I wasn’t expecting to love Half-Life: Alyx as much as I did. I certainly wasn’t expecting to feel so scared, so grossed out and just so immersed while playing. But after hours of play I’m confident that it’s not only a milestone in the Half-Life series, it’s an exciting step forward for VR gaming in general.
I’m not here to give a blow-by-blow of the game. If you want a deep dive, check out, as well as his . But I’m a long time fan of Half-Life. And like many others who have been waiting endlessly for Half-Life 3, I was nervous about what this new entry into the series would bring.
I needn’t have worried. I fired the game up using my HTC Vive VR headset and I was immediately met with a view over City 17 as I stood on a balcony. It was a bizarre moment. Here was a landscape I knew well: I recognized the Striders. I recognized the Combine’s citadel. But here I was actually in the world. I could interact with it — pick up cans and throw them at pigeons. Not just with the click of a mouse, but with my own hands. I could physically lean over the edge of the railing and peer over.
I immediately texted my brother, who’s also a long-time Half-Life fan. “Dude, you have to see this game as soon as you can. It’s… indescribable.” And I meant it. Finding myself in a world I knew so well was a sensation I struggled to put into words.
It’s not all pretty views and pigeons, though. I distinctly remember a moment early in the game when I had to drag a rotting corpse out of a window using my own hands. The face lolling towards mine, the arms realistically dropping to the side. My heart rate shot up as my body was being fooled into thinking I truly was doing something disgusting.
It was much the same when I met my familiar friends the headcrab zombies. Seeing those shambling creatures stagger towards me for “real” was horrifying but also thrilling. Placing some well-aimed bullets into them was intensely satisfying, as was the mechanic for manually loading fresh magazines into the pistol. The darker moments of the game brought a level of horror I haven’t felt in Half-Life since my first time exploring the grim alleyways of Ravenholm.
It might seem odd to want a realistic experience of a dystopian alien-conquered world, but fans of the series will understand. And it’s fans who are really going to have get behind this — buying a VR headset, plus a capable machine to run it on, isn’t cheap. If you don’t have a set already then you’re going to have to really be into Half-Life for it to be the sole reason you invest.
I can say with confidence that as a dedicated fan of the series, Half-Life: Alyx is a superb addition that fans will love. But more than that, it’s also the best game I’ve played in VR. Its story, gameplay mechanics and graphics are all perfectly designed for the platform. The result is truly immersive gameplay that fools you every horrifying step of the way into believing you’re really inside the game’s world.
Half-Life: Alyx has shown what can be done in VR and I can’t wait to see how other developers try to take things further. Maybe it’s time for my VR system to step up from being a casual novelty, brought out of storage once in a while, to a permanent, often-used gaming platform.
Read more at GameSpot: How Half-Life: Alyx plays on every major VR headset