Half-Life: Alyx is a superb virtual reality experience. There are no two ways about it. It’s polished, fun, and absolutely sets a new standard for virtual reality games going forward.
I’ve tried a lot of VR games since I acquired an Oculus Rift a couple years ago, and while I’ve had some fun with it, there hasn’t really been a game yet that made me just go “wow” on multiple occasions like Alyx has. Everything just feels “right.” The world’s physical interactivity is evident within the first 15 seconds of the game. You begin Half-Life: Alyx in a little safehouse, and there are uncapped markers on one of the tables that you can actually take and then draw on the windows.
When you’re in VR, you want to experiment with everything around you, and one of the quickest ways to lose that sense of “immersion’ is when objects aren’t interactable. A lot of current VR games don’t make it very clear which objects are interactable, and Valve went above and beyond with Alyx by making pretty much everything interactable in some way. Every location in the game is filled to the brim with things to interact with.
I had moments where I had to shove past barrels to escape a sticky situation, pick up a milk crate and dump out its contents to get ammo, use a pipe to keep a door shut so I could easily take out a swarm of headcrabs, and even pull open a car door and hide behind it when I was taking on heavy gunfire.
It’s an insane amount of detail and really gives you a physical presence in the world. Only Boneworks offered a comparable level of immersion, but that game, since it was made by a small indie team just trying its best, doesn’t have the astounding level of polish present in Alyx. The more impressive part is that a lot of the game’s little details are tied to actual gameplay mechanics and not just for show.
Every cupboard and drawer is interactable. Toilet handles, seat covers, uncapped markers, trash can lids, car doors, chairs, even a pool table where you can roll balls at one another to play a little game of pool with yourself.
Without spoiling it, there’s one scenario in the game where you have to be extremely careful about making sound while also searching for items you need to complete an objective. One of the most immersive moments in the game for me was moving around some objects in a small cupboard so that I could reach the item I needed, and when I raised my hand up I knocked a glass bottle off the shelf above me and had to quickly catch it and softly lay it back down to stay quiet.
There are all kinds of these moments in Alyx, and Valve did an admiral job of not making the game feel like a tech demo, but an experience with all these organic moments that just emerge from the general gameplay mechanics and a player’s own logic.
That’s not even to mention that Alyx offers a compelling story, gorgeous visuals, and everything else you’d expect from a Half-Life game. It’s a remarkable achievement for virtual reality games.
Half-Life: Alyx has me extremely excited for the future of virtual reality games. The bar has been raised by Valve. And considering how the Index headset has been continually selling out, I think it’s safe to say that Half-Life: Alyx is the first must-have virtual reality title, and other developers are surely going to take note.