Review: Half-Life: Alyx

James Troughton straps on the headset and boots up into this dystopian Matrix

James Troughton
24th March 2020
When the last Half-Life released, I was seven years old, and so there are twelve years of obsessive hype to live up to, and somehow, Alyx managed to deliver.

There's a hefty paywall behind it, given that you need a VR headset and a beefy rig to even boot up the thing, but that paywall is more of a door because it opens you up to an entirely new realm of gaming possibilities. Sure, it's an investment, but it's a worthwhile one, and I'm just glad Alyx was the one to push me through it willingly; it's nice that Half-Life is the cultivation of so many brilliant VR strides, whilst also making leaps of its own.

The attention to detail is phenomenal.

Right off the bat, the immersion is incredible and unparalleled. You begin atop a balcony, staring over at City 17, with the ominous Striders booming as they get closer and closer, only to pass you by, leaving you with a distinct feeling of uneasiness that not even Half-Life 2's rich dystopia pulled off. Then, you climb your way to the monitor to speak to your father, Eli Vance, and right by your side is a marker, and this is where I knew that the game was going to live up to the expectations. The attention to detail is phenomenal - you can pick up that marker and draw on the windows and monitors, which left Eli with a neat little green mustache in my playthrough.

This extends far beyond simply drawing, as you can play the piano, pull headcrabs off you and put your hands up when a rifle's thrust in your face, to which the soldier replies with "keep those hands up." With so much care and thought put into the mundane, you can only guess how brilliant the actual gunplay and puzzles are, which is the beef of the pie that is Half-Life: Alyx.

VR is a perfect medium for shooters, but balancing realism and entertainment is something few get right. Boneworks leaned too far one way, which alienated anyone without the finger-tracking perks of the Index controllers, but Valve is a little kinder, opting to have hands snap to weapons and objects, rather than letting them slip through your spaghetti fingers.

On top of that, reloading is easy enough, as you simply press a button to drop the mag out of the weapon before pulling ammo from your backpack, slotting it in before cocking. You don't have to fiddle with menus, as you simply reach behind your back before pressing the grab button: it'll automatically determine what ammo to retrieve based on what weapon is in your hand.

The weapons have weight, which is mostly through their sound-design, and the hit-registration is fantastic.

There's also a plethora of quality-of-life additions that you can implement to your weapons through upgrade paths. What's really satisfying, although more so for fans of the series, is that with each addition to your starting pistol, it begins to resemble Alyx's iconic gun from Half-Life 2 more closely. The upgrades make aiming much easier and pack more punch into your arsenal, which given that you only have three weapons in this game, as opposed to the over-the-top TARDIS of a backpack that Gordon had, is a fitting alternative.

The weapons have weight, which is mostly through their sound-design, and the hit-registration is fantastic, and when enemies finally go down, it's a treat. Whether it's the harrowing zombies stumbling through the dark depths of the sewers or the eerie Combine grunts with their unsettling radio-chatter in broad daylight atop the railway, each fight is high-octane and adrenaline-pumping, pushing you to use cover as leverage, whilst also scrambling for ammo.

One thing that works in conjunction with combat phenomenally is the Russels, or the 'Gravity Gloves', which are used to pull things towards you such as resin (upgrade currency) or ammo, as well as grenades, syringes, and props laying about. In combat, these come in handy, as you can find yourself lobbing some vodka at an enemy to buy yourself some reload time, which is invaluable given that, in the VR experience, you aren't just tapping the 'R' button to refill your gun.

Related: Valve Index Reveal

Brilliant horror, a stunning score, a heartfelt story, engaging combat, an unbelievable level of detail and graphics unrivaled in the medium - Half-Life: Alyx knocked it out the park, so let's hope this is Valve's own Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, because a 3 wouldn't go amiss.

Featured image credit: IGDB

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