REVIEW – Half-Life: Alyx


Ashley Quiterio, Guest Writer

Standing on a balcony in City 17, my vision is greeted by a hazy sky filled with robotic creatures flying around the urban-European district. In the center of my view sits the Citadel, which lies under construction. Multiple cables and wires protruded from the portentous tower. The heads of Striders carrying cargo can be seen moving around the dilapidated buildings; their target seems to be the Quarantine Zone where they are dropping off supplies. I was truly awe-stricken by how amazing the virtual environment seemed to be.

Many aspects of Half-Life: Alyx added up to make this one of the greatest virtual reality games of all time. The story built off of its predecessors, the virtual reality aspect brought the game to life and the gameplay makes Half-Life: Alyx a truly unique experience.

The Story

Half-Life: Alyx is a game developed and published by the Valve Corporation. Half-Life: Alyx is the newest installment of the Half-Life franchise and is a spinoff of the original series, taking place in between Half-Life and Half-Life 2

The original games follow Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist who is forced to defend himself and the human race after a failed experiment causes r

ealities to be merged with the alien dimension Xen. Half-Life 2 introduces the Combine, often shortened to CMB. The CMB is an inter-dimensional empire and its sole goal is to enslave the multiverse. Gordon Freeman, with the help of the Resistance, thwarts the CMB’s plans. 

The newest installment follows Alyx Vance, a prominent member of the Resistance. Her father, Eli Vance, is taken by the CMB. The game focuses on rescuing her father with the help of Russel, in the form of a disembodied voice. 

I highly recommend catching up on the story of Half-Life before playing this game as it builds off the main storyline and previous titles are called back to in phenomenal ways.

The Immersivity

Pullquote Photo

  I have never felt a more primal fear than walking around a dark sewer and waiting for a Headcrab to viciously assault my facial regions

— Alexander Dionne

Virtual reality, commonly shortened to VR, is a simulated experience that the user can interact with using a headset and controllers as an extension of the player. VR allows players to become fully immersed with the game and environments created by the developers. 

Half-Life: Alyx uses VR as a way to fully engross the player in the Half-Life world. Even tiny details were added to the game to help immerse the user further. Many items can be manipulated by the player. Unlike most VR games, the hands of Alyx are fully detailed; grime and dirt can be seen under her fingernails. 

Virtual reality also adds to the perspective of the player. The ambiance is an important factor in a game and Half-Life: Alyx absolutely shines at bringing terrifying experiences to life. Buildings can be shown in their true, overwhelming heights. Areas that are cramped cause the user to feel claustrophobic. A dark tunnel truly feels dark–not some facade that is projected on a monitor. 

I asked local VR novice, junior Alexander Dionne, what his most memorable experience was so far in the game: “I have never felt a more primal fear than walking around a dark sewer and waiting for a Headcrab to viciously assault my facial regions.” 

The Gameplay

In Half-Life: Alyx, the player is given access to multiple weapons to defend themselves from enemies. Reloading in the game feels natural, but not complicated. I feel as if Valve struck the goldmine of making the action feel somewhat realistic, but not too difficult for newer VR players. 

A similar sentiment could be said about the movement features. Movement is an integral part of any game. Players are able to move around their room to interact with the environments, of course in the scale of their room, but they are also able to move freely using the joystick. There are two options for moving around: teleport or smooth locomotion. Teleport locomotion lets the user teleport a certain distance to combat motion sickness. Smooth locomotion allows for a more immersive experience since it simulates walking. I recommend teleport locomotion for anyone new to VR. Personally, I am not a fan of smooth locomotion since it feels as if I’m being dragged along one of those gym scooters, but to each their own.  

Junior Brandon Germain, a local VR connoisseur, had this to say about the movement abilities: “After playing Boneworks, I realized that movement and interactions are very important. If I could change it, I would make Half-Life: Alyx the same but play more with the mechanics that Boneworks had, like running, falling, jumping, and climbing.”

The combat of the game feels challenging but fair. Players new to VR, such as myself, may have some difficulties adjusting to the full 360° of the game. The involvement of explosives also helps keep fights fresh, especially with the ability to pick up and move explosive containers. The only disappointing part of the combat would have to be the lack of melee. Brandon mentioned that he thought that “Half-Life: Alyx should’ve had a similar melee system to Boneworks and that it was a missed opportunity. I love how in Boneworks you can use any item as a weapon. You can put a trash can on someone’s head and pick up any object to wack an enemy.” 

The puzzle aspects make fantastic use of the three-dimensional environment. My favorite ones were the ones that required the player to trace wires along walls with a tool to unlock locks as well as the ones that had the player manipulate multiple rays to connect balls of light. Both of these were, in my opinion, clever ways to involve virtual reality in puzzles. 

I would also like to lavish about the incredible workaround of items being out of reach; the gravity gloves. In most VR games, I often find that interactable items are placed out of my available playspace. This can be quite frustrating to players with small rooms. With the gravity gloves, the player can catapult items toward their hands. This is a similar mechanic to the gravity gun presented in Half-Life 2, but the gravity gloves are not able to manipulate objects to the same degree as its successor. 

An Overall Review

I feel as if Half-Life: Alyx is paving the way for more big companies to try to explore the world of VR. I would say this game is one of the greatest VR games I have ever played in my entire life. The story beautifully builds off of the original series in a way that organically fits, and the environment truly adds to the experience. The gameplay is also greatly accessible to those that are new to VR. 

I would give this game a ten out of ten and I highly recommend anyone play it. Just make sure you brush up on the story of Half-Life: Alyx to get the best experience. The people I interviewed also hold this game in high regard. Brandon Germain said “Well, the first time I played it I would have given it a ten out of ten. After playing other games like Boneworks, I’d give it a nine or a really high eight.” I asked Alex the same question and he responded with: “I’d probably give it a ten out of ten. Aside from the occasional bug, the game runs smoothly. The story was great as well.”