Half-Life: Alyx – The Only Game for VR?

Starting area in the game

Half-Life: Alyx is a full-fledged representative of the Half-Life series. It may not be Episode 3, but it is not some short spin-off either. The game continues Half-Life’s ambition to push the boundaries of PC gaming, this time focusing on virtual reality in all its gameplay and narrative aspects. And it manages to revive the series after a painful 13-year wait. In many ways, Half-Life: Alyx is the flagship of single-player VR games, which the industry desperately needs right now.

Alyx exploring the game world

The first Half-Life earned its place in history thanks to its approach to storytelling, where you always feel like you’re in the midst of the events. The game didn’t interrupt for another cutscene, the player controlled Gordon Freeman and was free to explore the environment even during key scenes. Half-Life 2 raised the stakes with the gravity gun, focusing on physics, which remained a serious challenge for almost all 3D games that came out after it.

And now Half-Life: Alyx allows Valve to use all the developments laid down in the SteamVR platform, HTC Vive, and their own VR headset, Index. There are no other options: to fight the Combine again, you’ll need a virtual reality headset and a decent computer. Of course, this has angered many players who have been waiting for the continuation of Half-Life 2: Episode 2 for over a decade. And honestly, I find it hard to blame them. The situation is like a gun pointed at your head – either jump on the VR train or forget about Half-Life: Alyx.

Alyx examining a book in the starting location

We spent 12 years creating the starting location.

At least there is the possibility to play on other headsets with SteamVR support, such as Oculus Rift, Quest (when connected to a computer via cable), and Windows Mixed Reality devices. Of course, for the perfect immersion, you will need the $1000 Index, but you can also go for a much more affordable option. There are excellent models in Windows Mixed Reality, like the Samsung Odyssey for just $230, and the very advantageous Oculus Quest for $400, considering its portability. More details in our collection of VR glasses In general, something from the above, combined with a good computer, will give you access to Half-Life: Alyx. The game suggests that Valve is still capable of delivering something truly cool. After playing for more than ten hours, I am amazed at how it manages to squeeze the most out of everything that virtual reality can offer. Here, it is easy to feel tiny against the nearby striders and towering buildings in the distance, and all sound sources take into account your position in space. And yes, you will have a very close encounter with headcrabs.

For me, Half-Life: Alyx instantly topped the list of the best VR projects. It is not just another game where the virtual mode was added as an afterthought, as was the case with Doom, Fallout 4, and Skyrim.

In-game promotional message:

Having acquired the gravity gloves (an analogue of the gravity gun from Half-Life 2), you realize how deeply Valve has thought out the interaction with the environment. Here’s how objects lying far away are picked up here: you point at the desired object with your finger, wave your hand, and catch it as it is attracted to the glove. It sounds ordinary, but it feels like some kind of magic.

A humorous

It’s as if you’re not pressing a button, but using the Force in virtual reality. My face stretches into a smile every time I have to do something with gloves, and it’s important because there are many such moments. It’s only been a few hours of playing, and I’ve already been attracting bullets and grenades in the midst of a shootout, feeling like a superhero with telekinesis.

Upgrading weapons in Half-Life: Alyx

Valve has prepared four options for spatial movement, depending on your vestibular apparatus. By default, teleporting to the specified point is offered instantaneously. It is also possible to quickly shift to this point, observing the environment passing by – this option is preferred by me. For players with an iron constitution, there are options to completely abandon teleportation and simply move in the direction determined by the position of the hands or head, resembling movement in regular shooters. In these modes, I immediately feel uncomfortable, as if my body is rejecting what I see.

Alyx in a Soviet-themed environment

I quickly got used to moving in Half-Life: Alyx, but the same cannot be said about the weapons. To reload the pistol, you need to insert a magazine and pull back the slide with your free hand. When the bullets run out, you need to press the magazine release button, take a new one from the backpack on your back, and repeat the first two steps. In real life, I haven’t done anything like this, and thanks to the step-by-step reloading process, I felt like a real action hero.

Soviet-inspired surroundings in the game

In real life…

Work smartly, not for long

Work smart, not hard!

Indeed, such a level of realism rather hinders when facing multiple enemies. There have been situations when I couldn’t reload properly while under fire. In regular games, this would never happen. Not that it constantly annoys me, after all, Valve has skillfully balanced all the battles, and usually there is enough time to reload and collect medkits between waves of enemies.

But, again, there is a feeling that the enemy’s intelligence has intentionally been reduced – they are more likely to stay in cover and shoot rather than try to flank you, like in modern shooters.

Solving puzzles in Half-Life: Alyx

I won’t say that Half-Life: Alyx focuses heavily on shootouts, although the moments when I had to crouch and shoot at combines were thrilling. I spent just as much time on exploration and holographic puzzles as I did on shooting, and that’s actually a good thing.

A batch of vanilla cookies in the game

I found it much more interesting to immerse myself again in the Half-Life universe than to familiarize myself with another VR variation. And this game does a great job. You will meet familiar faces like Alyx’s father – Eli Vance – and new characters. I won’t go into detail about the plot, but fans of the series will definitely enjoy it.

Better Soviet cookies - vanilla

So, is the game worth the wait? Speaking as someone who loves Half-Life games but doesn’t worship them, I can say that Alyx looks like a full-fledged part of the series. Computer owners can now go and get at least an inexpensive headset. The thousand-dollar Index, as much as I am delighted by the wide field of view, clear displays, and finger movements, is still too expensive of a pleasure for most players.

There are also downsides to spending a long time in the headset. In a regular game, I can comfortably play for several hours, but here I have to take a break every hour to adjust the glasses, have a drink of water, and give my eyes a rest. And yes, you can play while sitting, but it’s much more interesting to play while standing, and that affects overall fatigue.

Do not kick, dangerous for the abdomen

“Не пипай, опасно за живота!” means “Be careful (literally – do not touch!), it’s life-threatening!”. “Живот” in Bulgarian means “life”.

Half-Life: Alyx is not just a remade game, like many we have already seen, and it confirms that it is entirely possible to release long and high-budget VR projects. I believe in Valve and hope that someday we will see a new Half-Life for everyone. But for now, there is Half-Life: Alyx, and virtual reality fans will definitely not be disappointed in it.

Half-Life: Alyx
Action, Puzzle, VR
Valve Corporation
Valve Corporation
Release Date:
Editor's rating:
Is it worth playing? (If the score is more than 70%)



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