Time is a cruel mistress to technology, particularly to video games. Sure, Deus Ex was a shining beacon of level design and plot arguably not matched to this day (though prequel Human Revolution came close). But even with rose-diamond composite augmented optics, we have to admit that once cutting-edge graphics are now past their prime. It’s hard to persuade a twenty-first century newcomer to play a game that looks so very 1998. But for some games, there is a solution: mods.
Hard-working fans have poured heart, soul, incredible levels of technical effort, and ridiculous amounts of time into upgrading many classics of the genre with modern graphics, sound, and features. These mods make games we loved in the last century challengers for the affections of gamers in this one.
The modding scene on the PC is very vibrant, and games such as Oblivion have thousands of mods available, from minor tweaks and graphical improvements to significant extensions and alterations that, while worthy, also mean you’re no longer playing the original game. If you want to play a classic game, just updated for modern hardware, it’s sometimes hard to figure out which mods you want.
So here is a selection of some of the genre’s best-of-the-best, with one mod (or a select few) that goes above and beyond to bring it up to modern specs. I’ve limited the list to mods of classic games; these mods also must improve the game while leaving the original design intact, except for fixes. Plus, they must also be simple to install (preferably automated).
If you’ve never played some of the games on this list, consider this your invitation to try them now. And if you played them back in the day, these mods are reasons to relive your awesome game experience.
(Thanks to Peter Wainwright.)
Half-Life: Black Mesa Source
Half-Life was a revolutionary game from 1998 that reset the expectations of what a first-person shooter should be at a time when we still thought that Doom 2 was kinda neat, Quake was where it was at, and Daikatana was not yet Romero’s Folly. (The release of Half-Life helped put the crowbar into that coffin.) In it, theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman mutely fights to survive after an interdimensional rift non-theoretically tears into the research facility where he’s based.
In 2004 Valve produced an updated version of Half-Life, retooled to run on the Source engine developed to support sequel Half-Life 2, and inventively called Half-Life: Source. But while it did feature enhanced visuals and added physics, some very dedicated fans felt even that could be improved. And then they spent eight years improving it.
“Black Mesa Source,” a re-envisioning of the original Half-Life, was released in September 2012. Technically, it’s not a mod, because you don’t need the original Half-Life, or even Valve’s own upgraded version, to play it. You do, however, need the Source SDK. Improvements include better lighting and shadows, all-new textures and animations, improved physics, and a terrific new soundtrack. It even supports the Xbox 360 controller.
“Black Mesa Source” has been greenlit on Steam’s Project Greenlight, which means you’ll soon be able to download it directly from Steam. If you just can’t wait, it’s also available, um, at the source.