Alyx Review – Valve Delivers One of VR’s Best Games Yet


After years of quiet improvement, Half-Life: Alyx is lastly right here. With hype on all sides—as Valve’s first full-fledged VR sport and the primary Half-Life sport in additional than a decade—does it ship? Learn on to search out out in our full Half-Life: Alyx overview.

Half-Life: Alyx Particulars:

Developer: Valve Software program
Accessible On: Steam (Index, Vive, Rift, Home windows VR)
Reviewed On: Index, Vive Professional, Rift S, Rift CV1
Launch Date: March 23rd, 2020
Value: $60

Gameplay

Picture courtesy Valve

Whereas VR sport design could be very completely different from flat-screen sport design, Valve has carried out a superb job in Half-Life: Alyx of protecting the essence of what makes a Half-Life sport. Although the tempo is slower and extra considerate, those that have performed the prior titles will really feel themselves thrust into the Half-Life universe extra deeply than ever earlier than.

Gameplay in Half-Life: Alyx is break up between exploration, puzzle fixing, and fight. Fight is much less of a run-and-gun affair than the prior video games, and whilst you’ll be confronted with fewer enemies, particular person enemies are extra threatening and fight takes on a decidedly extra private tone.

Though the sport is successfully linear, there’s a lot visible and interactive element within the setting round you that Half-Life: Alyx nonetheless fosters a way of exploration. As you discover you’ll wish to preserve your eyes out for the sport’s scarce sources like ammo, well being, grenades, and particularly ‘Resin’ (small chunks of fabric used for upgrading weapons). The place different VR titles generally make useful resource assortment really feel tedious, the considerate placement (and even occasional mini-puzzles) make discovering sources in Half-Life: Alyx really feel really rewarding.

Picture courtesy Valve

That is aided in an enormous means by the Gravity Gloves, which allow you to seize objects from a distance reasonably than needing to stroll inside arm’s attain of every factor you wish to decide up. To make use of the Gravity Gloves, you’ll must first ‘tether’ an object after which do a ‘pulling’ gesture to provoke a power pull. Once you do, the article launches in a satisfying arc proper towards your hand to be caught.

This would possibly look like a refined tweak to current ‘power pull’ mechanics in different VR video games, however in apply it’s partaking, enjoyable, and virtually makes you’re feeling like you’ve got a telekinetic superpower. The focusing on system and initiation gesture additionally work collectively to vastly decrease the variety of unintentional power pulls in comparison with what I’ve seen in lots of different VR video games. The system is so profitable that I count on to see this strategy to power pull utilized in many future VR titles.

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One of many belongings you’ll usually be amassing because of your Gravity Glove powers is Resin for upgrading your weapons. Resin is just not in ample provide, so diligent explorers who handle to search out most of it alongside their means will have the ability to improve their weapons ahead of others. Upgrades really feel significant and may solely be carried out at improve stations that are sometimes discovered all through the sport.

Whereas the weapons in Half-Life: Alyx are satisfying in each their interactions and firing, sadly there’s not many to talk of. As an alternative of selecting up weapons wherever, you’ll solely get entry to 3 weapons all through the sport that are certain to you. There’s the pistol, shotgun, and a Mix pulse rifle. Worse, as you improve the Pistol and pulse rifle, they overlap (as an alternative of diverge) of their fight roles, making them much less distinctive over time.

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I used to be disenchanted to not see a greater diversity of Half-Life’s distinctive weapons represented within the sport, particularly when there are alternatives abound for VR-specific interactions. Particularly, I usually discovered myself wanting a precision long-range choice in Half-Life: Alyx. The enduring Half-Life crossbow would have been an superior match, not just for its interactive affordances (loading and heating the rebar bolt) but additionally for the expertise of pinning enemies to partitions (and with the ability to see that up shut in VR). With Valve planning to launch a full vary of modding instruments, I hope that the modding neighborhood will have the ability to assist out with this in time.

The tight weapon set appears partly the results of Valve’s option to largely keep away from linked two-handed interactions. Whereas working your weapons does require two arms, there’s no weapons within the sport which are held with each arms, and only a few moments within the sport contain two-handed interactions.

Picture courtesy Valve

The sport’s small arsenal additionally impacts it in different methods. Whereas in Half-Life 2 it felt like a reward to find the rarer ammo for the sport’s distinctive weapons (like rebar for the crossbow or orbs for the heartbeat rifle’s secondary fireplace), with much less gun varieties there’s fewer issues for Alyx to reward gamers with for his or her exploration. Resin is all the time a welcomed discover, however it may be a little bit of a let down to identify a hidden provide field and smash it open solely to discover a single pistol journal or a well being syringe inside.

Fight pacing begins fairly slowly with headcrab zombies as the primary menace within the first third of the sport. It’s clear that Valve needed to provide gamers ample time to discover ways to transfer, use their Gravity Gloves, and function their weapons earlier than introducing them to extra dynamic enemies. Even so, the headcrab zombies can really feel like a menace in shut quarters, and Valve has no qualms about placing your fight coaching to the check by ensuring you’ll be able to reload at nighttime…

Picture courtesy Valve

Later within the sport you’ll face off towards Mix troopers that are distinctly extra threatening. Even on Regular issue, fight is comparatively unforgiving, and a single soldier received’t hesitate to take you down for those who aren’t cautious. You’ll completely wish to discover some cowl and preserve your head down when the bullets begin flying your means.

Like weapons, enemy selection is minimal. Mix troopers come roughly in three kinds of issue and don’t current notably distinctive threats. Particularly within the later levels of the sport when your weapons have seen some upgrades, killing Mix troopers quantities to aiming your laser sight at their head and holding the set off till they die. Getting up shut and private with the shotgun is riskier, however much more satisfying.

Although sporadic, there’s a number of fascinating standout enemies that add some intrigue, together with a novel enemy that’s a part of a masterful sequence that’s merely unmatched in execution elsewhere in VR. I don’t wish to spoil this for you, so I’ll simply say that I loved my time with ‘Jeff’.

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For me, Alyx’s bigger puzzles felt like basic Half-Life fare and struck a very good steadiness of problem with out tedium; I by no means felt utterly stumped, however the sport nonetheless managed to make me really feel intelligent after determining the answer.

If you happen to get caught on the larger puzzles, stepping again and assessing the scenario is normally sufficient for a clue to disclose itself. Even the smaller ‘hacking’ puzzles—which open issues like doorways, provide bins, or improve stations—handle to remain fascinating thanks to softly rising complexity.

Picture courtesy Valve

Although I needed the sport supplied a better number of weapons and enemies, the restricted roster is a part of a broader pattern in Half-Life: Alyx which is all about protecting gameplay streamlined and enjoyable. Whereas the sport doesn’t supply a lot in the best way of mechanical innovation, what’s there’s polished to a sheen. Valve has managed to craft Alyx in means which avoids a lot of the clunk seen in lots of different VR titles, and I felt compelled to maintain pushing ahead all through the 12 hours it took me to beat the marketing campaign.

Immersion

Picture courtesy Valve

From the primary second you end up standing within the menu display screen, it’s clear that there’s a sure gravity to Half-Life: Alyx that you simply’ll be laborious pressed to search out wherever else in VR; that is what it feels prefer to step into the battle for Metropolis 17.

With heaps of environmental and interactive element, Valve has crafted an extremely immersive world. Apart from almost each small object within the sport being bodily interactive, there’s simply a lot to have a look at. Collectively, Half-Life: Alyx is essentially the most detailed VR sport I’ve ever performed. With persistently nice artwork path and impressively crisp anti-aliasing, the sport’s visuals are top-notch.

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Whereas Alyx impresses with interactive particulars like turnable sink taps, flippable light-switches which truly activate lights, and liftable rest room seats, there are a number of immersion misses.

For one, there’s basically no melee within the sport in any respect. It is a bit jarring when most of the sport’s enemies wish to get proper up into your face, and particularly after Boneworks (2019) confirmed how helpful it’s simply to have the ability to stagger enemies by shoving them again together with your arms once they get too shut.

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One other immersion situation I discovered is that equipping weapons is finished with a gesture menu and, as soon as outfitted, the weapons keep on with your pre-selected ‘weapon hand’ whether or not you might be ‘gripping’ the weapon or not. Because of this weapons can’t be handed between your arms, thrown, or the rest, making them really feel decidedly much less like a part of the sport’s in any other case fairly bodily world. And once you’re carried out combating and wish each your arms free to work together with the world, you have to use a button to ‘equip’ your hand; a decidedly non-immersive motion.

Whereas this design alternative does lower out a lot of the VR clunk that may come from a fiddly holster system, Alyx feels a bit behind the instances on this division after seeing easy and compelling holster mechanics from the likes of Blood & Turth (2019) and Stormland (2019); the latter’s ‘magnetic holster’ system—which mechanically re-attaches weapons to your holster if dropped—would have been an ideal thematic match with the Gravity Gloves.

A lot of Alyx’s wealthy immersion comes from its extremely detailed world, together with occasional side-paths that generally reveal non-compulsory scenes which reward your curiosity and flesh out the sport world.

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With arms that don’t clip via the setting and so many interactive objects scattered about, there’s a way of solidity to the world which helps drive constant immersion. At one level I used to be rummaging via a submitting cupboard in search of sources; after pulling open the bottom-most drawer, I stood up and nearly went to kick it shut with my foot… earlier than remembering that the sport isn’t truly monitoring my toes.

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Whereas Half-Life: Alyx’s story is partaking sufficient to justify the continued motion, not all that a lot actually occurs past what’s essential to preserve you transferring towards your objective. That’s to not say that Alyx isn’t consequential to the plot of Half-Life general, although the best way that it intersects with the plot of the opposite video games within the franchise feels sudden, vital, and a bit clumsy. Avoiding spoilers; I’m not fairly positive what the response of most gamers might be, however I feel there’s prone to be plenty of dialogue round this post-launch.

Consolation

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Half-Life: Alyx helps teleportation, dashing, steady locomotion, and a variety of different consolation choices like snap flip changes, ‘actual’ ladder climbing, and whether or not or not you need barnacles to have the ability to truly elevate you off the bottom. All through my time enjoying Half-Life: Alyx I felt that the sport did a terrific job of sustaining consolation.

Valve clearly frolicked fascinated by how Half-Life: Alyx ought to work with every of the VR controllers on the market. Whereas there’s some minor methods wherein they don’t observe established enter patterns that VR vets can be aware of, they did a terrific job general and regardless of which controller you utilize, the sport feels equally playable.

Alyx feels prefer it was at the start designed for standing play in room-scale playspaces with teleportation or dashing. Steady locomotion works effectively, although the sport doesn’t characteristic an actual ‘soar’, and as an alternative makes use of a ‘mantle’ (which type of slides you up onto objects) or a teleport soar when you have to cross a niche. Generally the sport asks you to teleport soar throughout giant gaps that don’t look completely jumpable at first look, making for the occasional second of confusion earlier than you understand the place to go.

These with tight playspaces will doubtless really feel cramped at instances, as most of the sport’s mechanics appear to need you to succeed in and lean fairly a bit, particularly the ‘energy’ puzzles the place you utilize Alyx’s multi-tool to scan for energy traces within the partitions.

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For a similar motive (reaching and leaning), seated play doesn’t really feel nice, although it fares a bit higher with steady locomotion reasonably than teleportation. Granted, there’s an choice within the sport to will let you modify your peak from seated as much as a standing place or all the way down to a crouching place. On the time of enjoying I wasn’t in a position to get these choices to work accurately, although if I did I feel I might have most popular to make use of the choice to play a lot of the sport at standing peak (even whereas enjoying seated) contemplating how most of the sport’s environmental interactions happen at shoulder-height. I’ve reached out to Valve for extra steerage on the peak adjustment controls.

I discovered one oddity with ladders—although I had the ‘actual ladder climbing’ choice enabled, the overwhelming majority of ladders would mechanically teleport me to the highest or backside if I misplaced my seize on a single rung. I discovered this extra annoying than uncomfortable, as I had already indicated to the sport that needed to climb the ladders by myself.

Picture courtesy Valve

If you’re particularly claustrophobic or unable to deal with immersive horror, Half-Life: Alyx might undoubtedly be a problem. Among the scarrier sections of the sport will plonk you down you at nighttime with a flashlight as your solely supply of sunshine, constraining the restricted discipline of view of your headset much more.