Having picked it up in a recent Steam sale, and given its popularity, I thought it was about time to have a look at Half Life: Alyx – not just a quick look either in a usual piece with other games but a full special of this VR series of features. This isn’t a full review mind, just a short showcase of sorts and is something I may do more of in the future – focus on one particular VR game for an extended look over the usual few in a volume. So, onto Alyx.
Set before the events of Half Life 2, a prequel of sorts, you play as Alyx Vance as she’s on a mission to rescue her father who ended up being arrested during the latest bout of crackdowns. You’ll turn to the resistance of course and help each other as the perilous journey across a combine controlled city will lead you to meet some characters along the way. Sure, its no Half Life 3, but its certainly worth the time of those that enjoyed the world of the previous games, also gives some additional info on what Alyx was up to before the events of the second game.
On a basic level the gameplay isn’t too dissimilar to other VR games I’ve played, but it all comes together well in a more polished way to create a compelling package here – especially with gizmos and how you interact with various aspects of the world. Hacking in particular is like a mini game that will have you moving around a holographic sphere to connect points. The quiet exploration you expect of a Half Life game makes way here for some genuinely tense sections often that put almost any horror game to shame. When first getting the torch for example I knew something would happen, so instantly started sprinting down the tunnel to the clicky sound of something in the dark. Ended up being one of those black headcrabs so I locked myself in a cage to fumble shells into my shotgun in peace. The headcrabs really make my skin crawl in VR, and the manual reloads & aiming ramp up the tension when they start jumping around too – this all carries over to skirmishes with combine & headcrab zombies as well.
It also wouldn’t be a Half Life game without some physics to play with and Alyx is no different. Most items around can be toyed with or picked up which can lead to some interesting use cases. No melee so why not trap a headcrab in a barrel? Those pesky ones with a hard shell just drop a box on them when they’re stuck on their back. Wanna carry more items? drop them in a bucket and carry that around with you. Build up some fortifications with stuff lying around to slow down zombies. Honestly its probably the best aspect of the game when you get the time to explore just what you can do.
What really drives home how immersive the game is are the visuals. It’s probably as close as you’re going to get to a AAA game in VR at the moment, it also isn’t a simple case of building Alyx on a previous engine or anything as it looks far beyond previous Half Life games. On my RTX 3090 powered system with a high-res Reverb G2, game looked crisp and packed with detail. The detail really makes the world look lived in and being able to interact with a lot draws you in more, the scale of the city and even some of the characters like headcrab zombies can feel daunting. You’ll no doubt have many WOW moments as the game can still throw in some eye-catching set pieces for what seems a low key sneak for the most part.
So is it worthy of the praise its had from most quarters? Sure, I didn’t find it to be the revelatory experience some say it is though, but there’s no doubting that Alyx is a polished AAA VR experience that really should be in your Steam library if there’s a PCVR headset to make use of. The £49 price may seem steep for a VR game lasting several hours, then again this is high quality and there’s plenty of user created story chapters from modders to play through when you’re done with Alyx – you’ll get your monies worth.