The big picture:
Valve’s first Half-Life game in nearly 13 years has finally arrived and while it’s not Half-Life 3, it’s not just another mundane title to showcase the potential of virtual reality, either. Simply put, Valve has delivered in a big way with its latest effort as evident by the overwhelmingly positive reviews hitting the Internet today.
Here’s a quick look at what some those with early access to the game have discovered thus far.
Valve doesn’t throw you to the wolves out of the gate as Ben Kuchera with Polygon recounts:
The first hours of Half-Life: Alyx are dedicated to slowly introducing you to how things are going to work in VR. You have time to look around, and I spent too much time in an early room cleaning off a window so I could write on it with a dry-erase marker. Valve didn’t skimp on the movement options, so if you want to teleport, or move freely, or use a transition animation that meets in the middle, you can.
You’re going to want to spend some time experimenting with all the gameplay and graphical options to make sure the experience is comfortable, as no two people react to VR in exactly the same way.
That said, you may want to bring a change of pants once you venture into the world as Patrick Klepek with Vice details:
One thing I want to stop and emphasize: this is, more than anything, a horror game. There are moments in the sun, there are times when you fight humanoid Combine enemies, but the vast majority is Alyx is spent combating and avoiding unknown horrors. It’s the most high-profile horror game since Resident Evil 7, a game I adored, but I don’t know that Valve has properly informed the public for how far they lean into this! Alyx feels like a bunch of Ravenholm fanboys got together and wondered what it’s like to make a full game out of it.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to take everything seriously as Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson notes:
Want to defiantly flip off a Strider? Go for it. Want to pick up a zombie corpse and slap its face around like it’s the third (and worst) Stooge? Sure, knock yourself out. Want to try to do the same thing to a headcrab, only for it to leap out of your hands and onto your face? It’s your funeral. That’s what makes it special. You can be silly. You can be expressive and dramatic. You can pick up every last object you find in the game world, gently examine it, and then hurl it into an abyss. You can embody Alyx however you choose.
IGN’s Dan Stapleton was quick to pick up on the level of detail that Valve has baked into the game:
One of the first things that struck me when I started playing Half-Life: Alyx was the dirt under Alyx Vance’s fingernails. It’s a simple thing, but it’s not often that you see that level of fine detail in a VR game. Usually, virtual hands are either low-detail ghostly apparitions or gloved. This grit also tells us something about this character, a scrappy survivor raised in the aftermath of the Seven-Hour War in which the alien Combine conquered Earth, and it quickly establishes that she isn’t as buttoned-down as that MIT-educated nerd Dr. Gordon Freeman.
CNET’s Scott Stein with a very timely open to his review:
It’s strange to escape a world that seems increasingly dystopian for a world that is… more dystopian. As the kids run around screaming and I worry about food supplies and New Jersey now has a curfew, I creep upstairs and head to my home holodeck that I’ve assembled: small sensor cubes with snaking wires stacked on storage boxes and my bookshelves. A Valve Index VR headset, cabled to an Alienware laptop on my desk.
Mike Minotti with VentureBeat also touches on the reality of playing Half-Life: Alyx right now:
I almost feel bad holding this against the game, but now is a rough time to play something that immerses you into an intense, 10-hour long experience in a post-apocalyptic world filled with monsters and lots of other things that want to kill you.
And while the situation in the real world is obviously out of Valve’s control, the game isn’t doing itself any favors with levels that drag (there’s a part where you’re stuck in the same hotel for what felt like hours) and a limited color palette. 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 a compelling game that you won’t want to stop playing, reports Christopher Livingston with PC Gamer:
I played the final three hours of Half-Life: Alyx in a single session. Before Alyx, I never used VR for more than 30 minutes at a time. I don’t get motion sick but I do get generally tired of VR. Tired of having a hunk of plastic strapped to my face, of having to stand and stoop and reach awkwardly around, of not being able to check my phone or have a sip of coffee. But I didn’t take a break, or even want to, during the final chapters of Half-Life: Alyx. I wasn’t tired. I was completely enthralled and unwilling to stop playing.
GameSpot‘s Michael Higham sums it up as follows:
Not only has Half-Life: Alyx made good on its shift to VR, it has elevated many of the aspects we’ve come to love about Half-Life games. It may not be as bombastic as previous games, but the intimacy of VR brings you closer to a world you might have thought you knew over the past 22 years. Even when familiarity starts to settle in, its gameplay systems still shine as a cohesive whole. And as it concludes, Half-Life: Alyx hits you with something unforgettable, transcending VR tropes for one of gaming’s greatest moments.