Half-Life: Alyx launched today, throwing players back into Valve’s storied franchise for the first time since 2007.
In rather unusual fashion, the developer opted to lift the embargo on the release date, and the reviews have started pouring in.
The consensus is that Half-Life: Alyx marks a milestone in the history of VR gaming, giving the technology a flagship title capable of catapulting it into the mainstream. It sets the bar for what a well-funded AAA studio can do when it throws its full might behind a VR title.
Here’s a round-up of what the leading gaming publications have said so far. Scores are overwhelmingly positive, with many assigning a perfect rating to Half-Life: Alyx.
When Half-Life 2 released, it revolutionised the first-person shooter. It set a benchmark for shooters that followed, just as the opening train journey in the first Half-Life led to dozens of games aping that slow-burn introduction. One of the reasons Valve never counted to three and gave us a proper sequel is the expectation that comes with it. The series’ core ideas have been refined and polished, and believable physics are no longer such a novelty in video games. Where is left for Half-Life to innovate? It turns out Valve just needed new tech. It just needed VR.
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.
Half-Life: Alyx is billed as a VR return to the series, and that’s exactly what it delivers. It does what Half-Life has historically done well, and without the clouding of nostalgia or unhelpful notions of what constitutes “revolutionary” design, it ranks alongside Half-Life 2. It is a full-length VR experience that both needs to be in VR, but that uses the tech to more strongly evoke the same feelings you got with a mouse and keyboard years ago. There are some small flaws that are no more annoying than over-long sewer odysseys or having to crouch jump were in past games, and its spectacle hits the hardest of any in the series. It sets Half-Life up for a compelling future—here’s hoping we see it.
Back when VR first became a real thing and we all started spitballing which game worlds we’d most like to be fully immersed in, Half-Life topped my list (tied with BioShock). It took a few years, but Half-Life: Alyx has more than realized that potential. With it, Valve has set a new bar for VR in interactivity, detail, and level design, showing what can happen when a world-class developer goes all-in on the new frontier of technology. In a lot of ways, it feels like a game from the future, and one that the rest of VR gaming will likely take a good long while to match, much less surpass.
This is hands-down the best virtual reality money can buy right now, and feels like a tantalizing promise of just what the big game studios could achieve if they were willing to put their time and money into creating a AAA experience for VR platforms.
The masses may not rush out to buy a VR set to play Half-Life: Alyx. But anyone who loves video games should look at this game as a next logical step in the possibilities of dramatic, interactive storytelling. Bravo, Valve. Bravo.