Half-Life: Alyx review round-up: A watershed moment for VR

Shawn Knight

Posts: 12,589   +124
Staff member

Here’s a quick look at what some those with early access to the game have discovered thus far.

Valve doesn’t throw you to the wolves out of the gate as Ben Kuchera with Polygon recounts:

The first hours of Half-Life: Alyx are dedicated to slowly introducing you to how things are going to work in VR. You have time to look around, and I spent too much time in an early room cleaning off a window so I could write on it with a dry-erase marker. Valve didn’t skimp on the movement options, so if you want to teleport, or move freely, or use a transition animation that meets in the middle, you can.

You’re going to want to spend some time experimenting with all the gameplay and graphical options to make sure the experience is comfortable, as no two people react to VR in exactly the same way.

That said, you may want to bring a change of pants once you venture into the world as Patrick Klepek with Vice details:

One thing I want to stop and emphasize: this is, more than anything, a horror game. There are moments in the sun, there are times when you fight humanoid Combine enemies, but the vast majority is Alyx is spent combating and avoiding unknown horrors. It’s the most high-profile horror game since Resident Evil 7, a game I adored, but I don’t know that Valve has properly informed the public for how far they lean into this! Alyx feels like a bunch of Ravenholm fanboys got together and wondered what it’s like to make a full game out of it.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to take everything seriously as Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson notes:

Want to defiantly flip off a Strider? Go for it. Want to pick up a zombie corpse and slap its face around like it’s the third (and worst) Stooge? Sure, knock yourself out. Want to try to do the same thing to a headcrab, only for it to leap out of your hands and onto your face? It’s your funeral. That’s what makes it special. You can be silly. You can be expressive and dramatic. You can pick up every last object you find in the game world, gently examine it, and then hurl it into an abyss. You can embody Alyx however you choose.

IGN’s Dan Stapleton was quick to pick up on the level of detail that Valve has baked into the game:

One of the first things that struck me when I started playing Half-Life: Alyx was the dirt under Alyx Vance’s fingernails. It’s a simple thing, but it’s not often that you see that level of fine detail in a VR game. Usually, virtual hands are either low-detail ghostly apparitions or gloved. This grit also tells us something about this character, a scrappy survivor raised in the aftermath of the Seven-Hour War in which the alien Combine conquered Earth, and it quickly establishes that she isn’t as buttoned-down as that MIT-educated nerd Dr. Gordon Freeman.

CNET’s Scott Stein with a very timely open to his review:

It's strange to escape a world that seems increasingly dystopian for a world that is... more dystopian. As the kids run around screaming and I worry about food supplies and New Jersey now has a curfew, I creep upstairs and head to my home holodeck that I've assembled: small sensor cubes with snaking wires stacked on storage boxes and my bookshelves. A Valve Index VR headset, cabled to an Alienware laptop on my desk.

Mike Minotti with VentureBeat also touches on the reality of playing Half-Life: Alyx right now:

I almost feel bad holding this against the game, but now is a rough time to play something that immerses you into an intense, 10-hour long experience in a post-apocalyptic world filled with monsters and lots of other things that want to kill you.

And while the situation in the real world is obviously out of Valve’s control, the game isn’t doing itself any favors with levels that drag (there’s a part where you’re stuck in the same hotel for what felt like hours) and a limited color palette. And despite the length of the game, you often feel like you’re going through the same environments: dilapidated buildings, creepy underground areas, and abandoned streets.

Half-Life: Alyx is a compelling game that you won't want to stop playing, reports Christopher Livingston with PC Gamer:

I played the final three hours of Half-Life: Alyx in a single session. Before Alyx, I never used VR for more than 30 minutes at a time. I don't get motion sick but I do get generally tired of VR. Tired of having a hunk of plastic strapped to my face, of having to stand and stoop and reach awkwardly around, of not being able to check my phone or have a sip of coffee. But I didn't take a break, or even want to, during the final chapters of Half-Life: Alyx. I wasn't tired. I was completely enthralled and unwilling to stop playing.

GameSpot's Michael Higham sums it up as follows:

Not only has Half-Life: Alyx made good on its shift to VR, it has elevated many of the aspects we've come to love about Half-Life games. It may not be as bombastic as previous games, but the intimacy of VR brings you closer to a world you might have thought you knew over the past 22 years. Even when familiarity starts to settle in, its gameplay systems still shine as a cohesive whole. And as it concludes, Half-Life: Alyx hits you with something unforgettable, transcending VR tropes for one of gaming's greatest moments.

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QuantumPhysics

Posts: 3,490   +3,333
Going VR only was probably the biggest mistake they could have possibly made.

What were they thinking?

Where is Half Life 3?

Where is Portal 3?

ALYX could possibly get a FPS mod that allows you to play it just as you would a regular Half Life game. But why wasn't that offered already - especially considering the number of people who would have bought it if it offered both modes?

People would be far more likely to drop $60 on a game than hundreds of dollars on VR equipment.
 
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amstech

Posts: 2,643   +1,804
Sorry, but they lost their magic the moment they decided to discriminate against average player with a VR only game.

NO SALE!!!
Your missing the point entirely.
You can't replicate the immersion you get with VR, and when its done right.
I am not a huge fan but enjoy my Samsung Gear VR once in awhile, its pretty amazing.
Don't knock it because its unknown or new, allow yourself to experience something different.
 

Jaryn211

Posts: 22   +30
Your missing the point entirely.
You can't replicate the immersion you get with VR, and when its done right.
I am not a huge fan but enjoy my Samsung Gear VR once in awhile, its pretty amazing.
Don't knock it because its unknown or new, allow yourself to experience something different.
Sure but its also an extreme minority of people who own vr who can enjoy this and a major "**** you" to anyone whos a fan of half life and doesnt care for vr.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 7,483   +5,989
Your missing the point entirely.
You can't replicate the immersion you get with VR, and when its done right.
I am not a huge fan but enjoy my Samsung Gear VR once in awhile, its pretty amazing.
Don't knock it because its unknown or new, allow yourself to experience something different.
YOU are missing the point entirely ..... VR is an expensive, unnecessary device and building a game exclusively for it on such a popular platform is simple extortion.

NO SALE
 

GamerNerves

Posts: 49   +21
Valve has lost it's magic. Decent game, but nothing special I think. The problem is it really doesn't have that Half-Life vibe, it only looks like it. Either way I cannot play since no VR, just like the rest. Nothing bad though in making games for the VR audience, especially when the level of execution is this fine.
 

jonny888

Posts: 106   +143
YOU are missing the point entirely ..... VR is an expensive, unnecessary device and building a game exclusively for it on such a popular platform is simple extortion.

NO SALE
Gaming PCs are expensive, unnecessary devices. It doesn't stop people who can afford it from buying them if they offer the experience that they're after. It's no different with VR. And there's no reason not to make a HL game for it if the audience/demand exists (which they clearly believe it does).
 

veLa

Posts: 1,009   +548
Going VR only was probably the biggest mistake they could have possibly made.

What were they thinking?

Where is Half Life 3?

Where is Portal 3?
I just wanted to say, we don't always agree on these forums, but you're absolutely right. I've already invested a lot into my gaming rig so I'd rather not buy additional VR equipment for ONE game.

So where is Half-Life 3? That's the game I wanted.

Unless I borrow a friend's gear, or visit his or her house, I won't be playing it on my setup.
 

Evernessince

Posts: 5,410   +5,993
As expected, the typical anti-VR comments from people who haven't played the game or VR in general.

Some people refuse to even consider new technology.

YOU are missing the point entirely ..... VR is an expensive, unnecessary device and building a game exclusively for it on such a popular platform is simple extortion.

NO SALE
1. VR starts at $200 and you can get the Rift S or Quest at $400 which is very solid. In comparison to current GPU prices, that's pretty cheap.
2. Unnecessary? Many features are only possible in VR. It isn't possible with mouse and keyboard without stripping out half the features.


Hard pass. Franchise is dead.
Metacritic score of 93 and glowing reviews across the board say otherwise.
 

Puiu

Posts: 4,067   +2,613
Sorry, but they lost their magic the moment they decided to discriminate against average player with a VR only game.

NO SALE!!!
They will have a sale from me :D

This is pretty much the only way to draw larger crowds to the VR market and Valve invested a lot in this technology. We need many more games likes this one. Valve managed to revive the Half Life IP in a big way and I'm sure we'll get standard nonVR titles too... sometime in the future... Valve time FTW.
 

Puiu

Posts: 4,067   +2,613
YOU are missing the point entirely ..... VR is an expensive, unnecessary device and building a game exclusively for it on such a popular platform is simple extortion.

NO SALE
It's no longer that expensive. You can use a sub 300$ GPU and a sub 200$ CPU for your gaming rig and the headset is around 200-400$. It's not yet at mainstream pricing, but it's damn close to it.
 

hahahanoobs

Posts: 3,019   +1,193
As expected, the typical anti-VR comments from people who haven't played the game or VR in general.

Some people refuse to even consider new technology.



1. VR starts at $200 and you can get the Rift S or Quest at $400 which is very solid. In comparison to current GPU prices, that's pretty cheap.
2. Unnecessary? Many features are only possible in VR. It isn't possible with mouse and keyboard without stripping out half the features.




Metacritic score of 93 and glowing reviews across the board say otherwise.
Majority of the people here are not bashing the game. They are understandably upset about the hardware requirements considering where the franchise started.

As for VR headsets, I've seen two out of three of them used to play HL:A making people nauseous and one of them wa VERY hard to watch as a viewer. The framerate was just so choppy and it was a 60fps stream. I watched Angry Joe and Kyle from Bitwit review and stream. Kyle's was worse than the two AJ had. Point being, not all headsets are equal and motion sickness still exists in 2020. And even with wireless headsets, people still don't want that ish on their heads for hours at a time. Kyle was very sweaty after 3 hours for example. The graphics are also affected by what headset you have. VR is not something you just decide to invest in. And def not because of one game.

AJ's buddy OJ said it best. It's not a system seller if you don't already meet the VR requirements, and I'd have to agree. HL Alyx isn't going to save VR. Better games and consistency in headsets will, and this one is just the start.
 
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johnofo

Posts: 22   +18
It can take a bit of time to get used to VR. I'm running an original HTC Vive and though I didn't really get motion sickness, it felt weird when my character walked when I was stood still at first. I found I wanted to try and balance even though I wasn't physically moving. But that passed within a few hours of having the headset, I guess for some people it might not.

Played 1.5 hours of HL:A last night as I want it to last a while and its visually stunning. Easy to get lost messing around with the environment, playing with random items. The gameplay is excellent, Valve has really delivered.

They've put some excellently executed VR puzzle solving into a first person shooter/horror game. I crapped my pants a couple times and the tension... The soundtrack is top notch
 

R00sT3R

Posts: 298   +704
10-hour long experience
So, Only works out at about an average of $70 per hour of gameplay, depending on which VR headset you've bought.

..and after its over, your headset goes back to playing glorified tech demos or just sits in a corner doing nothing apart from gathering dust, waiting another decade for Valve to make it worthwhile once more.


..Gaming for the 1%
 

fadingfool

Posts: 183   +183
VR in a lock down is looking more like a useful investment to me. I have a Playstation VR but do suffer a bit with motion sickness if I have a prolonged playing session. VR needs AAA games and exclusives to make more people buy into it - if they do then more hardware will become available and economies of scale will kick in. Yes I want a better VR and one for my PC (yes it would cope) but the price is a little difficult to stomach yet.... So well done Valve - whilst I want a mouse/keyboard version of Alyx I also want better VR games to convince me to save up.
 
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Evernessince

Posts: 5,410   +5,993
Majority of the people here are not bashing the game. They are understandably upset about the hardware requirements considering where the franchise started.

As for VR headsets, I've seen two out of three of them used to play HL:A making people nauseous and one of them wa VERY hard to watch as a viewer. The framerate was just so choppy and it was a 60fps stream. I watched Angry Joe and Kyle from Bitwit review and stream. Kyle's was worse than the two AJ had. Point being, not all headsets are equal and motion sickness still exists in 2020. And even with wireless headsets, people still don't want that ish on their heads for hours at a time. Kyle was very sweaty after 3 hours for example. The graphics are also affected by what headset you have. VR is not something you just decide to invest in. And def not because of one game.

AJ's buddy OJ said it best. It's not a system seller if you don't already meet the VR requirements, and I'd have to agree. HL Alyx isn't going to save VR. Better games and consistency in headsets will, and this one is just the start.
AJ is not a VR player and he once made a video complaining about the $1,000 price tag of VR without realizing there are dozens of other headsets on the market, which he was called out on in the comments section of his video. He doesn't build his own computers and has problems with the technical side. His stream's issues are almost certainly due to his incompetence in regards to VR rather then any fault of the game / tech.

I can tell you right now with a 1080 Ti and a 3700X half life alyx is butter smooth on my index at max settings. The game does not have performance issues. I was even opening websites in the background and streaming the game to my friends watching. I did this all while wearing my headset. I'm also running rather old drivers.

" Kyle was very sweaty after 3 hours for example."

Half Life Alyx isn't really a game you sweat in. It is not high intensity at all. If you are sweating playing this game you are severely out of shape. It's one of the lowest intensity VR games. You aren't flailing your arms around like in Blade and Sorcery. You don't even have to reach down to pick up things thanks to the grav gloves.

"As for VR headsets, I've seen two out of three of them used to play HL:A making people nauseous and one of them wa VERY hard to watch as a viewer. The framerate was just so choppy and it was a 60fps stream."

XQC, Moonmoon, and all the other big streamers didn't seem to have a single issue. You went to a bunch of guys with zero experience in VR and never play it and got subpar results.


So, Only works out at about an average of $70 per hour of gameplay, depending on which VR headset you've bought.

..and after its over, your headset goes back to playing glorified tech demos or just sits in a corner doing nothing apart from gathering dust, waiting another decade for Valve to make it worthwhile once more.


..Gaming for the 1%
Actually you can pick up an Oculus Quest for $400 and that's an all in one system. No PC required. I wouldn't really call games like Stormlands, made by Respawn entertainment, a techdemo. Nor can you ignore Beat Saber's success. There are plenty of other fantastic games in there as well, like Thrill of the Fight (which is an amazing boxing simulator).

FYI Valve has already promised 3 AAA VR games. Not accounting for the studios Oculus is funding with millions of dollars or any devs working independently.
 

PurpleYoda

Posts: 128   +87
Your missing the point entirely.
You can't replicate the immersion you get with VR, and when its done right.
I am not a huge fan but enjoy my Samsung Gear VR once in awhile, its pretty amazing.
Don't knock it because its unknown or new, allow yourself to experience something different.
He he, it is you who are missing the point. This is nothing more but whining of some disgruntled children who cannot afford a shiny new toy and are pissed at Valve for showing them this is the future and making them realise they are missing a lot by not being able to jump on the band wagon. Pretty childish IMHO. If you cannot afford it, keep it to yourself. Don’t knock it just because of your own personal circumstances. I bet given the chance (e.g. having money to burn) they would be the first to praise Valve for their brave move by trying to bring VR to the masses. BTW same thing happen when CDs came to the market and developers started putting out games exclusively using this medium, gamers said the same thing, cursed the developers, boycotted the games and then when it became more affordable the same ones had stacks of games on CDs. Then it was DVDs, then BRs then online only platforms starting with Steam. And look at us now. We have no problems downloading 100GB games over the Internet. Valve really isn’t doing anything new. They did the same thing with pushing Steam when they released HL2, now they are pushing VR for everyones gain. So stop whining, future is here whether you like it or not. Full disclosure, I don’t have any VR gear and I also wished I had one to play Alyx and I am for one happy it’s out there as it may mean VR will finally get some traction and in time it will become part of most gamers gear just like sound cards became (yes I do remember the time when games on PC only played sounds via built in speaker...)
 

amstech

Posts: 2,643   +1,804
He he, it is you who are missing the point.
Lol when I read this line I thought you were talking to me, but based on your comment your referring to the VR haters, which is not me, so this comment makes absolutely no sense directed at me but, carry on I suppose :) .

As far as HL: Alyx, I get that its a little pricey and niche to experience it, and why some may rebel against it. Personally I'd like to give it a try.
 

GamerNerves

Posts: 49   +21
Why we have to go through this again and again? Someone criticizes a new popular game or other thing, so then someone has to defend it by calling names, blaming, assuming things, etc; generally in a nasty manner. The very reason why that yellow flag is there (an appeal to our most loyal readers), is because today people cannot handle differing opinions. This happens with all the major hyped titles this Alyx game included. How is it so, that if somebody is not excited for Alyx, he doesn't either own, haven't played or cannot afford VR? This is simply not the case like everybody knows.

What baffles my is this mentality of massive group thinking and hype, like if a popular streamer, tuber or a trending brand claims something in an ad, it is now the absolute truth and everyone needs to accept it. Commercials are just commercials, they don't tell basically anything, just some vague points. Alyx has been promoted very strongly, so it's no wonder people are interested in it, but it's at least for my taste not that intense game. It's more light hearted game than a serious Half-Life game with the hollow vibe of the world and the horrific activities going in the background. I like that kind of games, not this Alyx game, which is more about problem solving and interesting interaction with your surroundings, but you know what, no thanks, I rather play something different because there exist new games that seem better to me, hyped or not.

So please, stop group thinking, stop defending things in a mean way and accept that you in the end are alone with your opinion. You may greet people who think alike, but you will always face people who think otherwise.
 
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mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,630   +924
I am probably in the minority when I say this is the game that is finally making me consider buying a VR headset.

I've borrowed a friend's before, and enjoyed it - but not "$500+ investment" enjoyed it, mostly because of the games available didn't strike my fancy and you still had a pretty strong 'screen door' effect. Now with higher resolution headsets, and a half-life game, I may just finally buy one.
 
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