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Stop me if you think you've heard this one before: Half-Life remake Black Mesa's Xen chapters should be out very soon. You may well be sceptical—Xen has been delayed multiple times—but in an update this week the developers said that the five chapters are going through external playtesting, and two of them are pretty much "locked in".
The first chapter, itself called Xen, is mostly done, and the team need to simply "polish one or two rough edges". The third chapter, Interloper, is playable from start to finish, and the final chapter, Endgame, is locked, and just needs some final minor tweaks. "There are some dependency assets and some polish we have to implement once the rest of the game is complete, but other than that, it is ready to go."
Admittedly, the other two chapters still require a little more work. The second chapter, Gonarch’s Lair, still needs some art and design changes, while the fourth chapter, Nihilanth, still needs work on scripting and animation.
You can expect the chapters to be much more rich than the original's Xen sections: currently, the first two chapters clock in at two hours combined, whereas in Half-Life, all five chapters could be completed in an hour.
Xen doesn't have a release date.
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.
The fan-made Half-Life remake Black Mesa took another step toward completion over the weekend with the release of a Xen engine patch that fixes a number of issues including freezing and crashes on Radeon 300, 400, and 500 series video cards.
"We will probably do one more 'Engine' release just before we drop Xen, in order to make sure that everything is running smoothly on everyone's machines," developer Crowbar Collective wrote. "We want the Xen release to be as close to a simple content release as possible."
Black Mesa is largely a faithful recreation of the groundbreaking FPS Half-Life, but it makes some changes as well, shortening or otherwise editing some levels while expanding others in ways that the old GoldSrc engine wasn't capable of. The one thing it's lacking, despite being in development since at least 2005 (seriously, Black Mesa: Source, as it was known then, won ModDB's "Mod of 2005" award), is Half-Life's concluding Xen location.
And that's perfectly fine by me: Gordon Freeman would've been better served with a Poochie-style sendoff than the ugly, tedious slog through Xen he ultimately got stuck with, as far as I'm concerned. But that's how Half-Life ends, and so—eventually—that's how Black Mesa will end, too.
There's no word on when Xen will actually be added to the game and even if there was I'd strongly suggest taking it with a handful of salt: The rollout has already been delayed twice, most recently in November 2017, just ahead of a "do-or-die deadline" that had been set for December. (Obviously, it did not.) There are, however, patch notes and a list of known issues available for perusal on Steam.
Crowbar Collective moved another baby step towards the release of the long-awaited Xen portion of its Half-Life remake Black Mesa yesterday. A graphical update makes it look a whole lot fancier, with real-time dynamic lights, lens flares, god rays and more texture detail.
It also brings the release version more in line with the developer's internal build and means that when Xen is ready it can be added as a "simple map drop, with less potential for engine and code issues affecting players on their first time playing Xen".
The team also updated fans on the progress of the Xen levels—in its current form that section of the game is made up of 14 maps across five chapters, "with each map alone being significantly larger than the originals". The team is still working up the gameplay for three of the five stages, and tweaking the art for the final two.
There's still no definite release date for the Xen levels: in June the team set December as a "do-or-die deadline", but that's now been pushed back (and, thankfully, nobody has died). "We are putting our full effort into completing Xen in a timely manner so that everyone can have the complete Black Mesa experience", it said in the latest update.
The update also fixes a host of bugs, changes the way that long jumping works (you now double tap space) and adds a new crossbow scope. Click here for the full patch notes, and scroll down for some new screens from the update.
If you want to know more about Black Mesa, here's Andy's interview with the project lead from last month. Oh, and the game is available at its biggest ever discount at the moment. It costs $4.99/£3.74 on Steam.