'Half-Life: Alyx' Is Scary as Hell, and Proves Valve's VR Gamble Paid Off

So, was it worth the wait? Unanswerable.

Nothing could live up to the weight of expectations after Valve decided to walk away from one of gaming’s biggest cliffhangers and let speculation irresponsibly fester for more than a decade. Alyx is not Half-Life 3, nor is it Episode Three.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/epg7nk/half-life-alyx-review-vr-gamble-paid-off

Fuck, this does sound good.

I’m waiting to find out if you can jury-rig a PSVR headset to work with this. I’m sure it’s possible since you can apparently do it with SteamVR in general, just want to get some kind of confirmation that it works before buying the game.

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I don’t have a PC VR headset (or gaming PC for that matter), so alas I’ll be unable to play this. But as a general VR advocate, I’m very glad to hear this game turned out well. And I’m especially pleased to hear that Patrick thinks it does in fact deliver as a horror game. It leaves me pretty optimistic about VR’s future.

I’m not sure you could pay me enough to get me to play Alien Isolation in VR, so I feel like the fact that Valve deliberately took this route means other people have noticed that if there’s anything the current generation of VR might be good at, it’s that.

I don’t have the kind of space required for VR, so I won’t be playing this, but I’m happy for the VR boosters who finally get a good AAA style game designed exclusively for it.

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I read another review where the reviewer mentioned walking backwards and nearly tripping over his daughter who was playing with toys right behind him. To play a VR game if you have kids or pets, you have to lock them up securely like an asshole or deal with a major safety issue. Honestly, fuck that. Fuck VR. It’s a technology that’s only practical for people who live in a featureless void.

Semi-off topic: Wait, is Wolfenstein: The New Order the same story as Half-Life 2 but told better?

I can confirm it’s scary as hell.

It took me a minute or two to build up the courage to head down this corridor.


the Half-Life defender has logged on

Jokes aside, yeah, pretty much. And it’s not just New Order/New Colossus. Titanfall 2 is pretty clearly a super close spiritual successor to HL2, considering it shares boatloads of design philosophy, narrative structure, and basically patterns its entire final level after HL2’s last chapter. This isn’t the thread for today’s podcast, but I think Rob was pretty on point when he said that the HL games might seem less revolutionary in retrospect because so much of what they did has just become an accepted part of what games are. And I think it’d be hard to find a dev working on shooters right now who wasn’t heavily influenced by Half-Life—like those games are, respectively, 23 and 16 years old. People who played them as teenagers when they came out are in their 30s and 40s now.


I played about 3-4 hours today, one big point of appreciation that might not seem major if you haven’t played much VR in the past is how much interactable junk there is around the environment.

Interactivity in VR games is usually utilitarian, an item or environment object that can be interacted with is usually important. In HLA, there’s a ton of useless junk and interactive objects around that gives the environment a sense of texture.

Shooting headcrab zombies in VR is fine, the real exciting moments are opening up an office drawer with one hand and rifling through it to find valuables with the other, or running your hand across a hanging object and seeing it move in a way you’d expect. I haven’t played a VR game that’s felt like this before.


Crushing aluminum cans by squeezing my Index controllers, I’m pretty sure I’ve crushed every can in the first 3 chapters.

David Cage is not someone I like to quote but when I hear about Half Life:Alyx I think about how he called LA Noire an ‘interesting dead end’.

This is by far the most impressive a VR game had looked to me, but I don’t have a place in my life for a wholly encompassing virtual reality experience. I don’t have room in my life or my apartment for ‘Half Life but I can touch it’.

Sounds pretty cool though.


The history of Half-Life to me is: There’s a way you should play it, a way you can play it and everyone else who can’t.

I was in the “can’t” camp for Half-Life in 1998, I was 11 and my family didn’t have a computer that could run anything other than Encarta 95 Mindmaze.

I remember Half-Life 2 costing me $500+ to play in 2005. I was a senior in High School, my only job was mowing my grandma’s lawn and selling my services as an artist in town (commissioned for portraits, land scapes, etc). I needed a DirectX 9 graphics card and more RAM to play the game how it looked in the PC mags I bought at the 7-11 across the alley. I finally got the card and RAM just in time to play it during the week off they gave seniors before graduation and it was a revelation.

This time around Valve made me build a power PC again, this time in a different order. They made the headset I wanted so I built a PC for it and then the game came later.

I respect Valve’s commitment to making what they want, when they want, shooting for the fringe of the gaming audience.

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I don’t feel the Titanfall 2 narrative comparison. Consider New Order and HL2 have: The return of a legendary PC FPS protagonist who was out of action (full body paralysis, stored in interdimensional stasis) for about 20 years and returns to a world under a oppressive dystopian regime with only a ragtag band of resistance fighters, most of them old associates of the player character. A romance develops between the player character and a female sidekick done in varying quality (someone agree with me that the Gordon/Alyx the HL2 runs with is god awfully dumb). Middle section of going around alone for reasons (I know it’s a product of it’s time but damn does HL2’s middle drag). And destruction of the antagonist’s headquarters that leaves the player character out of the assumedly out of the picture yet again.

It’s a Portal and Mirror’s Edge grade of similarity.

Man Ghostwire: Tokyo looked cool, didn’t it?

Oh yeah that’s fair with regard to New Order. With Titanfall 2, the comparison I’d make is less direct narrative beats and more the design and structure of the campaign. Like HL2, it’s divided very explicitly into chapters that share their core gameplay but introduce specific conditions, environments, and mechanics that get immediately jettisoned after they’re gone. (The Wolfenstein games, unless I’m remembering incorrectly, don’t have that same level of turnover. They’re more immersive sim-y with upgrade trees and skills and the like.) There’s a surprising amount of traversal and physics puzzles, and while the paths are linear and well-funneled there’s still an aspect of figuring out where to go or what to do next. There are several one-off setpiece levels that introduce a specific new mechanic or enemy or method of fighting that then either disappears entirely or fades into the background. And the final sequence with the Smart Pistol is absolutely the superpowered Gravity Gun level at the end of Half-Life 2, copy-pasted with a new weapon and new universe, where the game tries turns the player from the outgunned guerilla-ish fighter they’d been for the entire game into Death, Destroyer of Worlds for some catharsis.

I think there’s more than that too, but it’s been a few years since I’ve played TF2’s campaign (and the New Order for that matter). Maybe I’ll give them a replay since from what it sounds like, I won’t be playing Alyx anytime soon.

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Also did we forget that Alyx is black? I mean, mixed race, and actually it looks like she’s gotten even less black since HL2 but black father and I wanna say they were going with Asian mother. What’s the cover for this game. That’s it. Eh… I say let it through. Chalk up another on our still single digit list of game covers with black women on them. And then I guess she was on all the Episode covers. Alright, we’re at eight.

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This narrative dovetails pretty seamlessly with Valve’s whole libertarianism thing, for what it’s worth.

Gave Newell was a big shot from Microsoft who started Valve with tech money. In almost 30 years, these games have continued to be big, fancy vanity projects funded by tech monopolies.

I’m not saying other studios are any better, but the whole “Valve made the game they wanted to make” narrative obfuscates the fact they’re shielded from the consequences of making a less economically accessible game by their monopoly.

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I’ve been playing this and I wasn’t really convinced that this was really more of a horror game than other Half-Life games were like Patrick says it is. There were horror bits, sure, but not really more than HL2 had.

Now I’m at chapter 5 and uh, turns out the first four chapters were basically the tutorial and now it has really ramped things up. Just got past a really good horror sequence with those poison headcrabs. At the start i had to go up a destroyed building and walk over a lot of planks over gaps, with a lot of those headcrabs crawling around below. There are also barnacles at the top which sometimes catch the headcrabs down below. Then when i finally reached the top, rarely having had to deal with a headcrab, it turns out there’s a combine barrier standing at the way out. To get past it I had to follow the big wire that powers it to its source, and I look at it and it leads all the way down to where the poison headcrabs are. Which is just, a really good “oh, fuck” moment It’s turned into a really good and effective horror game now, and while I thought I’d have problems with that I’ve actually been loving it.

Half-Life: Alyx scares the hell out of me, and I’m just watching other people play it.

It’s ridiculous. Good.

I’ve been watching Danny O’Dwyer’s playthrough and it seems pretty great. It’s a shame that due to finances and motion sickness I’ll likely never play it. But there is a bigger issue. Nearly four years after the release of the major VR headsets this game feels the need to spend nearly half it length tutorializing systems as basic as moving and shooting. We’re still not at a point where there’s a common design language for VR, this game has multiple movement options that radically change how it controls. That, as much as the cost of these headsets, still seems like a huge barrier.

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