Highly anticipated: Half-Life 2 celebrates its 18th birthday next month. Can you believe it's been that long? I can't. Even more astonishing is that a significant portion of the HL fan base is still holding their breath for a Half-Life 3. Please come up for air — if only to play this very cool VR version.
The Half-Life 2: VR Mod entered its beta phase a couple of weeks ago and is already getting good reviews, even though there is still much work to be done. Kotaku says it's "almost too good to be true."
Even though it is technically a mod, I'm inclined to call it a new version of Half-Life 2. While it uses the Source engine and has not changed anything script-wise, it was built from the ground up for VR, which requires much more work than just making it run through a headset. Plus, it's been a decade in the making. That's considerable dedication considering fan hobbyists built it in their spare time. I feel it's worthy of the designation.
Sure there were hiccups and periods of dormancy, particularly as hardware and VR tech have changed and required the team to take ten steps back. At one point, Nathan Andrews, the mod's initial creator, quit the project entirely out of frustration from continually having to redo things.
Keep in mind this ambitious undertaking started in 2012 when VR headsets weren't really the beast that they are today. The initial prototype (above) was a Frankenstein's monster combining a console gun controller, early specialized tacking equipment that Andrews had access to, and a Sony HMZ-T1, which was essentially just a head-mounted video display.
While the current beta's primary campaign is fully playable, quite a bit of it is a work in progress. Weapons still need to incorporate smooth gestures for manually reloading. The team is working on a teleport movement system to reduce motion sickness — VR veterans should be able to handle the current version's hectic movement with little discomfort.
The mod is also due for a graphical upgrade. After all, the game came out in 2004. The Source VR Mod Team wants to add higher resolution maps, assets, and textures at some point, but that's lower on the list of priorities. At the top of the roadmap are making Episodes 1 and 2 playable. The developers say most of that content is fully functioning, but a few "major issues" still need to be fixed before it's ready for a public beta.
That said, the nearly completed core game plays from beginning to end and is something to behold. Half-Life 2 in VR is nothing short of a completely different game. The sense of depth is what you would expect from any VR title, but the HL2 world is so familiar to fans that stepping into it in 3D is almost surreal. Examining the guns in your hands or watching the pieces of a manhack fly by you after giving one a good whack with your trusty crowbar is highly satisfying.
The "rise and shine, Mr. Freeman" scene in the game's opening is particularly stunning. The G-Man is talking to you (Gordon Freemen) as scenes from the original Half-Life play out on him. It's surreal enough that the environments dance across the G-Man like a screen in a movie theater, but seeing depth inside that suit takes it to a whole other level.
Half-Life 2: VR Mod is a free download on Steam. Remember that you will have to own Half-Life 2 ($10) on Steam since it is technically a mod, despite my insistence that it's a version. The devs also recommend an 8th-gen Intel or AMD Ryzen 3000 series or better processor, 16 GB RAM, and a GTX 1080 or Radeon RX 5700 graphics card. You'll also obviously need a VR headset, but any model compatible with SteamVR will work.
Don't worry if you can't get to it right away or don't currently have a headset. Valve is not going to pull a Nintendo DMCA takedown on the project. The company okayed its development in 2017, so it's not going anywhere.