not weeks, to complete, often leaving me very frustrated.
But this new version of Xen has been thoughtfully designed by a small group of gamers, the monotony has been stripped away and the entire scenario of Xen has been given a magical feel that was so lacking in the original. It makes you want to explore the strange alien planet and with plenty of puzzles to take care of –which help you proceed through the game– I haven’t felt any of the tedium of the original.
Without putting a spoiler in here, I’ve reached the first major boss fight in Xen —clue: arachnid-– and the build-up, the tension, and the entire arena is a masterpiece of game design that cannot be overstated. Added to which, the music by Joel Nielsen is simply sublime, fusing melancholy, anticipation, and menace into a crescendo of colliding sounds that fit the battle scene perfectly.
With anything Half-Life related, it pays to be patient. The Xen levels were originally promised for December 2017, then for the following year, so in the end, it really was a case of ‘it’ll be ready when it’s done.’
From what I’ve played and seen so far of Xen, I can say that Crowbar Collective –the developers– have exceeded our expectations yet again. You really can say that Black Mesa is and always has been a labour of love. If you’re a fan of Half-Life, I urge you to step into Gordon Freeman’s HEV suit once more and experience Xen in all its glory.
Black Mesa is available at Steam, by following this link: