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Half Life Alyx – Review

Half Life:Alyx is an immersive single-player narrative experience that looks, feels, and plays exactly like what you would expect from a Half-Life game. From the gunfights, interactable objects, physics engine, brilliant storytelling, memorable characters, to the immersive environments/levels. This game has got it.

Pros:

  • The best VR Game
  • Looks great
  • Fells like Half Life
  • Incredibly detailed

Cons:

  • No melee combat

Score – 9.5/10

We’re back to City 17. A very familiar place for Half-Life fans, seeing it in VR with Valve’s modern engine and masterful graphics is jaw-dropping. The city is more detailed than ever; more stuff to pick up, and more objects to interact around. Despite that, it still feels a lot like the city we’ve played in more than a decade ago.

Unlike most VR games, Half-Life: Alyx does not try hard to make itself too realistic when it comes to VR interactions with the environment, especially with the inventory system. Having said that, there is no HUD. Everything is displayed on Alyx’s gloves and weapons instead.

You don’t have to get every weapon/item from all around your body, instead they’ll mostly come from a few conveniently well-made simple hand gestures and additional slots for each of your wrists. Ammunitions for reloading that you get from over your shoulder are automatically selected based on the weapon you’re holding. Valve really found the right balance of realism and mechanics here and I love their take on it. Everything feels natural.

As with your interactions with the environment, it is insanely detailed. It’s like another level of detail comparable from the jump in detail from 3rd person to 1st person. Now this is 1st person going to VR. Everything seems kind of personal and big. NPC’s are big and detailed, just as big or bigger than me. Objects seem like real objects. Enemies feel really threatening.

Almost everything can be picked up. Jars, bottles, glasses, crates, boxes, can be broken. TVs thrown around. Cabinets, drawers, opened. You might even find yourself an ammo or two inside these containers. They also solve the VR item pickup conundrum by the use of Alyx’s gravity hands. It’s no gravity gun from HL2; Much, much weaker, only enough for you to fling almost any small object for you to catch it. No need to walk over an item and crouch down to pick it up.

Continuing the trend of balancing realism vs mechanics, the combat is very well done. You can really feel the weight of the guns as well as their power when shooting. Aiming is accurate and the rumble feedback to my controllers are just right. The reload system they’ve implemented is smooth and reliable. Consistent and repeatable.

You can also upgrade your guns through the use of ‘resins’ which are scattered and collected throughout the game. Upgrades like reflex sight (which I hated), and extended magazines are available. I wished they included an option to remove the sights though once I upgraded it as personally I was more comfortable using the iron sight.

The enemies, ranging from the mindless zombies, headcrabs, to the combine forces are all back and have been improved upon. Zombies and headcrabs are more unpredictable this time, making them harder to hit. Combine forces can now survive more gunshots, some can deploy shields, and can even deploy Manhacks of their own.

With it’s reputable physics engine and VR implementation, Valve missed a huge opportunity with the non-existent melee combat. Nothing can be used for melee: Pipes, bars, concrete blocks, barrels, even guns cannot be used for melee. Melee combat is basically null in this game.

You cannot even take advantage of the physics engine to kill off people like throwing stuff at or dropping things on them. For a game that has the crowbar as a series staple, the gravity gun as another, this game has none of any of that.

The story is well written and engaging. It fleshes out Eli and Alyx’s stories even more. It gives you an idea of what their order of business was like before Gordon Freeman came along. Playing Alyx is somewhat a nice change of pace from playing Gordon Freeman again, it retracts that subconscious idea that your character is a total badass and can single-handedly destroy the enemy. A feeling that we have when playing badass FPS characters like Gordon, Masterchief, Doom Guy, etc. It makes for a game that has a character that seem normal, average, “not the chosen one”, and haven’t proven herself yet. That Half-Life vibe is still there though, especially the humor, bleakness, and mysterious nature.

And it’s not just a side-story or a spin-off; other games are referenced in a much more direct and substantial way. To simply explain without spoilers, you definitely need to have played this or at least watched online before you play any future Half-Life games set after Episode 2.

Personally I used the full locomotion option as I am playing wirelessly. The FPS-like free movement is handled perfectly. I’ve encountered no dizziness whatsoever. As opposed to other VR games where I’m dizzy 15 minutes in, this one I can play for hours. I think it has something to do with the movement speed which is just perfect for me although some may say it’s a bit slow.

The level design is perfect for a VR game. Maps are big and spacious, there’s plenty of room to move around and explore while still preserving that linear map design. You will most certainly find yourself to the next area and you won’t get lost all the time trying to find the next corridor or door to open.

Unfortunately for a VR game, loading screens are still a thing, as the classic Half-Life in-between level loading screens are back. Although they are much more bearable now with a holographic city-map view of your progression ala-Metro 2033 instead of just dull frozen moments with a “Loading” text at the center.

There are different types of puzzles in the game. One example are the level puzzles where you need to use physics or interactables; maybe you need to stack some crates, activate some levers, press some buttons, or provide power to some contraption. The transition from pressing a button to VR made all the difference. There are also the various mini-game hacking puzzles that are pretty entertaining. Puzzles are not too hard but will still give you a challenge. Some are straightforward, some might require a bit of critical thinking to solve. They get harder and harder as you progress through.

And of course it isn’t Half-Life without a bit of horror and creepiness. Especially in one part, which is my favorite to say the least. I would say this is where I got the most immersion out of HL: Alyx and one of the strongest points. Truly one of the most horror experiences I had with a video game. This one part terrified me to the point that I was jumping around while playing! And they weren’t using jump scares or any cheap tactic. You’ll definitely know it when you see it.

The game runs smoothly even with the resolution set to 120% on my rig: i7-8700k, 32GB RAM, and GTX 1080. No crashes, game-breaking bugs, or major glitches I’ve encountered. Using an Oculus Quest with ALVR, I was able to play wirelessly and experience free stick movement scheme to its fullest.

While Half-Life: Alyx does not directly continue the series (as obvious the title), It signifies Valve’s return to form when it comes to making single-player games, and they certainly deliver. If this is just Valve’s toes in the water into the Half-Life making business again, then I’m excited for what’s to come.

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