I’m going to be completely honest, reader, I wasn’t sure Valve could ever live up to the hype of a new Half Life game.
It’s been years, there’s been a ton of false starts and hopes dashed. Part of me wondered whether Valve were a little bit scared to go back to the franchise. It’d be understandable, considering how much investment there is from the ravenous fan base.
But here we are, Half Life: Alyx. A standalone VR adventure returning us to a world where there’s Black Mesa, headcrabs, and a well-suited man carrying a briefcase.
And guess what? They did it. They made a game that not only lives up to the hype, but surpasses it.
Put in plain terms, if Beat Saber put VR on the map, then Half Life Alyx should be the reason you chart a course.
I get it. You don’t have a VR headset and you don’t want one. You don’t understand why they made a VR game when the entire world has been asking for a flat Half Life 3 for thirteen years. VR wasn’t even part of the conversation back then.
You see VR as a fad and you’re reluctant to spend all that money on technology which surely has a limited shelf life, even though it’s never been more popular. I get your reservations.
But I’m here to tell you that Half Life Alyx just wouldn’t work if it wasn’t in VR. There’s so many subtle touches and tweaks that all come together to give the most finished, polished experience I’ve ever seen in a headset.
The way you bat away headcrabs diving at your head, reload your shotgun and cock it ready for use, or use your Gravity Gloves to catch something from the other side of the screen. There’s this sense of freedom, creativity and satisfaction that makes this experience so distinctly Half Life.
And none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t in VR.
I wondered whether Valve could still make video games like this. It’s been a long time and many of the core team from Half Life moved away to work on their own ventures. Many members of the team working on Alyx grew up playing Half Life, so there’s a lot of new blood and undoubted pressure.
But the tone is perfect, the way the game tells its story is gradual, the use of humour is on point, and then you get to reacquaint with familiar friends and enemies. Putting the headset on, I immediately felt like a kid again and right back in that world as if I’d never left it.
And here’s another funny story. Alyx was undoubtedly the star of the show in Half Life 2, stealing Gordon’s spotlight as a walking, talking, living, breathing companion with razor sharp wit. That’s still absolutely the case here, but HL:A has its own humourous companion in Russell, who often has the game’s best lines.
Each Half Life game seems to do something different. The original was widely praised for its cinematic sequences, story, and classic puzzle solving, while the sequel gave us Alyx and the Gravity Gun, which revolutionised interactivity in the genre.
Half Life: Alyx feels like yet another gamechanger, in the way it makes VR feel less like a gimmick and more an essential gaming component to uncovering new depth in virtual worlds. You’ll spend ages stopping to look around at City 17 in detail, pay attention to enemy behaviour patterns, use your environment to survive and feel more immersed than ever.
And I know that because I spent ten minutes laughing obnoxiously to myself when I smashed Russell’s tea cup in front of him and his face told me my own personal story. I know that when I was doodling endless nothings to myself for over an hour. I spent ages just picking up and throwing things at thin air because it felt empowering and cool.
I’ve been a Half Life fan since the very beginning. I’ve so much love for this franchise and the care that Valve take with it that I was incredibly nervous to play the game, just as much as I was excited. But I honestly had nothing to worry about because Valve have given VR a killer-app while reigniting a dormant franchise in the best possible way.
VR aside, this is my Game of the Year so far. I’ve gasped, I’ve shrieked, I’ve laughed and I’ve beamed because this has everything a great adventure needs, while also answering some big questions Half Life fans have had for years and even given them some new ones.
I don’t know if or when we’ll get another Half Life game. Even if we don’t, that’s ok. I’ve had another bite of the cherry and it’s as glorious as it’s ever been. If it all ended with Half Life Alyx, I’d feel pretty satisfied.
All that to say, if you have a VR headset that can play Half Life: Alyx, playing this is no-brainer, whether you’re a fan of the series or not.
And if you haven’t dipped your toe in the world of VR yet and you’re still sat on the fence, it’s time to jump down and splash around. There’s more than enough great games to try and Half Life: Alyx is the trove of wonderful, memorable, and delightful treasures you’ve been waiting for.
Half Life: Alyx is now available on Steam VR
Reviewer played using Oculus Quest / Oculus Link Cable
Review Code Provided by the Publisher