Black Mesa

Valve might have shelved Gordon Freeman and his sci-fi misadventures, but Black Mesa developer Crowbar Collective still has one more job for the mute physicist. The studio's Half-Life remake was released in 2015, but since then it's been working on an additional and original campaign that greatly expands Gordon's trip off-world, and you'll be able to play it soon. 

In the original Half-Life, we don't get to see much of the alien world of Xen, but Crowbar Collective has been changing that. The Xen campaign doesn't just make the Xen level full-length—it's closer to a full game, or at least a meaty expansion. Check out the trailer from last year:

You'll have five chapters to work through, and the first two will be entering public beta on August 1. Soon after the beta release of Xen and Gonarch's Lair, Crowbar Collective will launch the rest of the chapters, Interloper, Nihilanth and Endgame. There are no dates for them, but expect them weeks, not months, after the first two. 

That's the last step before launch. Once all the bugs have been squashed, Black Mesa: Xen will leave beta. You'll get access if you have Black Mesa, which is currently on sale, and the betas will be available through the Steam Beta tab in the Properties menu. 

I'm increasingly less frustrated at the prospect of never being able to finish Half-Life officially. With developers working on fan projects to expand the original game and even bring Marc Laidlaw's vision for Half-Life 2: Episode 3 to life, there's still plenty of Half-Life left to play. 

Black Mesa

Rise and shine! It's been a long, long wait for Black Mesa's final chapters. When Black Mesa (the modder-made recreation of the original Half-Life in the Source Engine) was released in 2015, it ended with Gordon Freeman's leap into the portal that takes him to Xen. The actual Xen levels themselves weren't yet complete. But today, at long last (we've been hearing the Xen levels were almost ready since 2017) , you can get a healthy taste of Xen as the team behind Black Mesa have made three chapters of the alien dimension available in a technical beta.

"The purpose of this beta is to collect bugs and feedback on a range of different computers," a post on the Black Mesa Steam page reads. "We have made significant improvements and changes to the Source engine, and we want the game to run as smoothly as possible. If you want to be on the bleeding edge of testing, opt into this beta. If you want the polished, complete Xen experience, you should wait. It won’t be long!"

There are some known issues with the Xen beta, such as drastically lower framerates while playing in 4K, issues with ragdolls in water, missing collisions with certain plants and roots in the swamp, and a few other little issues, so don't expect it to be a blemish-free experience. Players are encouraged to report bugs on the Steam forum or the game's Discord.

To take part in the beta, find Black Mesa in your Steam library (you'll need to own it, and if you don't it's currently on sale) and right-click on it. Select Properties from the drop-down menu, then choose the beta tab. Opt-in to the public beta and close the menu. You'll see Black Mesa updating to provide you with the Xen chapters. When you launch the game, you can select New Game and choose chapter 15 to start playing the Xen beta.

Black Mesa

Holy headcrabs, Half-Life is 20 years old. This makes me feel even closer to death than all the grey hairs I’ve been accumulating. There are lots of ways you could observe this special day—with crowbars primarily—but you also might want to watch the first Xen footage from the Half-Life remake, Black Mesa. It’s been a long time coming. 

In the original Half-Life, our trip to the alien world of Xen is brief and... well, not all it could have been, so Black Mesa developer Crowbar Collective decided to deviate from Valve’s version and expand Xen into a proper misadventure that’s almost the size of a full game just on its own. Check out the impressive trailer below.

20 years has clearly done Xen the world of good.

Crowbar Collective isn’t quite ready to release Xen into the wild, however. The team is looking to launch Xen during the second quarter of next year. It’s finished for the most part but, the developer explains, there’s still room to make it more polished and stable. 

Unlike the rest of Black Mesa, Xen is almost entirely original work, though obviously Half-Life is still the cornerstone. This re-imagining of the alien world will take players around six hours to complete, judging by playtests, and more if you plan on investigating every nook and cranny. 

While you wait, here’s the story of Black Mesa

Black Mesa

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.

Black Mesa

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

Black Mesa

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.

Black Mesa

Eight years in the making, Black Mesa is finally nearing its full release. Initially developed by a passionate team of hobbyist developers, this remake of the original Half-Life—fully backed by Valve—has bloomed into something more ambitious. With the help of Steam’s Early Access platform, the team has found itself with the resources to remake and overhaul the original’s controversial Xen chapters, bringing them more in line with the quality of the rest of the game. And when it’s done, this will be the best way to relive the Black Mesa incident. I spoke with project leader Adam Engels about the incredible journey so far.

"The world of Half-Life is a detailed painting, where the more you look, the more you see," says Engels, speaking on behalf of the Black Mesa team. "Even though all the events were scripted, it felt like you were affecting the world. You could find hidden paths, make NPCs react to you." It was, he says, the perfect balance of letting the player create their own experiences and "a summer action movie".

"I think a lot of people thought Half-Life: Source was going to be an HD remaster," he says. "In actuality, it was a demonstration of how easily projects could be moved to the new Source engine." As a response to this, two teams—Leakfree and Half-Life: Source Overhaul Project—decided to create their own remakes around 2004. "But once they realised they were working towards the same goal, they merged and started the adventure that is now simply called Black Mesa."

Today, Black Mesa is available to buy on Steam, and I ask Engels if the team ran into any legal troubles with Valve. "Nope," he says. "Valve actually came to us to see if we wanted to sell the game and become an official licensee to get access to the full game engine." It was a big decision, he says, but something the team couldn’t refuse. "It gave us so much more resources to develop the game with."

In November 2015 the team even visited Valve’s HQ in Bellevue, Washington. "A number of past and present developers were able to make it," says Engels. "It’s hard to speak for everyone at Valve, but the company must like us a little if it’s allowing us to do this project." Not many game companies would allow something like Black Mesa to exist, let alone be sold on its own distribution platform. But the quality, polish and passion of Black Mesa obviously won Valve over.

Black Mesa is currently in Early Access as the team works to complete the Xen chapters, a massive overhaul of arguably the worst bit of the original Half-Life. "This enabled us to actually go out and hire people, and acquire talent we otherwise wouldn’t have," says Engels. "We got a huge amount of talent simply by having a project people were excited about, but having a budget let us seek out and hire specific developers."

The Black Mesa team doesn’t work in one office, which can make orchestrating such a huge project difficult. "We use chat programs and online forums," says Engels. "We try and use chat to work out specific problems, then use forums to document what we talked about so we can refer to it later." Time zones are one of the biggest hurdles for such a disconnected team, and it’s basically impossible to get everyone together at once. "We try to schedule a few meetings or playtests where everyone can get involved. We’ve been using Google Docs recently and they’ve been a huge help."

Engels thinks history has been crueller to Xen than it deserves. "I think the dislike of those levels might have grown in our minds as time has gone on," he says. "We see a lot of support for the old Xen on our Steam forums." The consensus in the community, he adds, is that Valve ran out of time and wasn’t able to iterate on the alien levels like they did with the rest of the game. "We can tell you from our own experience that taking your game to a new world is more challenging than it looks on paper."

The Black Mesa team’s main goal for Xen is adding the same level of worldbuilding seen elsewhere in Half-Life, while retaining its alien, otherworldly feel. "Valve does a wonderful job of introducing mechanics, letting you get used to it, then using that mechanic in an unexpected way," says Engels. "We’re not looking to reinvent the game with our take on Xen, but it will be much more than just get key, open door."

In the original game, what most refer to simply as ‘Xen’ is actually five chapters: Xen, Gonarch’s Lair, Interloper, Nihilanth and Endgame. They’re all being remade and expanded, and some sections Valve had to cut out are being reintroduced. "We made the design with these in mind," says Engels. "In the end we hope to have built a world that is bizarre but contiguous. We want the border world to feel like a place that exists, even if we humans don’t have the capacity to understand it."

When Valve created Xen, technical and time limitations had an impact on how it looked. "With the earth-based assets, even if they were super vague due to technical limitations, we at least had an idea of how Valve wanted them to look," says Engels. "But with Xen, we had little to go on. Even if we built a 1:1 replica of the old levels (which we haven’t), we still have to ask ourselves: how was this supposed to look?" It’s unclear whether the planet was supposed to be as barren as it is, or if Valve had intended it to be much more elaborate and detailed.

"The online world can seem like it wants everyone to fail, and to have a community that wants us to succeed well, we never take it for granted."

Adam Engels, project leader

"Our biggest challenge has been designing the Xenian technology," says Engels. "It’s both mechanical and organic, which is a difficult balance to strike. Our team is talented, but it’s vastly different to modernise hallways than to create an alien world completely from scratch."

As for the Black Mesa facility itself, the team went above and beyond merely remaking the existing levels. "I think you could argue that the main character in Half-Life is Black Mesa itself," says Engels. "We wanted to modernise the game, so we had to really dive into Half-Life 2 and the episodes to look at how they were designed." The team adopted Valve’s philosophy of creating games that are "simple on the surface but complex under the hood".

Some areas, particularly the dam in Surface Tension, have been hugely expanded, feeling a lot more dramatic than in the original. "We used real-world reference to get things looking as realistic as possible, then built the game on top of that," says Engels. "When you make your way through Half-Life, what made it feel real was how the facility existed beyond what you could see. A simple closet or the hint of a sprawling complex through a window was enough to create that illusion. And the Source engine really helped us capitalise on that in Black Mesa."

But while Black Mesa largely remains loyal to the source material in spirit, the team did change quite a few things. "The biggest example of what we changed was the chapter On a Rail," says Engels. "We made the player path much clearer at the expense of having it feel a lot more linear." They also updated the game’s archaic crouch-jump function. "The player automatically crouches when they jump now, which makes it feel a bit more modern. Crouch-jumping was cool back in 1998, but these days it feels overly complicated."

When you play Black Mesa it’s remarkable to think that it’s a passion project developed by, at least initially, a small team of volunteers. I ask Engels about the challenges of working on a project like this. "Communication has historically been a big challenge for us," he says. "Developers can feel pretty isolated. If the whole team has their heads down, working away on their tasks, despite the fact a large amount of work is being done, you have no idea unless they make a post about it or discuss it in the chat." Sharing work takes time, he says, but is ultimately worth it to keep the team motivated.

"And let’s be honest," he adds. "Deadlines are a huge challenge for the team, too. Transitioning from a team of volunteers to a team working on an Early Access project, with a responsibility to the customers who spent money on it, is a really big commitment." Engels also mentions that, because people with skills specific to the Source engine are getting rare these days, it’s becoming more of a struggle to recruit people. But the team gets by. "Sometimes we’ll go out and find developers we like or post a job opening, but often they’ll contact us and their resumes will be so good we can’t say no."

Audio is another area Black Mesa excels in, with professional sound, music and acting. The voices, particularly that of the scientists and ‘Barney’ are impressively close to the original game. "We had some auditions in 2006 where we found Mike Hillard for the scientists and Kevin Sisk for the security guards," says Engels. "Audio is often undervalued in projects and we were super thankful to find people who not only sounded like the originals, but really took the audio portion of the project onto their shoulders." Engels singles out composer Joel Nielsen for his music and work on the game’s audio. "He deserves a lot of credit for all the work he did on the music and sound effects."

Over the years, Black Mesa has attracted a lot of attention, and a large, vocal community has grown around it. Xen has been delayed a few times as the team strives to make it the best it can be, and while some have reacted badly to this, most people have been surprisingly encouraging. "Our community continues to astound me," says Engels. "Through releases and updates we get great feedback. It’s a large-scale testing effort that we just wouldn’t be able to do otherwise and it is insanely valuable."

Engels has been working on Black Mesa for close to 11 years now, and it’s been a large part of his life. "It’s easy to get isolated in development and it can be hard to stay motivated. But comments that say something like, ‘I love your work, keep going!’ are life-savers. The online world can seem like it wants everyone to fail, and to have a community that wants us to succeed… well, we never take it for granted."

For someone so invested in Half-Life, I wonder what Engels feels about the third game. "Personally, I’m not eager for Half-Life 3, but nor do I want it to fade away," he says. "So much anticipation has been built up that it couldn’t come close to living up to it. I’d love to see more games in the Half-Life universe, even if the title doesn’t contain the number three. I’d love to see Valve, or another developer, take it on." Black Mesa is due to leave Early Access, complete with the overhauled Xen levels, in December this year. It’s been a long road for the team, but the quality of the finished product will hopefully make all that effort worth it.

Black Mesa

Late last year, Crowbar Collective released the first screenshot of the Xen area of its Half-Life remake Black Mesa, which was not included with its original release. The team said that it was focused on "crafting a fun and cohesive experience from start to finish," and that it wanted to "push the boundaries and explore this unique and varied setting." The plan at the time was to have Xen out this summer; unfortunately, getting it right is taking longer than expected

"As some of you may have already predicted, we are going to need to push back our planned release of Xen to later this year, in December. We know that this is not what anyone would want to hear, but after taking a long and hard look at what we want to achieve, we have decided that this is for the best. We do not want to compromise on Xen’s quality in any way," the studio wrote on Steam. "That said, we consider December to be a do-or-die deadline." 

To soften the blow, Crowbar posted the first two public images of a Xen exterior, and also provided more information about what exactly it's doing with the level. A new dynamic lighting system for use in situations "where we want the lights to be particularly gorgeous" has been implemented, a "color correction pass" on the entire game is underway, and enemy soldiers will now hold their weapons properly, without their hands clipping through their guns.

Crowbar didn't get into the specifics of the delay, but if I had to (or just wanted to) hazard a guess, I'd say it's probably at least in part because the original Xen level was awful: A dull, utterly un-fun area that was completely out of sync with the rest of the game. A fresh coat of paint is enough for most of Half Life, but making Xen itself "fun and cohesive" is a whole different ballgame. 

Garry's Mod

Achievement hunting on Steam is serious business. While Valve's storefront might not have Xbox's Gamerscore or PlayStation's Trophies, there are still plenty of PC gamers who appreciate the way Steam achievements challenge them to play games in new and interesting ways. Then there's the satisfaction of knowing you're one of just a small percentage of players who've explored every nook and cranny, maxed out every stat, or earned every gold medal a game has to offer. 

The thing is, a lot of Steam achievements are kind of boring. Kill 10,000 enemies, hit level 99 in every class, finish the game on Ultra Nightmare Hardcore difficulty—most of the objectives feel like they've fallen straight out of a free-to-play MMO's quest log. Even the rarest achievements are often little more than tedious grind fests, requiring you to play 500 online matches in a multiplayer game with no active player base, or fight alongside a game's developer when that developer has long ago moved onto their next project. 

These achievements aren't particularly fun to earn, let alone read about. But buried in Steam's massive catalog of games are some truly obscure, brutally difficult achievements that less than 0.1 percent of players have managed to accomplish. These are achievements worthy of the name. Most of us will never earn them, but we can dream.

Note: Total owners approximated from SteamSpy. Verified achievement stats through AStats.

Devil Daggers

Devil Dagger - Survive 500 secondsTotal Owners: 236,000 Completion Percentage: 0.1

For something you could complete in the downtime between Dota matches, frantic FPS Devil Dagger's one and only achievement has managed to defy 99.9 percent of players for well over a year now. That might seem odd given how simple its requirement sounds: all you have to do is survive for 500 seconds. I mean, I do that all the time. See. That last 500 seconds? I just survived that. 

But yeah. Surviving Devil Daggers is a wee bit tougher than running out the clock in real life. Despite the game selling for a mere fiver, just 0.1 percent of players have managed to avoid croaking for the 8 minutes and 20 seconds necessary to snag the 'Devil Dagger' achievement. Watching replays of those runs is equal parts mesmerizing and depressing, making it painfully clear just how amateur my own skills are. I could probably spend the next year playing nothing but Devil Daggers and still not come close to the graceful death-dealing of players like the world-record-smashing bowsr. When the apocalypse hits and the whole world goes to hell, I'll be the redshirt incinerated in the first ten seconds.

Crusader Kings 2

Not so Bad - Survive the End Times Total Owners: 1.4 million Completion Percentage: 0.1

Crusader Kings 2, champion of the grand strategy genre, is full of intricate, multi-layered achievements few players have managed to unlock. From installing a female ruler in the five baronies of the Orthodox Pentarchy, to trampling the Pope with a horde of elephants, over a dozen eclectic achievements are currently sitting at a completion rate of less than 0.1 percent.  

The one I want to shout out, though, is the 'Not so Bad' achievement awarded for surviving the End Times. Ostensibly, you unlock this achievement by surviving the rise of the Prophet of Doom and the Black Death he's convinced will destroy humanity. A Crusader Kings player going by the username Xolotl123 on Reddit, however, inadvertently earned themselves the achievement due to their investment in high-quality hospital care and their imprisonment of the Prophet for disturbing the peace. The Prophet then hanged himself, but not before sending the player a letter that read: 'If you are reading this letter, I am with God, or with Lucifer..., if so, then you were right. If not, then I was right.' 

I've not had the time to play Crusader Kings 2, but after reading this story, I think I'm going to have to clear my schedule. Any game where you can avert the End Times through hygiene is a winner in my book. 

Rising Storm / Red Orchestra 2

Bringing a sword to a sword fight – As an American soldier kill an Axis soldier wielding a Katana, with a Katana. Stick it to Tojo – As an Allied soldier, kill 100 Axis soldiers with a bayonet. Total Owners: 2.7 million (unreliable due to free weekend) Completion percentage: 0.1 - 0.2

Rising Storm's focus on historically authentic, asymmetrical WWII combat means that, naturally, American soldiers do not spawn into the battlefield with katanas. In order to get one, you have to defeat a Japanese soldier who's carrying one. And in order to get the "Bringing a sword..." achievement, you then have to pick up their katana, find another Japanese soldier with a katana, and then defeat them with the weapon of their ancestors. It's a hard scenario to concoct in an FPS where rifles and grenades are the preferred way to fight.

Bit.Trip Beat

MEAT.BOY SMELLS - Get a perfect in 1-1 using only a game pad.Total Owners: 311,00Achievement percentage: 1.6

Heresy! An achievement that requires ditching the holy mouse and keyboard for a filthy gamepad? What does BIT.TRIP BEAT take us for, console players? Everyone knows a good M+K combo is the only way to play. Sure, it makes driving games a bit twitchy, and performing combos in third-person action games can be tricky without analogue sticks, and fighting games don't always work so great, and stealth sequences tend to be a little wonky with WASD…

Okay. So maybe gamepads aren't that bad. Still, locking an achievement to a specific piece of hardware is a surefire way to tick off achievement hunters. The BIT.TRIP devs found that out the hard way with the game's 'SIXTH.SENSE' achievement, which required players to beat a level using Razer's short-lived Sixense motion controller. The backlash to 'SIXTH.SENSE' drove the devs to delete the achievement from Steam completely, which technically makes it one of the rarest achievements out there. Not quite as rare as a game with motion controls that don't feel like total garbage, but still…

The Stanley Parable

Go outside - Don't play The Stanley Parable for five years Total Owners: 2.1 million Number of achievers: 2 verified through AStats (6.9 percent on Steam) 

Games are meant to be played—we usually take that much for granted. It's a little odd, then, when a game actively encourages you not to play it. Odd, however, is what The Stanley Parable's all about. I mean, one of the game's endings involves running back and forth between two buttons for four hours. And that's not to mention the pointed commentary on the nature of free will and the human tendency towards obeisance. Like I said, odd. 

The Stanley Parable's weirdest elements, however, are definitely its achievements. In addition to an achievement simply entitled 'Unachievable' (paradoxically earned by 3.9 percent of players), there's the 'Go outside' achievement that tasks players with not playing the game for five years straight. Since The Stanley Parable released in October 2013, no one can legitimately earn this achievement until October next year. Of course, that hasn't stopped some unscrupulous Steam users from setting their computer clocks forward to unlock the achievement early.  

Cheating to not play a game? I guess some people will do anything for their sweet cheevos. 

Garry's Mod

Addict - You have wasted a year of your life playing GMod! Total Owners: 13.2 million Number of achievers: 9 verified on AStats (1.8 percent on Steam) 

You can do a lot of things in the 8760 hours that make up a single year. You could play 105,120 matches of Rocket League. You could marathon the entire current run of The Simpsons—all 617 episodes—38 times over. You could hitch a ride on a rocket and fly to Mars, with enough time left over to plant the seeds of an interplanetary rebellion

You could also spend every one of those 8760 hours playing Garry's Mod in order to unlock the 'Addict' achievement. And when I say playing, I don't just mean booting up the game and letting it idle in the menu. You have to be connected to an active server for your time to count. Unsurprisingly, the hefty investment involved has kept the achievement's completion percentage at just 1.8 percent, even with achievement hunters over at AStats devising strategies for minimizing the resources used by Garry's Mod so you can leave it running in the background while you tend to other tasks. 

I have to wonder, though, how many people left their computers on while they were working or sleeping solely to unlock this achievement? At a modest estimate, 8760 hours' worth of electricity would cost roughly $210 USD, which is a whole lot of money for a single achievement. Kind of puts all those pesky microtransactions to shame, doesn't it? 

Train Simulator

DLC scenarios Total Owners: 995,000 Completion percentage: 0

Speaking of money, Train Simulator boasts some of the rarest achievements on Steam, but that's not because they're brutally difficult or stubbornly obscure. Heck, the achievement descriptions make it pretty obvious what you've got to do: the 'It Works For Dogs!' achievement reads 'Awarded for completing scenario [RailfanMode] Barking. It's not like the game's unpopular either, with nearly a million owners on Steam and a median playtime of a respectable 7.5 hours. 

No, what makes Train Simulator's achievements so rare is that fiendish friend of ours: DLC. Train Simulator is notorious for having the most expensive DLC on Steam, with its total value currently sitting at $6254.43 USD. Worse, Train Simulator ties many of its achievements to its DLC, leading to a wealth of 0 percent and 0.1 percent completion rates across the board.  

But that $6254.43? I'd want a real honest-to-god train if I was forking over that much cash. If it was anything like Train Simulator, though, it'd probably lock out the train whistle as premium DLC. Steam whistle: only $0.99 per toot! 

Ark: Survival Evolved

Artifact Archaeologist – You personally retrieved all Eight Artifacts! Total Owners: 4.7 million Completion Percentage: 0.2

A whole lot of people play ARK: Survival Evolved, and yet even the most common of its seven achievements has been earned by less than 5 percent of players. But while 95 percent of ARK players haven't defeated the game's first Ultimate Life Form, 99.8 percent remain vexed by its toughest achievement: 'Artifact Archaeologist', rewarded for retrieving every Artifact in the game. It sounds simple enough, but this is where ARK's nature as an Early Access game comes back to bite it on the rump.  

According to the achievement description, there are only eight artifacts in ARK: Survival Evolved. This isn't true. There are 14 artifacts in total, 10 of which can be obtained through normal play, 3 which are locked to the Scorched Earth DLC, and one which can only be spawned through a console command. For a game that has already seen its fair share of controversy, ARK has left quite a few achievement hunters pretty disappointed. Still, at least they can take solace in the giant bees that have just been added to the game. That's something, right?  

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Dragonrider - Tame and ride 5 dragons Total Owners: 11 million (unreliable due to free weekend) Completion percentage: 0.8

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume you've played Skyrim, or at least heard enough about it to understand the game's premise. You're the dragonborn, you need to save the world from an evil dragon, yada yada yada. In short, the game basically revolves around dragons. 

How, then, is the achievement for riding dragons so rare? Only 0.8 percent of the millions of Skyrim players have tamed five or more of the mythical creatures and taken to the skies, which makes exactly zero sense to me. Who wouldn't want a dragon as their personal chauffeur? It's not like you'd have to worry about anyone jacking your scaly pal; any thief foolish enough to try would be charred to a crisp before they could shout Fus Ro Dah. I guess Skyrim players are just too busy getting busy and fighting Macho Man Randy Savage to spend their time becoming certified dragon pilots. 

Black Mesa

Rare Specimen – Send the Hidden Hat to Xen. Total Owners: 500,000 Completion percentage: 2.1 percent 

Hats are all the rage these days. I have it on good authority from my stock broker that the hat economy is only going to go up—and that's coming from a man who wears a top hat, so you know it's legit. My wardrobe is already full of baseball caps, bowler hats, fezes, and beanies, just waiting for the day when my fabric fortune will be ready to claim. The only thing I don't quite understand is why my broker keeps mentioning Dota. Eh, never mind. I'm sure it's nothing. 

Video games, it turns out, are just as keen to cash in on the hat craze. Black Mesa, the fan-made recreation of the original Half-Life, adds in the 'Rare Specimen' achievement that tasks good old Gordon Freeman with locating a hidden purple top hat and lugging it all the way from the Black Mesa Research Facility on Earth to the alien dimension of Xen. It might not sound that tricky, but apparently Gordon's more interested in trivial things like saving the world instead of securing his future in the hat economy--only 2.1 percent of players have carried the top hat all the way to its new interdimensional marketplace. 

Wait, that gives me an idea. What if I started selling digital hats instead of physical ones? Ooh, I think I'm onto something here. I better stop typing before someone beats me to the punch… 

Black Mesa

Summer 2017 is when Crowbar Collective hopes to launch the Xen portion of its Black Mesa Half-Life remake—an area which won't feature in the original mod variation. In October, the developer said this decision was made due to its desire to "to do Xen the justice it deserves, and have it be the definitive climax to the Half-Life 1 story." Crowbar has now teased a Xen-flavoured image alongside a new update post.

"The team remains, as always, hard at work on Xen! Currently our specific focus is on gameplay: crafting a fun and cohesive experience from start to finish," reads the post. "We want our version of Xen to feel like it really belongs with the rest of the game in terms of mechanics, cohesion and progression. But we also want to push the boundaries and explore this unique and varied setting; to build an experience that feels both fresh and familiar to players from all walks of Half-Life veterancy."

Half-Life's Xen reimagined in Black Mesa.

The post continues: "While our Xen is certainly going to be gorgeous, we are first and foremost really committed to making sure that the gameplay works on every level. To give a bit of an exciting tease into what we’re doing at the moment, and as our own little holiday gift to you lot, please enjoy our first ever publicly released screenshot of Xen."

Crowbar goes on to say more Xen-related media will be teased in the "coming months", as well as detailed progress updates ahead of summertime next year.  

For more on Crowbar Collective's Black Mesa, check out Chris' Early Access review.  

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