The esteemed Half-Life series by Valve started in 1998. Its newest entry, Half-Life: Alyx, is exclusively a virtual reality (VR) game, and its utilization of the headset and controllers is what makes it a very special experience. The setting is the dystopian City 17, where alien forces, the Combine, have set up an oppressing presence to rule over the human population. The player controls Alyx Vance, who works with the resistance to regain some hope in a dire situation.
The immersion offered by VR is only surpassed by the technical aspects of the game. It felt natural to be in the shoes of Alyx as I crouched behind cars to take cover from enemy fire, scavenging for ammo on the floor, reloading my pistol while peeking out from a window, and finally aiming my shot. The experience is not only realistic but also accessible, with many clever tricks that make playing fun. For example, with a flick of the wrist, Alyx’s gravity glove activates and remotely launches a targeted far-away object towards her, after which it can be caught in the air. Mastering such mechanics feels incredibly satisfying because you physically move your body instead of just pressing a button.
Just like the moment-to-moment gameplay, the campaign of about ten hours is also masterfully designed. The pacing is great, with challenging gunfights placed between puzzle and exploration sections. The enemies mostly consist of the Combine, who have high-tech firearms ready and aimed at Alyx, as well as zombies, which should give a scare or two to most players. The encounters differ a lot thanks to different enemy types and locations. The puzzle minigames can get a bit tiring in the latter half, but exploration is necessary and motivated by a quickly dwindling reserve of ammo. Thanks to these various gameplay elements, at no point did Half-Life: Alyx feel like it dragged on.
The writing is another strength of the game. While the atmosphere is bleak, even approaching horror at certain points, the humorous dialogue between characters makes the world feel more welcoming. Some quips even earned a few hearty laughs from me, which does not happen often. The plot could be seen as basic, but for fans of the series, there are some satisfying surprises, which is why I would recommend players to first play at least Half-Life 2 and its episodes. Still, the game stands on its own, and I do not think newcomers will be disappointed in the story department.
I had some technical difficulties with the game, but most seemed to be caused by hardware. The later maps in the campaign are quite large and complex, possibly causing some framerate issues depending on the computer. Another problem I had is also a general one: I had to take a break after every hour-long play session due to being physically tired from movement as well as the headset pressing down on my head. Unfortunately, this diminished the otherwise wonderful pacing. However, I did not experience heavy motion sickness, thanks to the great selection of accessibility options. I feel that the game does a great job of alleviating common problems related to VR with its settings and design.
Overall, I feel that Half-Life: Alyx is one of the best VR experiences available. All its mechanics work well together, creating a satisfying gameplay experience, but the amount of polished content is also impressive. The game can be highly recommended to anyone with access to a VR headset.
Release Date: March 23, 2020
Genres: First-person shooter, action, adventure
Pictures: Promo pictures from the game, https://store.steampowered.com/app/546560/HalfLife_Alyx/
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