Reviews

Review: Half-Life: Alyx – Pushing the boundaries of VR

It’s a day that so many Half-Life fans never imagined would come. A day that has been held with so much anticipation that it had the most marginal chance of living up to the expectation… but you best believe that it not only met the fans expectations, but far exceeded them. Half-Life: Alyx is the third game of the incredibly esteemed series and is exclusive to virtual reality. 

We’re lucky enough here at EFTM to have a top of the line VR headset, the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite to play this highly anticipated title on. I knew within 2 minutes of booting up Alyx that it was an incredible, genre defining game. Let me break down why…

PHYSICS

There is an UNBELIEVABLE amount of physics interaction in Half-Life: Alyx. The minute you enter the game, there are elements in your immediate vicinity that tempt you horribly into goofing around with them. From the antenna on the AM radio in front of you, to the water bottles and paint cans that litter the tutorial area, it’s all freely available for you to use and manipulate.

Outside of a quick gag and demonstrating just how incredible technology is, the game’s physics has a huge role to play in combat and traversing your environment. For example, exploding gas canisters can be picked up and used as weapons;

Or maybe you could use the lid of a bin in a desperate attempt at a make-shift shield?

The Half-Life series pioneered video game physics back in the day and they continue to push the boundaries of what is both normal and remotely possible with Alyx. Which leads me to the…

MECHANICS

Fans of the series will be aware that one of it’s most traditionally defining features was the gravity gun. A feature that Valve knew Alyx couldn’t live without, which is why they brought it back in a wonderfully entertaining way – the gravity gloves!

You’re able to make items fly directly into your hands by aiming, closing your fist and flicking your wrist. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to having magical powers.

The next satisfying mechanic you’ll run into playing Half-Life: Alyx is the pistol. In order to operate what is essentially your only defence mechanism for a good portion of the game, you need to pull a magazine out of your backpack (by reaching over your shoulder), load it into the bottom of the gun and then yank the slide back to chamber the bullet. It’s badass.

I was far too terrified to get further into the game and learn about all of the other weapons available, but I had a great time picking up objects in my vicinity and using them in combat. From grabbing the lid of a trash can to fend off zombies, to throwing beer bottles at them in a desperate attempt to stay alive – the game can be played as creatively as you are.

GRAPHICS

It would be a stretch to classify Half-Life as a horror series, but I’ll go so far as to say that there are some terrifying elements of the game that are amplified ten-fold by just how incredibly lifelike the graphics are. Zombies, piloted by head crabs come stumbling at you from around corners with such haunting movement they could trigger a heart attack. 

Graphically, Half-Life: Alyx really comes to the table to meet the other AAA titles we’ve seen released in recent months. From the environmental details to your hands, gun and multi-tool, the aesthetic of the game goes a long way to helping with the immersion.

VIRTUAL REALITY 

One of the most contentious aspects of virtual reality is movement, and just how disorienting the experience can be. Half-Life: Alyx has a few different options to handle moving through the world so that you can cherry pick the most comfortable method for your play-through.

The most common styles of movement are the ‘blink’ and ‘snap turns’. Blink allows you to point your controller at a certain space within your immediate vicinity and jump or (go figure) ‘blink’ to that location. It has a very gentle dip to black effect that makes the transition easy on the eyes. This is typically paired with the ‘snap turn’ mechanism, that allows you to quickly rotate your head roughly 45-degrees left or right. While most users VR setups would allow them to easily turn their head unrestricted, tangling in cables and becoming disoriented can become real issues, hence the popularity of the snap turn.

Valve has also included a continuous movement (moving in the direction you’re looking), continuous hand movement (moving in the direction you’re pointing) and instant teleportation. An early update a few days after the games release also provided the option for smooth continuous head turning using your controller, a feature that the fans desperately wanted.

Half-Life: Alyx is an incredible title that will be known as ‘the’ VR game for quite some time. If you’re interested in the genre and can handle a fright, I highly recommend picking up a headset (such as the Vive Elite Cosmos) and heading over to the Steam Store to pick up Alyx!

Review: Half-Life: Alyx – Pushing the boundaries of VR
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