If “Half-Life” and “Virtual Reality” don’t excite you, then I don’t know what will. The one downside of Half-Life: Alyx is how you must have one of those expensive VR sets to play. And I’m not even counting a PC that can handle the tech. Points less for leaving the rest out!
I can’t get around the VR tech. I think it’s never going to be very big as having a piece of plastic wrapped around your head gets tiresome.
Yet, Half-Life: Alyx is the kind of game that makes people try VR for the first time. It’s also an experience that may change people’s minds about the clunkiness of virtual reality as a whole.
- Platforms: PC VR (Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus VR)
- Publisher: Valve
- Developer: Valve
- Genre: VR horror FPS
“The loss of the Seven-Hour War is still fresh. In the shadow of a rising Combine fortress known as the Citadel, residents of City 17 learn to live under the rule of their invaders. But among this scattered population are two of Earth’s most resourceful scientists: Dr. Eli Vance and his daughter Alyx, the founders of a fledgling resistance.”
Half-Life: Alyx – Review
It’s a shame that Valve put an entry-ticket to the Half-Life series after 13 years of silence. The beloved saga now needs you to pay the full AAA $60 price tag plus a VR peripheral and a powerful gaming rig.
That’s about a $1500 investment to play a single title, realistically. And there’s not much else going on within the VR atmosphere.
Be that as it may, if you already have a VR peripheral, you should definitely try this out. Even if you don’t know anything about the universe, Alyx is just good enough for anyone to play.
The game’s technical achievement, the graphical quality, the plot, and the gunplay are fantastic. It’s a game where you can interact with anything and make different hand gestures to reload each of your guns. So, yes, Half-Life: Alyx is a step forward for the VR industry.
Alyx is a great game. Most -including me- would argue it’s the best VR title so far. But it’s just not enough to make people invest in an enthusiast technology.
Bare with me, though. I will not try to convince you. I will only tell you why I think it’s a great game.
Moreover, its technical achievements will leave other developers hanging. Once again, Valve proves why they are at the top of the video-game industry.
Valve takes the Half-Life universe to new heights
Alyx returns to one of the most popular video-game franchises, 13 years after Half-Life 2 – Episode 2. The game follows its titular character between the events of Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2.
And she’s definitely different: she speaks, protests, and struggles. However, she’s also the same Alyx as we remembered: loving, faithful, and brave.
Your goal is to save your father, Eli. The Combine captured him. Alyx must open her way through Xen manifestation, crumbling buildings, and Combine soldiers to intercept the train.
The plot will extend into the Half-Life universe no matter where it goes now. If we ever see Half-Life 3, we’re going to see some consequences.
More importantly, it explores the most iconic character of the franchise, the G-Man. With dimension-traveling powers, we see further into the purpose of the man-in-a-suit.
One of the greatest VR experiences
When I finished this game, I went back to the main menu and started all over again. Half-Life: Alyx is the most excellent VR experience I’ve had. After all, Valve makes its own VR peripheral and software (the Valve Index), so they knew exactly what to do.
The plot alone makes Half-Life: Alyx as one of the best single-player PC games of 2021.
Five years before Gordon Freeman wakes up on Half-Life 2, Alyx Vance is a rebel in City 17. The city is controlled by an alien race known as the Combine, and Alyx is fighting back the invasion.
We return, then, to a familiar setting that feels way more impressive on VR. The city is alive and genuinely life-size. And while Striders step over you or scanning flashes blind your eyes, you’ll feel the massive weight of the world Valve has created.
Only the short introductory minutes are enough to realize how far graphics and sound are in this game. I had to take a few minutes only to look up and breathe. I was in City 17, and it was scary and beautiful.
There’s much attention to detail. You interact with the world with disembodied hands, and everything reacts perfectly to your movements. For example, your hands close in different ways depending on what you hold. Grabbing an empty water bottle with your open hand or taking your weapon’s mag are quite different sensations.
How does Half-Life: Alyx works?
A vast array of mechanics allow you to interact with nearly everything you see. Even reloading a gun is an experience, as each weapon requires a different gesture from your hands.
That’s what makes Alyx so immersive, fun, and challenging at the same time. You have to learn the gestures you need to reload each weapon, fire, take cover, and even use the health stations to regain your HP. Without a proper VR controller, Half-Life: Alyx wouldn’t be possible.
Most VR games don’t make an argument as to why they needed a VR to exists. That’s particularly true for VR shooters. Half-Life: Alyx, though, makes it very clear. The VR peripheral gets you in City 17 just as much as the hand motions, and so the experience is as immersive as it gets.
There’re different gestures to interact with the objects you find on the word. You can even pick a cigarette and smoke it, or clean a toilet if you wish.
Maybe that’s what Valve learned from Portal. The fact is you can spend hours just messing around with the physics of the game. You can interact with almost anything.
Notably, you get a pair of gravity gloves a few minutes after the game starts. Following a short introductory section on the classic train ride, you start pulling and launching objects with your gloves. You might do it over a thousand times during your playthrough, and it will never get old.
They can push and pull most objects around you to solve puzzles and fight. Much like the gravity gun on Half-Life 2, these “prototypes” feature the unique game physics that make most Valve games great.
For instance, you can pull your enemies’ grenades towards you and then toss them back to your foes.
Movement depends on your controller but, other than your hands, it feels somehow automatic. You could even choose to teleport to the desired location by pointing your analog stick. Then, Alyx will move her head to explore the place around.
Overall, you can move by either teleporting or automatically. If you move automatically, Alyx will explore with her eyes and hold a position when enemies arise.
Half-Life is creepier on VR
The Half-Life franchise is about horror but without the silly elements of Valve’s Left 4 Dead 2. You feel the hatred through the music, the settings, and your enemies. And you feel the oppression at every turn on City 17, ravaged by an alien invasion that puts humans at the lowest of the chain.
In VR, Valve was able to dial the fear -and the atmosphere- up to eleven. The City becomes weirder, creepier, and deadlier.
Fleshy headcraps and trembling zombies will jump on your face from shady air ducts and leaky drain pipes. Combine soldiers plotting your death on the radio two blocks away. Or Strider machines walking above you, making the ground shake.
Once again, there’s much attention. Every corner, every wall, every roof, and every floor is filled with Alien blossoms and war traces.
Even healing yourself is gory. You’ll have to insert a glass cylinder that contains an alien grub into a health station. Then, the station crushes the…plumbus…and turns it into a liquid. Lastly, the machine injects the needles on your back.
Everything you’ve been shooting and zapping from 1998 is now fleshy, creepy, and repulsive. And, most of all, every enemy makes a lot of noise.
The Half-Life element
The game goes between the surface and the sewers. Much like Freeman’s journey to escape the underground Black Mesa lab on the first entry, your time on the gutters will make you feel trapped and desperate. Then, reaching the surface feels like a relief, even if it’s just as dangerous as the darkness.
That’s about as “Half-Life” as it gets. Half your playthrough on underground layers, carefully stepping away from aliens pushing you towards the ceiling to eat you. Then, on the surface and beneath the beautiful Sun, the most dangerous machines are waiting to kill you.
What it doesn’t have, though, is the same powerful arsenal of previous entries. That means you have to use your ammo carefully.
Oh, but the music, man, the OST. It’s haunting, scary, and profound. Usual stuff for the series. If it had to name another game that reaches similar levels of depth regarding sound and location design, it would be Bioshock.
Lastly, this game repeats what Half-Life does best. It has dynamic combat with many enemy types, each one requiring a different strategy.
As I said, your arsenal is not as crazy as What Gordon Freeman had. You have a pistol, a one-handed shotgun, plus a Combine Pulse Pistol. On top of that, you have your gravity gloves.
However, each weapon feels different. That’s because you need to reload the guns manually. Each one has a different method of reloading and even firing. For example, you have to eject the pistol’s mag to make room for the other one.
Reloading in the dark is challenging. As you reach for more ammo on your backpack, you won’t be able to point the flashback forward. That makes you lose visibility to whatever monster is lurking around you.
Miro-managing goes beyond health and ammo as you have to think every time you reload; or point towards a direction to move. Moreover, many parts of the game will ask you to use both your hands to go through. For example, you need to put your gun away to move a heavy door.
Now, because there’re so many things to interact with, Half-Life: Alyx has a slow pace. Still, it’s necessary to get a hold of the game and its controls for every battle is challenging but swift.
No problem, though. Breathing inside of the game is a great experience. Take it all in as much as you can.
More so, take into consideration that you can buy upgrades for your weapons. That adds an extra layer of complexity. For example, you can turn the shotgun into a grenade launcher, which requires another interaction to reload.
Lastly, you have a multi-tool gadget to solve the game’s puzzles like rerouting power or opening supply caches.
Alyx is not Gordon Freeman
We lose a critical element of the franchise, though, as there’s no Gordon Freeman. Albeit we gain something else, many consider it better.
Gordon Freeman doesn’t speak. He’s mute, a slave doing everything people tell him to do. Alyx remains a source of empathy, humor, and determination. She has a voice, and she talks a lot. And it helps you connect with the story.
Yet, the plot has enough intrigue to take you forward. The Combine holds a dark secret you’ll uncover on during your quest to save your father. By the end of the game, much lore and story have been added to the Half-Life universe.
Final Say: is Half-Life VR worth your money?
Half-Life: Alyx delivers on its promise. It’s an exciting and horrific VR adventure on Valve’s popular video game universe. It respects everything that made the Half-Life series tremendous and goes beyond with top-tier modern technology.
And whereas the first part of the game is a bit claustrophobic and slow, Alyx picks it up fast to end up with a fantastic, surprising ending. It has the plot to take you forward, the gameplay to excite you, and many mechanics to learn.
So I can answer if Half-Life: VR is worth investing in a VR gaming PC. I would say no, but that solely depends on your resources. I would also say yes if you’re a dire fan of the series.
Whatever Valve takes the franchise next, we only hope we don’t have to wait another decade. Also, we can only hope the next Half-Life title is not a VR experience. Right now, Alyx is not readily available for most gamers out there.
A random YouTube comment said it better than I ever will:
“Valve’s comeback is like a dad coming back from the grocery store 10 years later with the best meal you’ve ever tasted. But it has peanut butter and your mom and brother are allergic.”