Video game fandom can be a wonderful thing. Due to the vagaries of fate and commercial trends, beloved franchises can be abandoned by commercial developers or publishers, despite the enthusiasm of players for more content. The magic happens when talented and dedicated fans take it upon themselves to build sequels or remakes of games themselves, with these labors of love sometimes surpassing the originals in terms of quality. These are the moments where gaming fandom has really shined, producing great game versions funded by passion. Here are some of the best:
Black Mesa (Half-Life)
Valve's smash hit Half-Life had it's own official sequel in the form of Half-Life 2, but the original was so beloved that modders Crowbar Collective spent years re-creating the original game in the Source engine used for Valve's newer titles. Black Mesa improves and expands the original game with painstaking care.
Each level is updated and expanded, characters behave much more realistically and are visually more distinctive from each other. The story also benefits from added dialogue and voice acting. Black Mesa was so impressive that they secured Valve's blessing to release a retail version (with some improvements over the free version) on Steam. Download for free or check Steam for the retail version with multiplayer support.
GoldenEye: Source (GoldenEye in Half-Life 2)
GoldenEye 007 was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1997 and became the go-to game of choice for couch-based multiplayer shoot-em-ups, and is often cited as one of the greatest video games of all time. GoldenEye: Source uses the Half-Life 2 engine to not just recreate GoldenEye for PC, but to improve it as best as more recent technology allows. The classic multiplayer modes are there, but enhancements abound in graphics, levels and weapon selection. Enjoy for free here.
Pokémon Fusion Generation
There are many ways to tweak Pokémon games without resorting to hacking or mods, but there are still a LOT of Pokémon fan games out there, but I don't feel like I gotta list 'em all. Instead, I'll just mention the most creative of the bunch: Pokémon Fusion Generation.
The gimmick here is that it's basically a random Pokémon generator that fuses and mixes the titular pocket monsters to create chaotic chimeras of combined characteristics. One of the best features of the original Pokémon games - all those different creatures to battle with - is much improved by this, but unfortunately Nintendo didn't react very kindly to their monsters being mangled, and slapped down the developer with a cease-and-desist. We can't tell you where to download this, but you can and if you do, here's the controls and info.
Streets Of Rage Remake (Streets Of Rage)
Speaking of games that were taken down, Streets of Rage Remake deserves special mention here. Streets of Rage was actually the first console game I ever played on the Sega Genesis and the side-scrolling beat-'em-up was so solid that I still love to play the series in my browser to this day.
Streets of Rage Remake, released by Bombergames in 2011, is a fan sequel that rolls all the best elements from the original Streets of Rage trilogy into one fantastic game, with additional playable characters and new music remixes. Although Bombergames were slapped down by SEGA's lawyers, the final version of the game still lives on the internet.
Nehrim: At Fate's Edge (TES: Oblivion)
Nehrim: At Fate’s Edge is a total conversion mod for The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. The colossal project took developers SureAI four whole years to complete, but the time and effort really paid off.
Nehrim: At Fate’s Edge has its own original fantasy world and story with writing and plot that have been claimed to surpass the original game. Many of the lazier elements of Oblivion such as respawning dungeons or level-scaled enemies are missing, instead Nehrim boasts all unique dungeons and encounters, plus revamped gameplay that is reminiscent of both Morrowind and the classic German RPG Gothic. Check it out here.
StarCraft: Mass Recall (StarCraft)
Twelve years passed between the release of the original StarCraft and the first installment of its sequel StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty. Personally, I think that StarCraft 2 is one of the best PC games out there, but there are many fans who think that the balanced gameplay was actually perfected in the expansion to the first game StarCraft: Brood War—and they kind of have a point. Others are just more attached to classic StarCraft units and characters, or just want more StarCraft 2 campaign content.
StarCraft: Mass Recall is a mod for StarCraft 2 that re-creates all the original StarCraft campaigns in the gorgeous new engine, and I highly recommended it for all fans of the franchise. Information and downloads here.
Like many gamers of a certain age, I have very fond memories of the original shareware version of Doom. The iconic first person shooter franchise is in good health in 2016, with Bethesda's DOOM releasing to critical and commercial success, so even though there are 3D shooter fan games for Doom out there, I'm going to highlight something different.
DoomRL re-imagines the original Doom as a roguelike, a type of game defined by randomly generated levels, RPG-style levelling, and very, very challenging gameplay. DoomRL's gameplay offers a huge amount of replayability and customization, and although it's free, the developers are very receptive to suggestions for new features by donors.
Mushroom Kingdom Fusion (Super Mario World)
Mushroom Kingdom Fusion a Super Mario fan game, technically, but to define it as just that does this great game a disservice. Sure, the gameplay is based superficially on Super Mario World, but Mushroom Kingdom Fusion is actually a mishmash of characters and levels from a host of iconic games. Aside from the Mario cast, you can play as Sonic, Tails, Kirby, Megaman, Link and more.
All the characters have unique abilities and the levels and power-ups are likewise lifted from a wide range of classic games. It's like all the best of 90s gaming rolled into one, and available for free. Shout out to Youtuber Hadriex for hosting the trailer to this game and others on the list.