Review “Half-Life Alyx”, the most immersive VR on the market, but exhausting
Alyx proposes to be an exclusively VR game, and he does it very well indeed. However, virtual reality has its problems and in Alyx, this only adds to the other defects of the game.
Half-Life Alyx is a game that is now available for PC VR (in reality the game is exclusively VR), and while the game is good for what it is intended, VR itself can be a tiring experience. Technically, this is the most impressive VR game I have ever played with the most incredible immersiveness and that is a big plus.
It lives up to VR exclusivity
Alyx has some of the most impressive VR contextualization I’ve ever seen. Much of this is linked to your in-game gravity gloves and your real-life movement that virtual hands and the user interface make. You can also use them to pull items towards you. You just point a hand in the general direction of the objects and shake your wrist to call it towards you and then pick it up. This makes collecting items a fun process.
The shootings are also exciting in VR. This gives fights a kind of tension that you can’t feel in a normal first-person experience. Little things also stand out, like medical stimpacks that you literally need to shoot in the chest or thigh and the grenades that you need to squeeze in your hand to activate.
Weapon system and engaging interactivity
You only have a few weapons in Half-Life Alyx, but you can improve them all with special stations throughout the game. For example, you can add a laser sight to your pistol, extra ammo storage for your assault rifle, or even a grenade launcher for your shotgun.
These updates cost resin, which are scattered throughout the game. And I want to say that they are even spread out. You’ll be turning over buckets, looking at the beams and opening drawers trying to find as much resin as possible. It is a great incentive for you to explore every nook and cranny of every room.
The puzzles … oh the puzzles …
Puzzles are a big focus at Half-Life Alyx. Sometimes, you will break into electronics by connecting wires to a holographic screen (which you can rotate with one hand). Others are based on their environment, like figuring out how to get power to an elevator and then pulling it out of a giant pipe stuck in its supports.
There is also a puzzle that involves a nasty monster that will kill you as soon as it comes in contact with you. On the positive side, he is blind. However, he can hear very well. You can do things like throw bottles to distract him. The game explores this part a lot, and is easily the highlight of the whole experience. Sometimes you open a door and knock on a glass, giving just a second to reach for it and grab it before it falls to the floor. You can even cover your mouth by moving your real hands to your face.
The changes to VR are fun, but exhausting
So many years have passed since Half-Life’s last game, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, 2007, and the graphics and character animations have had some major updates. I won’t spoil anything, but I was worried that Half-Life Alyx being a prequel would mean that we wouldn’t see the series’ story moving forward. This is not the case.
Compared to Half-Life 2, Alyx leans more towards the survival horror genre. Enemies hit harder, ammunition is scarce and health is limited. It’s not as fast or action-based as Half-Life 2. Now, that makes a lot of sense for the VR transition. The atmosphere is a big part of virtual reality and relying more on elements of horror is a way to create a more visceral experience.
But it can become mentally exhausting. I played in sessions lasting an hour or two and was very tired after them. Now, I suppose that means that the game is doing its job. But considering how stressed I am already being quarantined and practicing social detachment, I must say that Alyx’s release came at a not-so-good time.
Quarantine and Alyx are not a good combination
And while the situation in the real world is obviously beyond Valve’s control, the game is not doing itself any favors with dragging levels (there is a part where you are stuck in the same hotel for what felt like hours) with the same color palette and lots of visual sameness. And despite the length of the game, you often feel like you’re going through the same environments: dilapidated buildings, creepy underground areas and abandoned streets.
Half-Life Alyx is often so immersive and impressive that it can be frustrating when VR has its inevitable hiccups. One of my biggest problems involved the stickiness of grabbing and holding items. My hands lock on objects that I was not trying to grab, or I would have a hard time getting my virtual fingers to release a doorknob.
Then there is the classic VR locomotion problem. You have options to move around the game world in a normal way, but it almost always makes me sick and disoriented. Instead, I have to choose the standard route, which makes you use short-range teleportation. It doesn’t make me so sick, but it’s not that immersive. This is a classic virtual reality problem and, despite Alyx’s many surprising technical achievements, he does not find the solution to this puzzle.
Half-Life Alyx is one of the most immersive and impressive virtual reality games on the market. If you’re a fan of VR or the Half-Life series, it’s an easy recommendation. But if you don’t want to play something so stressful at this particular time, I don’t blame you. This game makes Half-Life 2 look like Disneyland. Alyx increases fright and pressure with her focus on survival horror.
That certainly makes Half-Life Alyx the most intense entry in the franchise so far. But it’s not as fun as Half-Life 2. This game made you feel like a god, while Alyx made you feel like prey. Now, part of it comes down to personal preference. I was never a great horror guy. But even with that aside, Alyx lacks the variety or charm of Half-Life 2 or other Valve masterpieces like Portal 2.
But, judged on its merits as a virtual reality game, it is excellent. If you’re looking for something to impress what technology can do, it will do the job.
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