Overall 8.80
Few franchises have entered a status where a sequel is like a mythical figure that will never release. Half-Life has built an entire cult around the idea that the long awaited HL3 will come
one day, that Lord Gaben will grace us with another genre defining game. Years and years went by and Valve got fat, focusing on steam rather than being the great developer they started off as. But little did we know that four years ago they began to work on the next installment of Half-Life, exclusively for VR, a sort of spin off starring THE Alyx Vance. VR has become the most exciting sector of gaming, still in its infancy it desperately needs that killer app, the oneeveryone can point to and say "that cant be done on a regular screen." Half-Life Alyx manages to be the most polished VR game I have ever played, it feels every bit as lengthy as any full fledged Half-Life game. The controls as good as they can be on VR at the moment. But it does not move VR forward in any meaningful way, its culmination of what could be considered the first generation of VR games.

Alyx is a scaled down version of Half-life, focusing more on cramped spaces and intimate encounters with enemies. The majority of the game has you exploring dark sewers, dilapidated
buildings and abandoned factories as you try to rescue your father years before HL2 (which means you know you succced). Your hands are your tools, you have complete freedom to
interact with practically every object in the game world. The opening segment has markers on a window sill which you can pick up to draw and erase to your hearts content. Larger objects like
big red barrels require two hands to lift which is something I dont recall seeing in any other VR
game. The physics on display are extremely impresive as everything behaves as it should, entire shelves of bottles could come down and shatter realistically. Alyx gets a prototype of the gravity gun called the gravity gloves which lets you "use the force" and reach out and summon objects to your hands. All it takes is a quick flick of the wrist and the objects fling themselves toward you as you try to catch it when it comes close. Many VR games have some form of force pull simply because the act of bending down to pick up objects is tiresome, but never has a game made it feel so responsive. Plus the game designs little puzzles using the gloves around trying to summon an object around a barnacle for instance.

No crowbar for Alyx, in fact there are no melee weapons at all as Valve couldn't find a way to have it react to their standards. This means no objects in the game world could be used as an
impromtu weapon which is a huge shame. All this interactity and the most basic of instincts to use objects as a weapon does not work. Your arsenal comes in three guns, a handgun, a
shotgun and a rifle; thats it, when I said it was a much scaled down version of HL this is part of it. I assume they did this so that everything could be easily accessable with a few hand
movements. Switching guns is as simple as holding a button and flicking your wrist in one of four directions and the weapon magically appears in your hand. Aiming is done as you would
normally aim in real life; if you have not played VR I recommend you do so as gun play is so immersive. These are some of the best feeling virtual weapons I have ever used. There are deeper gun sims out there but they are boarderline annoying in their realism, this game strikes the perfect balance between functionality and realism.

Reloading becomes the main mechanic which sets this games combat apart from other HL games. Ammo does not magically stay in your gun if you reload mid clip, when you empty a mag any left over ammo is gone with the mag so you are incentivized to empty a mag which leads to really tense moments where you hear that click and oh shit this monster is in front of my face. No quick magical way to reload here, you must reach over your shoulder into your virtual backpack and pull out a new mag, slap it into the bottom of your gun and press the button to arm it. Shotguns are even more complicated requiring the gun to open, you to move ammo
from the backpack to the open slots on the top, swing it up to lock the shot gun in place then cock it. All these guns may be upgraded as you play by finding resin, which is the only
collectable outside of ammo and health that you find in the game world. Upgrades give you laser sights and great reloading enhancements that allow you load way more ammo quicker.

Combat in VR is a physical activity that can't be replicated with a controller. What may seem mundane on a normal flat TV can become extremely intense and satifying in VR. For instance
most of the combat encounters in this game would feel extremely simplistic and boring if it was a non VR game. Most of the combat encounters involve three or four enemies who have slow attack patterns and dumbed down AI. In a normal game you would just point your aim cursor over an enemy and hold a button down and the thing will die as you strafe around like a madman not worrying about ammo as reloading is an auto action and throwing grenades is a magical press of another button. Three slow moving enemies would be no challenge at all, it would be an inconsequential moment in the game. But in VR, three enemies are right in your face, you move far slower and some cover requires you to literally duck and cover. Aiming is a physical action as you need to bring the gun up to your face to aim well then duck down again as bullets fly over your head. Running out of ammo at the wrong time brings about panic as you reach for that new mag, if you aren't careful that full mag will fall to the floor as you missed the connection with the gun, now you need to pick it up as enemies close on you. You throw grenades yourself and if you have bad aim or strength you will simply miss your target. One
battle had a heavy in a room with windows, I had to get on my knees to be below the windows,reach the door and slightly open it, then tossed a grenade through the opening and closed the
door again as it exploded and the glass shattered around me. The game barrier is gone, it is YOU performing all these actions and that alone cannot be replicated with a normal controller.

Valves expert level design comes into play as you dive into unique combat and environmental situations that make use of these controls in interesting ways. It starts off simple, very very
slowly introducing concepts and enemies as to ease the player into this style of play. You will learn to search cabinets and look all around for ammo and resin. You will pick up red explosive canisters and throw them at zombies to create a makeshift grenade. You will learn to avoid barnacles or put on a hat so if they do grab you they get the hat instead. As the game goes on there are some really memorable areas like the first time Alyx gets the flash light which is attached to your left wrist. Finally this dark room could be inspected and as you turn around
there is the dark outline of super headcrabs coming down the walls, you shine the light up and see you are being overrun! If you reach down to get ammo the light goes down with your hand,
leading to more panic in an already tense situation. Another favorite room of mine was a room filled with explosive barrels so any stray shot results in an instant kill. The room is of course
filled with barnacles and zombie headcrabs just begging to be shot.

New weapons and introduced every hour or so, as are enemies. That said prepare for a far slower game than the normal Half-Life, it took me about three hours to reach the first gun fight
against combine soldiers which is where the combat truly shines. Running and gunning is a horrible idea because Alyx has no HEV suits, a few shots and she is dead. So cover is your best
friend, if you find waist high cover guess what, down on the floor you go to physically get behind cover. Gunfire realistically shatters car windows, car doors can be used as makeshift cover but sadly that’s about it for impromptu defense. Most areas have clear cover spots where you hide and pop out of cover to take a few shots.

There are regular combine soldiers and heavies; heavies will do the slow lumber walk toward you with a chain gun thing seen in every game, while the regular grunts try to flank you. They
will throw grenades which you can catch and throw back. If you stay behind cover to long they will launch a super annoying flying blade drone, trust me without the crowbar these things are
annoying to fight, better to shotgun blast them dead. The best moments come when you survive a gun fight by the skin of your teeth, that final bullet taking down the enemy is such a
sigh of relief. Toward the end of the game most battle's scale increases. Rooms with multiple types of enemies are more common, for instance antlions attacking while combine snipe you
from above was one of the more intense battles.

Problem is there isn’t much outside just clever gun battles. The bombastic setpieces of HL2 are practically all gone. Giant outdoor battlefields with helicopters and striders not present. No vehicle sections, no rocket launchers, no clever use of enemies like the ant lion control ball. This game is basically a series of rooms and some hallways with a few areas as large as a hotel courtyard. Enemy AI has been toned down a ton, every enemy is much slower than in HL especially headcrabs which give you about a full 4 seconds of charge up time before an attack.
Combine do the most basic of attack patterns and only come in groups of five at most. Say you remove all that makes this game great in VR, take the enemy encounters and have them play
out with a normal control scheme; this game would be a poor action game. It’s the fact that you are living the actions that makes the more simple combat scenarios still work but it is a damn shame that we are clearly not getting the full adrenaline rush Half-life experience.

I can excuse the scaled down combat experience which leads to a more comfortable VR experience but I cannot for the life of me explain why physics puzzles were practically all
removed and replaced with the most mundane hacking minigames. Every time there is a supply locker, an upgrade station, or laser trip mines to disable you have to play a hologram mini game
where you move objects in a 3D space. There are 3 types of hologram puzzles depending on what device is being activate. It is a neat VR puzzle the first few times but not the 30th. So here
is a game with 1:1 physics interaction with loads of in game objects and instead of making a game full of physics puzzles, like HL2, we get extremely limited use of anything outside just
searching for items. HL2 had so many uses for the physics, players could invent entire strategies and solutions using the gravity gun. Alyx allows almost none of that. What’s crazy is that any time you need to interact with an object in the middle of a fire fight it creates such great tense moments, so why not build the entire game around moments like that.

There is one hacking mini game where you must follow wires, which are highlighted by your hand tool, through a wall and have to physically follow these wires around objects and through
rooms, changing the direction of wire junctions to get the power to where you need it to go. This is used in some really clever ways as those wires can go through trap filled rooms. The
problem is it’s still structured as “the wire mini game”, it’s not subtle, and it’s always going to be the same actions. There is so much more potential for a deeper more interactive game, it’s like they didn’t want to overwhelm the player so they held back.

I don’t want to sound too negative, there are moments of absolute brilliance on display, none more so than chapter 7. For one hour HL Alyx becomes the perfect example of how traditional
gaming can not replicate this impressive display of VR gameplay. It makes use of every action exclusive to VR, a perfectly executed gameplay sequence that to me will go down as one of the
best moments of this entire generation. I know the majority of you will never play this game so I will describe the chapter, SPOILER ALERT, skip the next paragraph if you do plan on playing this.

The chapter is named Jeff, named after a hideous monster (no not Jeff G) that is blind but can hear anything. This monster will chase you from room to room through an abandoned wine
distillery.. and what is a distillery filled with, GLASS BOTTLES! Bottles EVERYWHERE! On the floor, on shelves, in cabinets, in boxes, practically everything you can interact with has bottles
just waiting to fall and shatter signaling Jeff to come eat you. So for an hour Valve creates a level where they keep raising the stakes and putting you in worse and worse situations where
you have no choice but to be as careful as you can with every hand movement, every step you physically take. They get progressively more evil, forcing you to open cabinets to find fuses only to open a locker and a ton of glass bottles start to fall out. I did the thing where you lean against the door and put a hand at the crack opening to try to shut it before anything falls out. My favorite gag is when an asshole headcrab starts to knock down bottles from above and you need to catch them before they hit the ground. When I first saw the headcrab (which I cant
shoot because it would make Jeff come) I was like "no you don't you asshole!", it subtly acknowledges your presence and without any way to express emotion I knew it was going to purposefully drop those bottles just to piss me off. I sprint over and barely catch the first one, snatch the second one from the air but now I am out of hands and it drops an entire crate of them so off I run as Jeff comes searching. Deeper into the chapter there are areas with poison gas that if you breathe in you start to cough, so to stop this you have to put a hand to your face! So now you have one hand free, one covering your face, in complete darkness with just a flashlight and Jeff stalking the area; and objects just waiting to fall all over! Oh and to get the bonus ammo and resin is an extra layer of stress, they purposefully put them behind so many bottles and junk that it feels like a game of Operation as you carefully remove them to reach your prize. The entire sequence is pure genius, the way it forces you to overcome every fear you have and maintain enough calmness to not make one bad move is the kind of level design that I wanted from the entire game.

The final hours are generally exciting with far bigger combat areas and crazy setpieces that I expected for a HL game. It shows that Valve definitely still has the chops to make masterpieces
but clearly they were simply dipping their proverbial toe in the VR water. For fans of the story the final moments are as mind blowing and hype inducing as any ending I have ever seen in a
game. I finished the game thinking the overall adventure wasn’t as good as HL2 and yet I didn’t want to leave. VR sticks with you in a way a flat screen does not, I was THERE. Sadly there is
nothing else to do with Alyx after the 12 or so hour adventure. I played on hard so no other difficulty to try. No bonus modes. It’s totally linear with almost no experimentation allowed.
Hopefully mods will add in some battle mode which I would love to experiment with because the gunplay is so damn great.

In terms of performance I was playing on the most minimum of specs on the lowest settings and still this was the most beautiful VR game I have played. I cannot imagine what this looks like with a high end PC. I had no crashes or glitches, none of the usual VR jank even with my limited front facing cameras. It’s very impressive that Valve made such a high end VR game that works on every device, on lower end PCs, and across different hand controllers so damn well. There is a new voice cast for these characters and they all do well but I do miss the old Alyx and Eli. Eli is obviously not replaceable, with Robert Guillaume passing away. Still all the clever Valve writing is there. The score has the usual techno action music HL is known for, when it picks up oh man is it a shot of adrenaline as you go into action mode.

In summary (since I wrote a whole lot and can write even more) this is the best full length adventure game I have played on VR. It excels at immersion has excellent controls that make
every action feel natural and work to create interesting gameplay situations based around those controls. Alyx though feels like a lesser Half-Life experience with less variety in situations and
environments, poorer AI, easier enemies, less weapons and a slower pace. Being in VR allows for all those shortcomings to be ignored as every action and room is enhanced by you being
there and you in total control. Half-Life Alyx is not the VR revolution Half-Life was for first person shooters but it is the culmination of what I would consider to be the first generation of VR games. A great first effort with the hinting of the incredible experiences to come.
Posted by Dvader Thu, 09 Apr 2020 19:33:18
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