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Half-Life’s hated Xen levels look great in Black Mesa remake

The reworked first-person platforming levels should be playable by early 2019

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The original Half-Life turns 20 this week, and to celebrate the team behind the high-profile remake Black Mesa has a new trailer to share. It’s our first look at Xen, the setting for the original game’s troubled third act, and it looks phenomenal. The team says it expects to release the level to the public sometime in the second quarter of 2019.

Half-Life tells the story of Gordon Freeman, an MIT-educated theoretical physicist and one of the only survivors of a trans-dimensional rift at the Black Mesa research facility. In the final few levels of the original, Freeman travels to the planet Xen where he battles all manner of massive alien creatures while exploring Xen’s bizarre biomes. Along the way, however, he also encounters some of the first-person shooter genre’s most terrifying enemies — the dastardly jumping puzzle.

Truth be told, Xen was an absolute low point in an otherwise legendary video game, and felt both uneven and a bit rushed. That’s why the team behind Black Mesa has decided to rebuild it, not simply remake it. According to their announcement on Steam, the level will be composed primarily of original work.

Black Mesa, which launched into the Steam Early Access program in May 2015, already looks and plays phenomenally. The 10-plus-hour experience takes players through the entire game, right up to the point where Freeman is supposed to re-enter the test chamber and get teleported to Xen. Once Xen is added in, that will bring the total experience to around 16 hours.

This final push, which the team says will focus mainly on polish, will very likely complete their work on Black Mesa. That should free up the Crowbar Collective, as they’re called, for its next project. The 20th anniversary of Half-Life 2, in case you were wondering, rolls around in November 2024.

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