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Released back in March 2020, Half-Life: Alyx sold over 2 million copies within its first year. The game has been attributed to doubling the sales of the Valve Index headset prior to the game’s launch and is regarded as one of the finest virtual reality experiences available today.
Although many gamers were waiting for a sequel to Half-Life 2 or to put a finer point on it, a conclusion to the cliffhanger left in episode two. Valve clearly had different ideas. Releasing a standalone game set between Half-Life one and two is bold, to say the least. Did they accomplish something spectacular or frustrate their loyal Half-Life fans more? The answer is as confident as the developer behind it. Half-Life Alyx is a masterpiece not only in the VR gaming world but in the gaming world all round.
So what makes Half-Life: Alyx stand tall above the rest? Is it truly the first must-have VR title as most have suggested? Let’s find out!
Immersion realistic gameplay
Strong voice acting
Brisk exciting adventure
Must have Virtual Reality Title
Half-Life 2 is definitely considered one of the greatest games of all time but the first installment of Half-Life was no slouch either. Released back in 1998 on PC, it was a huge leap forward for gaming in general. One of the first games to use mouse and keyboard controls which meant you were controlling your aim rather than just pointing the screen in the right direction. This sounds basic but this was one of the first truly 3D environments which meant aiming your cursor on the screen controlled where you shot.
Prior to this, games had been faking 3D, laying out flat maps all on one level with the appearance of depth. Valve helped to change this and made flat maps obsolete. It also brought in-game storytelling. No scrolling text explaining the premise and no souped-up CGI cut scenes anymore, the story evolved as you played through it. The dialogue took place around you and never removed you from your first-person view.
All these ideas seem basic because hundreds of games have followed this formula ever since. Being the first to bring ideas to the forefront and revolutionize the gaming industry at the same time is no mean feat. To say they surpassed themselves again with the release of Hal-Life 2 is an understatement! We’ll get into that shortly.
Half-Life Alyx VR Released
The numbers don’t lie. People specifically bought VR headsets just to play this title and that was prior to its launch and before any Half-Life Alyx reviews came out. This shows the love and good reputation a company like Valve have with their community. It had been nearly 12 years since Valve released any content relating to the Half-life franchise and it became evident that fans of the series were eager for more.
Half-Life 2 for many, is one of the greatest games ever made (myself included). It came out with gameplay evolutions years ahead of the rest of the pack. Taking real physics, player agency, and immersive gameplay-driven storytelling to new heights back in 2004. To say that nothing came close to this first-person shooter back then would be underselling it. Valve’s team had created the newest benchmark that was head and shoulders above anything we had seen before and helped to push the gaming industry forward in the process.
Half-Life 2 had originally been pitched as a three-part story. We got the amazing episode one and episode two and were left waiting for episode three. It never came! By 2020, we had been waiting 12 years for any kind of follow up and even the most hardcore of fans accepted that the franchise was dead. It didn’t help matters that episode 2 had finished on a cliffhanger either. So to say that the gaming community was starved for some Half-Life content would be an understatement.
Why so Long?
As most will already know, Valve more or less stopped making games and content altogether to focus on the Steam gaming platform. Do you know Steam? That tiny gaming platform that nobody has ever heard of! Bar a few card-based games, the company shifted gears and curated titles to release on Steam. To be fair, who could blame them!
Steam is world-renowned at this point and anyone who is into PC gaming most likely owns a Steam account. The largest library of games to choose from in the world, a hugely supportive community of your peers, and some of the best sales and competitive prices you are ever likely to find. All at the convenience of not leaving your seat to purchase. The company’s net worth to date is valued at around $8 billion so it’s clear they have made some good decisions to get to where they are now.
Switching from creating games to hosting games definitely upset most of the half-life fans out there though. General consensus from the community is that Valve peaked with Half-Life 2 and didn’t want to make anything less than perfect as a follow-up. Setting the bar so high as to be unachievable even by its own creators. And I can understand their concerns. Nobody wants to put blood sweat and tears into a new project just to have it not live up to its predecessor.
The idea that the leap they made from Half-Life 1 to Half-Life 2 could be achieved again is unreasonable, to say the least. It’s that need for perfection that most likely prevented Valve from jumping headlong into another sequel. The downside here though is the fact that Gordon Freeman’s tale that didn’t continue is incredibly unfulfilling but the knowledge that we’ve never received a less than perfect installment in the franchise does provide some comfort depending on your own opinion of course.
Half-Life Alyx VR Does Not Disappoint
I believe the release of Half-Life Alyx is another amazing achievement for the company. Here are four reasons why:
- They’ve managed to provide Half-Life fans which much sought-after and long overdue content.
- They’ve steered away from the Morgan Freeman story arc to avoid potentially ruining it or at the very least, failing to live up to expectations.
- They’ve set it in between half-life one and two focusing on Alyx which fits perfectly with the narrative and also brings familiar characters from the franchise to the forefront which expands and enhances the universe.
- Doing all this in VR shows again that Valve is capable of pulling the gaming industry forward as this is by far the greatest VR title on the market to date in my opinion.
Half-Life VR Setting
The environment and the story play a huge role in all games. This title is no exception to that rule. Setting the game in a familiar world with characters we already are familiar with goes a long way to keep the player invested. Alyx Vance is the perfect central character as she was Gordon’s AI companion for Half-Life 2 and was much loved in the series.
She is skilfully voiced by the wonderfully talented Ozioma Akagha. Ozioma adds layers and nuance to the character making her much more believable and grounded in this very fantastical world. The game design is a touch of genius. You are subtly guided where to go and the pace is kept brisk and exciting throughout your playtime. The unseen signposts cleverly tunneling you in particular directions without making you feel trapped is an amazing achievement in game design. Getting to explore that gap in time between the first and second game is a stroke of genius.
The gap in time where Gordan Freeman was in stasis was up until this point a huge blank in the story. It helps expand the universe we all love and gives us a chance to see more of the characters we like and explore their backstories. Wandering through dilapidated apartment blocks or seeing soldiers shuffling citizens along brings you straight back into a world we know so well.
Also, every familiar Half-Life environment you’re used to is created in the highest detail here. You get to walk through a world you’re familiar with but have never fully been immersed in before. Walking through combine facilities and dilapidated neighborhoods has looked or felt so good.
Half-Life Alyx VR Gameplay
Setting the scene is one thing but counts for very little if the gameplay isn’t good. I am happy to say that the gameplay here is excellent. Great lengths have been done by Valve to keep you immersed in this world. Tension is kept high as you start your tale with your Father being kidnapped. The pacing is always kept moving briskly and your rescue mission feels urgent which helps add weight. Valve has always been great storytellers but how do they cope in a 3D virtual world? Well as you might expect, they’ve mastered VR also.
It’s clear they have a great understanding that VR needs to have some physicality to it, and they take every opportunity to force the player to use their arms as much as possible. Shooting, throwing grenades, swinging melee weapons, and solving puzzles all revolve around your inputs and everything feels intuitive. Add to that, solid objects. It may sound like a no-brainer but having almost all objects on the screen with solid mass makes a huge difference. No phasing through things to break immersion.
If you see something you could pick up … guess what … you can probably pick it up! Weight also plays a part. If something is heavy it reacts in a realistic way. If you might need two hands to pick something up….guess what? You will need to use two hands! From swirling liquids in bottles to throwing buckets overhead crabs to writing on whiteboards with markers, the developers have tried to think like a gamer and make interactions feel fluid and natural within the gaming world.
Half-Life Alyx VR Story
I don’t want to give any of the plot points away as I believe it should be experienced first-hand. To keep it ridiculously vague, the story goes places and is always interesting. The official premise outlined by Valve is as follows: Set between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2, Alyx Vance and her father Eli mount an early resistance to the Combine’s brutal occupation of Earth. 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.
As I’ve mentioned above, your Father is taken away by soldiers and you’re thrust into a fast-paced rescue mission to get him back. With a small deliberate car crash and some help from a friend, you’re soon let loose out in the wild with a pistol and a plan! Game length sits at around 15 hours, which is huge for most VR titles.
The story plays a pivotal role in pushing you forward and it’s never dull. You’ll feel compelled to keep going and the dialogue, in particular, should be praised for keeping the player invested well into the early hours of the morning. Great scripts, great voice acting, and a decently compelling story set in the Half-Life universe…what’s not to love!
Modding for Half-Life Alyx
Another feather in Valve’s bow is modding. The developers have kept Half-Life Alyx’s code open source and actively welcome the modding community to create new and exciting additions to the base game. This has exploded as the community support is unparalleled for Half-Life. New gameplay tweaks, weapons, character skins, and even full-level maps are constantly uploaded and freely available to use. The highlight for me has to be the two levels from Goldeneye64 that were lovingly recreated.
Getting to run through the Facility level using VR and updated gameplay mechanics is thrilling and helped bring me on a trip down memory lane. Although I’m not a huge Bioshock fan, the ‘Return to Rapture’ mod also deserves a special mention. The sheer amount of work that must have gone into bringing Rapture to life is mind-blowing.
Newly created assets, fonts, and textures make you feel like the modders have dropped you into a different game. The work and updates on all modded levels are usually ongoing and feedback from gamers is welcomed. The community is huge and the amount of mods available is vast so you are bound to find many mods to your liking that will extend your gameplay and enjoyment of Half-Life indefinitely. Not to be missed!
If you want a more detailed guide on the best mods available, then please check out our article here: 7 Must Have Half Life Alyx Mods incl. Goldeneye 007 VR
Overall Rating – Half Life Alyx Review
Half-Life Alyx currently has a Metacritic score of 93 and a user score of 9.2. As far as VR titles go, this just blows all others out of the water. Often the quality of games on flat-screen and on virtual reality have a gulf of difference. Allowances are often made for VR games as it’s all relatively new. But one point that I want you to take from this review is that Half-Life Alyx is one of the best games periods! Not just the best VR game on the market but one of the best games anyone can play today.
It excels in in-game immersion and storytelling while never compromising on gameplay. There is more that needs to be said though. Half-Life Alyx is not just a brilliant VR title, it is flat out a brilliant game. Does it deserve to be lauded as a must-have title? Yes, in every sense of the word … yes!
I bought a Nintendo64 when I first got to play Mario64. I bought a Playstation2 for GTA Vice City. I bought a PS4 for The Witcher3. Half-Life Alyx is the reason why you should buy a virtual reality headset if you don’t already own one. Once again, Valve has set the benchmark and will no doubt pull the VR industry forward. I look forward to seeing how far things can go.
So get your crowbar ready, it’s time to take on the Combine once more!
No other virtual reality experience comes close to Half-Life Alyx. The game was released back in 2020 and it still has not been surpassed. It’s likely it will be a long time before another developer can beat Valve in the game developing department. You owe it to yourself to play this game … what are you waiting for?