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Half-Life: Alyx Review

Today I finished Half-Life: Alyx. I played it on the Oculus Quest 2 via Oculus Link. Overall, I spent 25.2 hours playing this amazing Virtual Reality (VR) game. In this review, I want to share my experience playing the game and what I’ve learned about VR games while doing so.

Half-Life VR Game

One of my most favorite game of all time is Half-Life 2. It’s been a long time though and when I’ve heard that Half-Life: Alyx is coming, I just couldn’t believe it. However, even when the game was officially released, I couldn’t play it back then nor I had a VR headset to play it on.

A week ago I got Oculus Quest 2 VR headset. I knew from the moment I get it that I will play Half-Life: Alyx as soon as possible.

But how a triple-A title of such a praised franchise plays in VR—Will it fail to impress me?

Half-Life: Alyx Gameplay

Half-Life: Alyx can be categorized as a sci-fi horror VR shooter with puzzle and survival elements in virtual reality.

The game is a VR-only game and therefore the gameplay was designed from the ground up with VR in mind.

The game gives users the option to choose their preferred movement, so they feel comfortable moving around the virtual environment.

Shooting enemies in Half-Life Alyx VR game
Flanking enemies and shooting an exploding barrel to eliminate them using my pistol in Half-Life: Alyx VR game.

The gameplay itself is relatively slow-paced. And even then, it starts even slower until it opens up a bit faster as you progress. You won’t be shooting lots of enemies here. The focus when it comes to combat is accuracy and weapon management. By that, I mean quickly reloading your weapon during combat.

This is all done manually. You need to grab the magazine from your backpack (putting your hand behind the back and bring it forward), take the older magazine out (‘A’ button), load the magazine (bring the controller to the magazine slot), load the weapon (hand gesture or button press) and then you can start shooting.

Rolling enemies with my own hands in Half-Life: Alyx
Rolling enemies with my own hands, searching for items using the Oculus Quest 2 controllers

At the heat of the battle, especially later on, you’ll need to do it while facing several enemies. This was design to not overwhelm players and make them “run” around the environment, which is not the key component of surviving in this game. If you are able to take use items in the environment, find cover, peek and aim well, you’ll be able to elimiante enemies fast.

Each enemy has its sweet spots, careful aiming and they are down in no time. But it ain’t easy as enemies move and there are no aim assists in the game as you can imagine.

You start with a pistol and get more weapons as you progress. Overall, there are a total of three weapons in the game: a pistol, a submachine gun, and a shotgun.

Aside from combat, the game encourages exploration in order to obtain necessary items like bullet magazines for your weapons, healing injections, grenades, gas mask and other utilities which can help you survive tough threats.

solving puzzles in VR playing Half Life Alyxac
Solving a 3D puzzle in virtual reality is fun and challenging

It’s a virtual reality game, so finding items here means opening doors, cabinets and boxes with your own hands and see what’s inside. You can grab objects by either getting close to them or by using the hand flick method to grab them from far away.

Puzzles are not hard but can be tricky at times, especially during the late-game. Half-Life Alyx is a virtual reality game, therefore the puzzles themselves are spatial and designed with three-dimensional interaction in mind. Manipulating objects in the 3D space to solve fun puzzles.

Half-Life: Alyx combines all of these types of puzzle-solving, FPS, exploration, and survival gameplay elements in a very harmonize and non-intrusive VR gameplay experience. By that I mean, it keeps a good pace of the game while keeping immersion and tension throughout and that without any discomfort.

Playing Half-Life in Virtual Reality

So how it is like playing Half-Life in Virtual Reality? — Well, it’s a completely different experience than I thought it would be. I am new to VR, so know that that playing such a game so early on after getting the Oculus Quest 2 was a big deal for me.

Half-Life Alyx features gorgeous visuals. The game has very high system requirements (GTX 1600) for a reason. The world is reached in details, with amazing high-res textures, gorgeous dramatic lighting effects, lots of verticality, and beautiful vistas once you are out in the open.

Outdoor vistas in Half-Life: Alyx
Outdoor vistas in Half-Life: Alyx are breathtaking!

The game looks even more photorealistic in virtual reality. By that I mean, when I watched the gameplay that I’ve recorded in a standard display, Straightaway I can tell the difference. When you play in VR, everything is close to you, you can easily observe the fine details and the game look more photorealistic. The sense of scale is remarkable.

It’s the first time that I really felt disgusted by seeing a dead enemy. It never happened to me before in a videogame, but here, I felt it for the first time. This is because I was close to it, it looked more real and it was close to me, almost touching me.

It was amazing how beautiful the environment looked. Because you play it in Virtual Reality (VR), buildings are the size of real buildings, enemies feel more alive and threatening. You can easily have some jump scares in this game, not because it was designed that way, but because everything feels so real. You know how many times I jumped from my seat because of a Headcrab jumping on me or when a Bancale surprised me as I crossed its path.

detailed urban environment in Half-Life: Alyx VR game.
Very detailed environments that look amazing even in low graphics settings

Playing Half-Life in Virtual Reality meant that it triggered much more emotions during gameplay, some of them I never experienced in a game before, others were more prominent in VR.

Even on the Oculus Quest 2, with its not too sharp display (there is pixelation), the game looked very realistic. I think if I played on Ultra settings and on a higher resolution VR headset, I would be totally blown away.

interior environment, broken floor, in half life alyx
Exploration in Half-Life Alyx is a blast in such beautifully-crafted interior environments in virtual reality.

Keep in mind that I did experience frame drops on my GTX 1660 Ti gaming laptop. Even when I put the lowest settings there were performance issues every now and then. Having frame drops in VR is a big no-no. This totally ruins the immersion and you just can’t play like that. But for the most part, it ran fine but something to keep in mind before you buy the game.

What Half-Life: Alyx Taught Me

Half-Life: Alyx is the best Virtual Reality game that I played so far. It’s an absolute VR game masterpiece. It designed with VR comfort in mind and each aspect of the game perfected to make players have fun doing the things that made Half-Life 2 an exciting game.

Although it is a different game, gameplay wise, it does have the same world vibes, tensed moments, scary enemies and loveable characters.

The game just felt so natural to play in virtual reality. It shows the importance of careful game design so every interaction feels natural to the user, not a boredom to do.

You can play the game in seated or standing position. In fact, I found out that when your posture matches the one in the game, you’ll feel much more immersed. I felt it immediately when I stood instead of seating and playing standing in-game. It’s also fun hiding and shooting behind over like that, which is much less comfortable to do while in seated posture.

Half-Life: Alyx is one of a kind. The gameplay gets even better the longer you play. I won’t put spoilers here, but the last part of the game is absolutely amazing. It’s such a complete VR experience that you just don’t find games like that out there. I do hope that this game will raise the bar for more amazing VR games to come.

Everything in this game was nailed almost perfectly, the level design, the puzzles, game balance, the pace of the game, the gunplay (although I think this could have been better), lighting and visual effects, the background music, hand interaction, and character movement in VR.

This is by far the best VR game I’ve played on the Oculus Quest 2. But again, keep in mind that this is a PC game, so if you intend to play it on Oculus Quest 2, you’ll need the Oculus LINK cable or equivalent and a VR-ready PC with the minimum requirements for the game to play it.

I can’t wait to go a second playthrough and hopefully in the future, play it on Ultra on a better PC. Thanks for reading.