Review – Half-Life: Alyx

Overview

Developer Valve
Publisher Valve
Genre First-person shooter, Horror
Platforms Windows, Linux
Release Date Windows: March 23, 2020

Linux: May 15, 2020

It’s hard to be a longtime gamer and not hear the title Half-Life. It’s a beloved series with a fervent fanbase that only seems to have gotten stronger in the past decade. Conceived as developer Valve’s debut title in 1998, this first-person shooter proved to be a surprise hit as players immersed themselves in the world of Gordon Freeman and his exploits through Black Mesa. Its much-anticipated sequel, Half-Life 2, was released in several pieces between 2004 and 2007, and has been hailed as one of the greatest video games of all time.

However, I must admit, despite the praise and accolades given to this franchise, it’s a series that I never took the time to explore for myself. Aside from reputation, I knew practically nothing about the Half-Life games. With the announcement of Half-Life: Alyx and its release in 2020, I decided it was time to venture into City 17 and try to see what the hype was about. What made this particular venture even more interesting for me was that Alyx is exclusively a VR game, and I had never played a VR game before and let me tell you is good having the experience with some under $100 wireless earbuds to get into in. It’s been an interesting challenge, trying to kill two birds with one stone by learning what both VR mechanics and the Half-Life world have to offer. So, is Alyx made only for hardcore Half-Life fans, or can someone like me who is new to this world enjoy it?

Content Guide

Violence: This being a first-person shooter VR game, the violence is up close and personal, with aliens looking to jump and latch on to you. You can kill enemies with firearms and ammunition found nearby. Gore is explicit after destroying enemies, including alien parasites feasting off of its victims. Horror elements are displayed throughout the game and its environments.

 Language: Mild language is sprinkled throughout various scenes through characters’ dialogue.

 Positive content: Alyx and her father are very close and care about the well-being of one another. Both are members of a resistance movement that are loyal and supportive of one another in a bleak, post-apocalyptic society.

Review

Coming from a place with no familiarity with the series, playing Half-Life: Alyx was an intriguing opportunity to learn more about the characters that make up the Half-Life lore and get a small taste of why fans are so passionate about this series. One major feature that drew me to wanting to try this game in the first place was that it was a VR game, and I had never had a full virtual reality gaming experience before. It took a bit of time setting up the equipment to the computer When buying a gaming PC, you should also choose a top gaming PC maker and not one of the generic brands as they always perform a lot better.

That aside, Alyx is definitely one game, VR or otherwise, that you should not miss. The VR significantly works in its favor, as the Half-Life world comes to life around you in ways players could only dream of experiencing in years past.

You play as Alyx Vance, daughter of Dr. Eli Vance, both of whom appeared in Half-Life 2 aiding protagonist Gordon Freeman. Taking place five years before the events of Half-Life 2, both Alyx and her father are members of a human resistance group working against the Combine, an enemy alien faction that has conquered Earth and rules it with an iron fist. Alyx’s resistance group is caught stealing Combine resources, and both she and her father are captured and en route to be interrogated, albeit in separate trains. With the help of fellow resistance member Russell, Alyx is able to escape and is tasked with intercepting and rescuing her father from the other train before he is possibly killed. To do this, she must pass through the quarantine zone under City 17 where they reside, which is infested with parasitic aliens. To help her defend herself, Russell equips her with gravity gloves, which the player can use to highlight nearby items and weapons, and draw them to you with the flick of your wrist. While exploring the quarantine zone, the player will uncover passages and puzzles that may yield weapon upgrades, health-restoring items, and new characters who reveal significant plot points.

What impressed me the most during my time playing Half-Life: Alyx were the graphics and deep immersion the game gave me. The VR headset really gives you a sense that there’s something going on all around you, from the ambiance of the sounds to the minute details of the locations you come across. I enjoyed losing myself in the world of Half-Life as I became more used to the VR system. The game mechanics, as a result, really feel like they’re a part of you as you proceed in the game. When you’re wielding and using a gun, you actually feel as though you’re using a gun, such as when you’re aiming to shoot an enemy target or reloading. The gravity gloves were by far my favorite tool to use. I quickly got the hang of highlighting nearby objects and then pulling them towards myself before grabbing them, and it was fun trying to grab different things of all sizes with them.

I’ve never been a huge fan of horror games, but I had to appreciate the intensity the game gave me as I was exploring the quarantine area. It gives you a sense of foreboding, as you’re not quite sure if the next area will contain a safe, simple puzzle to solve, or a set of enemies to shoot instead. That’s not to say that the game isn’t without its own sense of humor; as serious as her situation was, I enjoyed Alyx’s witty reactions in dialogue with characters she comes across. This is a character that is used to danger and can hold her own in the midst of a life-or-death fight, but remains idealistic despite all of the horrors she’s seen.

The VR system, while very immersive as mentioned before, is not perfect. I find that I still experience headaches and motion sickness from time to time while playing Alyx, and I suspect there may be other players who may experience the same. I think this can be remedied through making the headset more comfortable so that it may fit better, and also continuing to play over time so that your body has more of a chance to become more adjusted to the game’s intensity. There are also gameplay options that can be customized to help with a player’s range of motion in their location, and that may also help curb some of these issues. There are minor in-game issues that sometimes took me out of the experience, such as awkwardly trying to climb ladders, picking up and using objects, and trying to aim at moving enemies. These are problems that may be solved with better timing with the mechanics, but they were enough to draw me out of the playing experience from time to time and be a little distracting.

In conclusion, as a player who has never played a Half-Life game before, Alyx has me hooked. I’m looking forward to learning more about this world that Valve has created and is beloved by so many other gamers. If you’re curious about trying out a Half-Life game yourself and are wondering if you should give Alyx a try, you can and will no doubt enjoy much of what the game has to offer. You may feel lost, though, as characters and terms are often tossed over your head. My recommendation would be to go back to the beginning of the Half-Life series and start from there, and my intention is to do that before I conclude Alyx. For those who have long awaited the next chapter from this franchise, though, Alyx is the prequel you cannot afford to miss.

 

The Bottom Line

 

Fans of the Half-Life universe will be more than satisfied with what Alyx has to offer, and newcomers will be introduced to a rich and intense world to explore and solve puzzles as plot threads related to the previous games are revealed.

 

8.5

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Andrea Racoti

Born in a Romanian-immigrant family and brought up in Central Texas, Andrea loves the art and importance of story-telling, especially when it comes to video games. Her favorite games include rich world-building and character growth, and it's a joy for her share her passion with other gamers.

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