True to form, Valve is sticking with it’s “once every decade or so” release schedule. Up next on the roster? Half-Life: Alyx!

After years of waiting, players will finally return to City 17 later this month. However, unlike traditional PC titles, Half-Life: Alyx is a VR exclusive.

This isn’t surprising given Valve’s interest in VR over the past decade. After all, we’re talking about the same company that partnered with HTC to develop the original Vive system, then went on to build VR functionality directly into the Steam gaming platform.

More recently, with the release Valve Index and the “knuckles” controller, Valve has firmly established itself as Facebook’s primary competition in the VR wars, with Half-Life: Alyx shaping up to be VR’s first “killer app.”

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Zoom In

What is Half-Life: Alyx? Half-Life: Alyx is the next installment in the famed Half-Life franchise, only available through VR. You play as Alyx Vance, fighting the Combine through City 17, sometime between the events of Half-Life (the interdimensional incident at Black Mesa) and Half-Life 2 (the attack on the Citadel). Your mission seems to be the acquisition of some sort of weapon, and you’ll be fighting alongside (and against) the familiar slate of characters.
Developer: Valve
Release Date
: March 23, 2020
Price: $59.99
Website:
www.half-life.com

Story

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Half-Life games are always shrouded in mystery, with many unexpected twists and turns. But we do know a few things about Half-Life: Alyx.

For one, you play as Alyx Vance, daughter of Eli Vance, and companion to Gordon Freeman through the events of Half-Life 2.

We also know that the game is set in City 17 (at least initially) between the events of the original Half-Life and Half-Life 2. This means that Freeman is still in limbo after the events at Black Mesa, the Seven Hour War has taken place, and the Combine have assumed control of Earth.

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A noteworthy indicator in the content released thus far is the image of a partially constructed Combine tower known as the Citadel. The Citadel ultimately serves as the headquarters of the Combine’s presence on Earth and the antenna through which the Combine maintain a stable portal to their dimension. The unfinished Citadel may mean that the Combine are a little less capable, and the human resistance may be a little more robust. That said, if traditional storytelling teaches us anything, it’s that rebel uprisings make for great entertainment.

The Half-Life: Alyx preview scenes give us a glimpse of City 17 from street level, as well as a new point of interest known as “Russell’s lab.”

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Who is Russel? He seems to be a new character that serves as the player’s in-game guide, much like Alyx was to the player in Half-Life 2. Given Russell’s propensity for advanced physics research and development (notice the Gravity Gloves in the preview?), we can assume that he’s a scientist affiliated with the Black Mesa complex. He also has a Kiwi accent, which further supports this theory.

While it’s pure speculation, the internet has been abuzz with the question of “is this a prequel or time-traveling sequel?” Anything’s possible considering the Half-Life franchise is known for wild acts of science, dimension crossing, and time-bending, along with the inexplicable influence of the G-Man. This makes the prequel/sequel question hard to pin down, along with how Alyx fits into the larger story arc.

Regardless of how things play out, the storyline should be full of surprising twists and turns, and I’m hoping we get to see Gordon as an NPC, possibly being woken up and speaking his first line in 22 years of the franchise. Even just a memorable one-liner like, “Where’s my crowbar?”

Design

Artistically, the released preview scenes are absolutely stunning. And they’re not even a full representation of the new Source 2 engine, as Steam VR doesn’t use Source 2 to render its home environments. Even still, the art direction and production quality are on par with the best games of any platform.

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In the street scene, though confined to the narrow alleyways, it feels open and airy. The silhouette of the Citadel looms in the murky haze, with Combine propaganda echoing in the distance. It all sells the larger world, and the level isn’t even that big.

Another notable design element? While in Russell’s lab, the rooms are dense with detail and set-dressing that make it feel like the lab of an off-kilter theoretical physicist in a dystopian society.

Gameplay

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While Half-Life’s core gameplay will remain intact, it’s likely to be more intimate than in previous iterations of the franchise. VR will bestow the player with greater situational awareness, dexterity, and flexibility in combat and when solving puzzles. 

This should result in detail-packed areas of narrative and exploration, puzzles that leverage that newfound dexterity over motion controls, and close-quarters combat with lots of cover.

But we’ll have to see how it all plays out.

Technology

With the arrival of Half-Life: Alyx as a VR-only title, it’s become clear that Valve’s contribution to VR enabled the development of this game. In short, Half-Life: Alyx is why VR exists in its current form in the first place.

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Another significant technological achievement with Half-Life: Alyx is the Source 2 engine, which is likely purpose-built for VR. The intricate level of detail in every element – and the new engine’s ability to render that detail – is going to elevate Half-Life: Alyx to a new plane. Not to mention, the perception of that detail through VR will set a new standard for immersion.

At long last, Half-Life: Alyx is nearly here. And I, for one, can’t wait to explore City 17 in an immersive new VR setting.

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High Ground View

Half-Life is a classic franchise that changed gaming when it first hit the market. And it’s on the verge of changing it again with Half-Life: Alyx

Valve is a well funded and top tier studio, which shows in the quality and production value of Half-Life: Alyx. Moreover, the game itself is literally why VR exists as it does today. It’s the definitive “killer app” for VR and has set a new benchmark for what the medium is capable of. If you have a gaming PC and don’t have VR yet, buy a system pronto.

Then play this game.

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