In some ways it feels wrong to pick a game that so few people got to play. There’s no denying, though, that Half-Life: Alyx was the best PC exclusive I played this year, and the best VR game by a mile.
VR remains an incredibly immersive and fascinating way of playing games, but as a medium it continues to struggle to gain real traction thanks to how expensive it is. And without many VR units in the wild, developers aren’t willing to commit large amounts of money to big, triple-A style games. So what we get are loads of cool but ultimately small experiences. That’s where Valve came in. After years and years of speculation surrounding a new Half-Life game, Valve controversially announced Half-Life: Alyx, a prequel to Half-Life 2 exclusive to VR, meaning millions of fans of the series wouldn’t get to experience this new entry. But for those of us who did get to experience Alyx, it really was something special.
Half-Life: Alyx is not the big new revolution in VR. It doesn’t push the boundry of VR in the sense of trying radical new concepts, and that’s fine. We have other games that are trying out completely new things, and they are amazing, but the thing we’ve all been waiting for is for VR to get a proper, honest video game. We’ve come close with stuff like Asgard’s Wrath, Boneworks and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, but Half-Life: Alyx feels like the first true God of War or Halo – a big-budget blockbuster that’s polished until it gleams. You probably shouldn’t buy into VR just for Half-Life: Alyx in the same way you probably shouldn’t purchase a Playstation just for God of War. But you should definitely buy into VR for Half-Life: Alyx and then for the many other amazing experiences that exist, and for all the ones yet to come. It’s simply the best VR game out there, and has raised the bar of what we know to be possible.
Alyx does everything it possibly can to keep you immersed in the world, only forcing you to surface when a loading screen pops up. Other than that, you’re constantly in the action and in control. You’re ducking out from behind pillars and firing off a couple of rounds, you’re flicking your wrist to snatch up distant bits of ammo and you’re admiring the beautiful world that’s packed with detail. I comfortably spent hours with my Oculus Rift S strapped to my head, whereas with most other VR games I’d spend maybe 30-60 minutes at a time because few experiences outside of racing could hold my attention for long periods of time.
And boy, is it fun. The act of physically loading the shotgun and then pulling the trigger feels great. Tossing grenades feels great. Hitting a head-crab with a bucket feels great. Do you understand the picture I’m painting with my virtual brush here? IT FEELS GREAT! The only thing I wished for was more interactivity with parts of the world. Like, I’d love to be able to pick up a piece of wood and try to smack a soldier with it or play baseball with a head-crab. But the gunplay and exploration and little details are so highly polished that I don’t care that there’s less overall interactivity than something like Boneworks. I’m too busy being immersed up to my freaking eyeballs.
If you manage to get your hands on a VR headset in 2021, this is undoubtedly one of the first games you should play. It is a fantastic, engaging, immersive and fun ride from start to finish, and a perfect example of why virtual reality gaming is so special.
Categories: Opinion Piece
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