9.5 / 10

5 minutes


  • Buy? Buy
  • Worth buying a VR headset for? Yes
  • What if you aren’t interested in VR? Buy a used headset, play Alyx, resell headset
  • Half-Life: Alyx = VR Breath of the Wild

You know what the biggest problem with Half-Life: Alyx is?

It’s predictable.

Like, you KNOW when you’re about to enter a huge shootout, when you’re going to get assaulted by zombies playing dead and when there’s going to be a headcrab around the corner gunning for your face.

You know what else?

Half-Life: Alyx is the best goddamn experience that you’ll find in VR.

I think of Alyx as virtual reality’s Breath of the Wild, the once-in-a-generation game that the platform desperately needs to succeed. Compared to others in its genre, it might seem a little basic (only three guns?!) but it does everything – immersion, level design, and gunplay to name a few – absurdly well.

This is the game that will sell you on VR.

Buy It

Alyx needs VR just as much as VR needs Alyx.

On the fence about the game? Buy it. On the fence about getting a VR headset? Buy it. On the fence about dropping $ [Valve Index kit cost: $999 shipped] on the VR ecosystem? Buy it, play Alyx, resell it.

Here’s what you should NOT do: waste your time playing a non-VR mod of the game. Alyx needs VR just as much as VR needs Alyx.

The end. Read on if you want to hear more about the game and story. Minor spoilers coming your way.

Alyx starts off fairly safe, with you strolling around your (not) fancy apartment in what looks like somewhere in Eastern Europe. Here is where most people notice that you can pick up the markers and draw stuff on the glass window, or spin the dial on the radio to get a working radio station. In all honesty, these are superficial gimmicks as most of the objects in the game don’t have this level of interaction. But I’d also expect mods (or even Valve, who added a fluid shader to alcohol bottles in the last patch) to add more interesting items in the future.

The first twenty minutes or so are used as an in-game tutorial, where you get your pair of gravity gloves, a gun and some ammo. (Minus one bullet, dammit Russell!). There’s also a fun scene where a Combine soldier tells you to put your hands up, and it feels so real that your natural tendency is probably to do so.

Considering how much stuff you’ll be gripping and grabbing the entire game, I should probably mention a bit more about the gloves. They’re pretty easy-to-use – just aim a hand at an item, press the trigger when you see it highlighted and pull it towards you. Grip the controller to actually grab the item.

You can also grab things normally by gripping your hand in room space.

Once you board the train, your real adventure starts.

I Once Saw Him Kill Three Men in a Bar…With a Focking Shotgun-Grenade-Launcher

I gotta admit, 90% of the fun for me in Alyx is feeling like a regular John Wick and going around blasting everything in sight.

You use the capacitive button to take out guns and press the trigger to shoot them – easy enough, right? But the game forces you to reload each gun manually. For the pistol, this involves pressing the thumb button to release a magazine, grabbing ammo from your backpack with an exaggerated over-the-shoulder grip gesture, putting the magazine into the gun and finally racking the slide. The whole process feels…visceral.

There are, incidentally, only three guns at your disposal – the pistol, shotgun, and SMG – but you can upgrade them at Combine fabricators. For the most part, the mods aren’t anything too crazy – we’re talking laser sights, extended magazines, burst fire – with one exception: a Shotgun upgrade that turns it into a literal grenade launcher (and best of all, it gives you another grenade item slot!). Needless to say, the grenade launcher upgrade costs a crap ton of resin (you find this stuff everywhere) and is basically required after a certain point. I’d recommend it as your second upgrade – the extended magazine for the pistol (or the laser sight if you’re having difficulty aiming) should probably be your first one.

Since movement is so screwy in VR, don’t expect a lot of running-and-gunning. Or any, for that matter. Shootouts in Alyx generally turn into – get cover – wait for bad guy to stop shooting – shoot bad guy – repeat. The enemy AI is bit strange as initially they’ll attempt to swarm you, move behind cover, etc (the good) but once they’re down to one or two guys left, they just kind of…sit there and turtle.

There’s not much else to say about gunfights other than they’re fun as hell.

The Story [+ small spoilers]

As you might have expected from the title, the Half-Life series has never been a huge interest of mine. [It’s my personal failing as a lifelong gamer.] I’ve gotten as far as halfway through Half-Life 2 (NOT Episode 2), and even that progress has taken me the better part of three years. So take my thoughts on the story with a big grain of salt.

You spend about a third of the game rescuing your dad, and the rest of it trying to get into a place called The Vault. Yeah, you have to take a very roundabout way to get there, but aside from a bunch of minor diversions there isn’t much else going on in terms of story beats. And the only real bit that matters is the end.

And without spoiling anything, the ending’s final scene is one that – to me – symbolically hands off the Half-Life “torch” to VR while answering the calls that yes, there WILL be a Half-Life Episode 3.

Assuming I’m reading this one correctly, (and also assuming that Valve doesn’t want to piss off the gaming community by making the next game VR-only), I’d expect Valve to release Half-Life Episode 3 with full support for both VR and non-VR.

See you in ten years, eh?

Half-Life: Alyx is available on Steam for $59.99, or as a free download for Valve Index purchasers.

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