Half-Life: Alyx’s slow start doesn’t do it a ton of favors. I’ll admit, I’m over a decade out since my last Half-Life 2 playthrough (I’m due, I know.) but I remembered Half-Life being fucking awesome right? Thankfully, after a couple hours(!!) of VR tutorializing, Valve stops playing their hand so close to their chest.
Tech in the Half-Life universe has always been fun as hell to toy with, and luckily the Gravity Gloves are handy enough to carry a few hours of wandering. Point at anything in the environment, hold the trigger, and flick it towards you. Whatever you aimed at will come flying at you and you can catch it in midair. It’s awesome just about every time. You’ll explore some sewers and city streets. You’ll pick off some head crabs and a combine or two. You’ll solve a surprising variety of puzzles. And then, a handful of chapters in, you have your first serious combat encounter with some heavily armored bruisers.
I cannot exaggerate how goddamn good the combat in this game can be.
Did you play Doom 2016? Do you remember how the level design and weapons and systems all came together perfectly to make you feel like the coolest person alive? Well, since Doom Eternal shit the bed this go around, Half-Life: Alyx is here to pick up that particular torch and start running with it.
Imagine the most excited you’ve been in a video game combat encounter, and that was my experience with the first heavy gunner fight in Half-Life: Alyx. It absolutely ruled. I, as a physical human being, had to crouch and hide and run around a room to outsmart a bunch of soldiers. You can sneak, you can rush, you can hoarde a bunch of grenades and hope for the best. The level of creativity in player solution is almost certainly more limited than what it feels like in the moment, but it’s also the only game outside of Superhot to make me feel like I’m beating these dudes in a real-ass fight. I ducked under shotgun fire, blind fired from behind cover, all of that shit. We’ve done it a million times in games before, but man, VR! And it’s not just that it’s in VR. I’ve played plenty of shooters in VR before. Half-Life: Alyx has a pedigree of people who know exactly how to balance a fight, give you juuuust enough ammo and grenades to scrape by, and make you feel like there’s no way in hell you’re gonna survive. And then you do! Remember when these people made Left 4 Dead? Man, I’ve missed ’em.
I know I’m a huge sucker for virtual reality to begin with and those not already converted may not be convinced, but believe me when I tell you Half-Life: Alyx put me in a game in a way I’ve never felt before. Sadly, I’m visiting someone else to use their VR set and with the virus being what it is… yeah I haven’t gotten to play the game in a month. But, again, I’m not joking when I say that my heart is racing just thinking about being able to play it again. And it highlights how much not fun I’ve had with Doom Eternal so far, but that’s a different discussion for a different day.
The game isn’t perfect by a longshot, though! The first couple chapters are super boring! Some of the secrets feel so arbitrarily hidden that you’re forced to just do the air flick thing at random and hope a collectible comes flying towards you. Grabbing things in VR can be unwieldy, and those headsets just aren’t comfortable enough yet to play for more than an hour or two at a time. BUT: I just can’t imagine having the same experience with the combat if it wasn’t in virtual reality, as much as it sucks to say. I do hope that Half-Life: Alyx, through mods or otherwise, becomes accessible to more people, even at the risk of losing a bit of its soul. It’s still a good Half-Life game! There’s smart writing (Russel’s chatter in your ear is always welcome), a cool Ravenholm tribute section (this is a horror game when it wants to be!), and just generally clever puzzle design throughout. If you have any way to get your hands on this thing, you gotta give it a shot.