Half-Life: Alyx Review Checked Every VR Headset


6 min read

Half-Life: Alyx has been coming for a long time. As a fan since 1998 of the Half-Life story, today is a day I felt would never happen. Half-Life: Alyx ($60 on Steam) adds to the franchise a new chapter, and to enjoy it, you'll want to grab your best VR headset. It's all in VR this time, which is a brilliant match for a series known for pushing the boundaries of game technology.



Half-Life: Alyx takes full advantage of emerging developments once again. For nearly a decade, Valve has actively involved in the VR's development industry and is finally prepared to drive that emerging medium to new heights. Last year, it launched the Valve Index VR headset, and the company promised a flagship game with it, which it subsequently revealed to be Half-Life Alyx.


In game production, the Half-Life series has always pushed the needle forward. The first instalment has recognized as one of the best video games of all time, and how first-person shooter (FPS) games made has profoundly changed.


Valve's Source engine was introduced by Half-Life 2, which became the base of several games, some of which are still played today. The Source foisted new graphics, animation, AI, physics, audio and narration innovations upon the industry that are still used today. Half-Life 2: Episode One brought new lighting features and new facial animation techniques and was the first game that Valve distributed directly via its now ubiquitous Steam network.



Supporting Controller

Half-Life: Alyx: In order to help animate the in-game fingers, Alyx uses some hardware features of the Index controllers, such as cap sense capabilities. However, by going with distinct controller inputs, you don't miss out on something practical. Even the original controllers from Vive work well.


Interactions caused automatic animations, including pressing the microphone button. Your middle, ring and pinky finger will curl in and leave your index finger out to push the button every time you bring your hand close to a button. The interaction is so normal that at first I didn't even know it was automatic.


The button mapping of each type of controller varies slightly, however, considering the drastic variations in the layouts of different controllers, Valve did its best to remain consistent. The trigger button deals with menus and weapons for the Index controllers, the thum bstick used for movement (more on that later) and the B button brings up the pause screen for the game. You must squeeze the grip to pick up objects.


Both Oculus Touch controller models have the same mapping button as the Index controllers. Shift the thumbstick, the Y button (in the same spot as the left B on the index controller) and the catch grip button.


There are not as many buttons on HTC's Vive controllers, so Valve had to improvise somewhat. The grip button brings up the pause menu on these controllers; the trigger button in this setup doubles as the grab button.


Alyx also provided half-Life: Alyx: The HTC Vive Cosmos controllers, but support for those controllers was not ready in time for us to test them to learn how to map the buttons. The launch-day construction of the game requires Cosmos controller profiles, we were told.



Locomotion Options

Half-Life: Alyx:  also supports several locomotion methods, besides supporting a wide range of controlled inputs. In seated, standing or room-scale configurations, you can play the game, and each supports blink (teleport that can rotate), shift (teleport without rotation), continuous (standard thumb stick motion) and continuous hand, which uses the thumb stick to speed up and the direction of your hand location.


Valve's got your back no matter your favorite movement strategy in VR games. I noticed that a standing setup with Blink enabled was the best configuration for doing short benchmarks. The seated position, however, allowed me to play for a session that was much longer. It might be better to settle into your favorite chair for a game with 15 hours or storyline before diving deep into the plot.


I wanted to enjoy locomotion continuously, but I noticed that the movement was a little too slow. I felt like I was traveling at a laggard speed around the universe. Blink's locomotion felt easy and helped you get away much faster from enemies.



Welcome to Town17

In Half-Life: Alyx, the moment the game loaded, the level of detail took aback me. Virtual reality games have always been interactive, trustworthy experiences, but this is entirely at a new level. Before getting into Half-Life: Alyx, I never felt like I was standing in a living world in a VR game. There is completely staggering attention to detail here.


As the game starts, the first thing you see is the towering Citadel, rising high over what appears to be a European neighborhood. The specifics of the balcony I was standing on instantly captured my attention, and I spent the first minute or two, slack-jawed, just taking in the sights.


I made my way up the staircase beside me when I eventually snapped out of it, only to find more unbelievable information to distract my development. I saw a radio in front of an array of screens. I reached out to Eli Vance with my finger and moved the button down to find myself face to face.


As incredible as it was to have a video chat with someone from my gaming past, to catch my attention, I soon found a new diversion. I found a diagram scribbled on the glass of the dry-erase marker next to the video chat console. I saw a pile of markers and an eraser then, and I couldn't help but wonder if I could use them. To my utter glee, they succeeded! I might scribble through a window and delete what was in it.


I learned about Half-Life at that moment: Alyx is a VR game like no other. Something have pushed away me several times from the core game to rest and take in the landscape. Half-Life: For someone who likes to explore and loves when developers pay attention to the minute details that do not explicitly affect the gameplay, but help make the world feel like an actual location, Alyx will be a treat.



Physics-Based All

To anyone familiar with Half-Life, it should come as no surprise that the world and artifacts in Half-Life Alyx are physics-based properties. Your virtual hands latch on to it when you reach out to grab an object. It bounces off the walls when you throw a brick (yes, you can pick up bricks), and tumbles around the concrete.


Physics-based objects are also enemies and corpses, meaning that dead enemies will get in your way. When you need to, you can catch them and move them, and when you do, you can find that the corpses appear to have weight on them. Of course, you can't feel the weight on your arms, but by the way it reacts to picking it up, you can tell when an object is substantial.


Physics-based objects are also collectible items, such as ammunition, weapons and health rewards. On shelves and in offices, you can find supply crates that you have to break, like all Half-Life games, to access their content.


In order to succeed in this game, you will also need to hone your scavenging skills. You won't find ammunition stockpiles. A pair of shotgun shells or a single pistol clip would be more likely to find you than a crate full of ammunition. Make sure you keep your eyes open and check each shelf, box, and every desk inside. And you'll want to keep your eyes open for resin pucks when you're looking for ammunition, the game's currency that allows you to upgrade your weapon as you advance through the game. You'll stumble on a weapon upgrade machine from time to time. These are few, so be diligent in your search for resin, or when you need it, you can find yourself short of money.



Gloves Grabity

The key tool you're going to use in Half-Life: Alyx is a prototype system named the Russels, but grabity gloves would be a more fitting name. Like Half-Life 2's gravity pistol, the grab gloves allow you to pick stuff up from a distance. The gravity gun works with all kinds of heavy things, while the gravity gloves does not make you stronger; they only give you a sort of force catch.


If you see an object that you can pick up, such as an ammunition clip or a syringe, you can lock it from a distance and drag the item toward you with the flick of your wrist. It's almost like using an unseen fishing line to yank stuff towards you. The gloves also assisted minor upgrades, including a flashlight attachment.


Alyx holds a gadget she calls a multi-tool, too. This contraption enables you to hack into combined equipment, such as pods for upgrading weapons. In order to disable electric fences and open secured doors, it also helps you to hack into the electric grid.


In Half-Life, the Inventory System: Alyx is interesting and creative. In a backpack, ammunition and resin are stored. Just reach over your shoulder to stash a clip or a resin fragment, and drop the object. Reach into the bag over your shoulder to retrieve a clip and grab one.


They also included two wrist pouches that allow you to stash health syringes and cartridges for the charging stations in your grab gloves. One object can hold each wrist.


Guns have an unorthodox method of storage. A virtual menu pops up when you depress the touchpad, showing your stored weapons, multi-tool and an empty palm. To switch between weapons easily, move your hand to what you want and then release the track pad button.


Alyx holds a gadget she calls a multi-tool, too. This contraption enables you to hack into combined equipment, such as pods for upgrading weapons. In order to disable electric fences and open secured doors, it also helps you to hack into the electric grid.


In Half-Life, the Inventory System: Alyx is interesting and creative. In a backpack, ammunition and resin are stored. Just reach over your shoulder to stash a clip or a resin fragment, and drop the object. Reach into the bag over your shoulder to retrieve a clip and grab one.


They also included two wrist pouches that allow you to stash health syringes and cartridges for the charging stations in your grab gloves. One object can hold each wrist.


Guns have a unique method of storage. A virtual menu pops up when you depress the touchpad, showing your stored weapons, multi-tool and an empty palm. To switch between weapons easily, move your hand to what you want and then release the track pad button.


A what? Oh, no Crowbar?

As a melee weapon, the Half-Life series has always included a crowbar, but as far as I can tell, Alyx does not hold one. Gunplay is all about this game.


A simple handgun is the first gun that you get. It does the job, but it's no unique thing. It becomes much better for taking out head crabs and zombies as you upgrade the weapon. The first improvement is a reflex sight that makes keeping your target precise much easier.


A strange combination between a pistol and a shotgun is the next gun you can find. In order to open the chamber where you load your shells, the barrel cracks forward. I accepted only two rounds by the chamber which makes combat with over two zombies very difficult, particularly because reloading is not just a matter of hitting a single button like it used to be. Now, to release the clip or open the barrel, you need to press a button, reach behind your back to grab some ammunition from your pocket, and then put it in your gun. You must then press a button to chamber a bullet with the handgun. You must pull a slide down the barrel of the shotgun to get the weapon primed.


It can be an intense experience to do all of that in the heat of an encounter with a pack of head crabs or a cluster of zombies running at you. Which is what brings me to my next point:


This is a Scary Game!


Half-Life: Alyx is not like the other games in Half-Life. It has always included aliens and zombies in this series, but I don't believe anyone would put Half-Life on a list of scary games. For Half-Life, that is not the case: Alyx.


Visiting the world of Gordan Freeman through the portal of a computer screen is one thing. Having a headcrab lunge at you and hold on to your face is an entirely unique experience. And it is very disturbing to navigate a dark corridor with alien overgrowth on the walls with nothing but the light of a flashlight.


The first time a barnacle grabbed me and started dragging me up to eat me for lunch, don't even get me started on how much I panicked. When you learn the importance of always having ammunition in your arsenal, it is moments like this.


Priority was accessibility

I recently talked to the two developers at Valve, Jason Mitchell and Chris Remo, who worked on the Half-Life ALiX Project. They told me that during the development of the game, usability, including allowing for different controllers and locomotion options (see dedicated sections above), was always a priority. Valve attempted to encourage as many people to play the game as possible by supporting all VR platforms, despite having the game only a VR title.


Valve could have designed Half-Life Alex To require the company's Index controllers' advanced features, but it concentrated on designing mechanics that would work on any VR controller. The development team had been using a mixture of Oculus, HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality (MR) devices from day one, according to Mitchell, to ensure every interaction on each platform will function well. Until Index hardware was available to the team for experimentation, the game was in progress for quite a while.


Besides accommodating a wide variety of inputs and locomotion options for controllers. For individuals with restricted ambulatory capacity, Valve also designed control options. You can allow inputs for standing and crouching, which are useful for people who can not stand while playing (or prefer to sit).



Valve also created a single-handed mode to make the game available to those who don't have full use of both their hands. Use blink or change locomotion in the single-handed mode. You're not having the continuous movement options.