Compsmag is supported by its audience. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission fee. Learn more

Half-Life: Alyx Review

Of course, high expectations accompany the first Half-Life game in 13 years, and the return of the iconic franchise in the form of an exclusive VR is undoubtedly risky. But with every step, Half-Life: Alyx proves that almost everything the franchise was best at is elevated by VR: the environmental puzzles that require a sharp eye, the threat of a head crab jumping in front of you, the cryptic stories. The essential pieces of the series are still the same size here and at the most potent moments, Half-Life: Alyx shows you with confidence why it couldn’t have happened otherwise. This is our Half-Life: Alyx Review.

Half-Life: Alyx Review: About

  • Platform: Microsoft Windows
  • Developer: Valve Corporation
  • Publisher: Valve Corporation
  • Genres: First-person shooter
  • Release Date: March 23, 2020

Half-Life: Alyx Review: Official Trailer Video

Half-Life: Alyx Review: Gameplay

What is a day in the life of Alyx Vance? In true Half-Life form, the entire game goes from morning to night in one shot of the first-person action as Alyx travels through the underground and deserted zones of City 17. Initially, it is to save your father, Eli Vance, from the clutches of the Combine. However, you’ll be led to discover the nature of that massive floating structure that floats above City 17, called the Vault. With a cheeky sidekick Russell in your ear and a reliable, prophetic Vortigaunt getting in the grip, Alyx is more than prepared. Indeed a starting point, but the journey is exciting, and the reward is enormous.

A newfound intimacy is found in doing the things Half-Life always asked of you. Being a VR game fundamentally changes the way you view and process your environment, making the environment puzzle solutions more of a personal achievement than before. Quickly finding the right objects to proceed was excellent with a keyboard and mouse, but if it’s your own hands to flip flaps, move clutter to find critical items, pull levers, or hit switches. At the same time, the head turns to see the results of your actions become seductive gameplay mechanics rather than means to break the pace.

You might not have the Gravity Gun here, but the spirit of the physics-based interaction lives through the Gravity gloves, both as a sensible thematic fit and as a tool for good VR gameplay. They allow you to retract essential objects from a distance magnetically, and catching them in the air is always satisfying – especially when you grab a Combine soldier’s grenade to throw it back in their face. What is equally essential is Alyx’s multi-tool, which serves as a way to participate in the game’s enjoyable yet straightforward spatial puzzles.

However, re-wiring circuits to unlock paths forward is the multi-tool’s most crucial function, so you’ll need a keen eye to track where wires and circuits lead and use the multi-tools power to expose the flow of currents to lay. Trying to find solutions can be frustrating at times, but once you understand the rules, how they become more complex and integrate the environment as the game progresses, it gives way to a sense of accomplishment.

Headcrabs aren’t the annoying pests they used to be; sometimes, they are terrifying because they literally get stuck on your head or occasionally cause fear of jumping. The same goes for barnacles; trust me when I say you don’t want your own virtual body dragged to the ceiling by its disgusting slimy tongue. Other scenarios play around navigating pitch-black darkness with your wrist-mounted flashlight as Xen creatures lurk.

Combine soldiers may still be button buttons, but when they haunt you in VR, and your sick headshot skills aren’t there to save you, their threat becomes menacing and sometimes unnerving. You can hear the Combine’s well-known radio patter and feel relieved by the sound of the recognizable flat-lining ring of a fallen Combine soldier. It’s also nostalgic and strangely comforting to hear those signature old-school techno beats during most of these heated gun battles, then heal on a health charger that has been using the same sound effect since Half-Life 1.

Alyx herself packs light when it comes to weapons, using only a pistol, shotgun, and SMG. However, all three have a few upgrades to make them more productive, which must be done at specific points in the game at Combine Fabricator stations. The only real collectible is resin, and pieces are scattered on every level. Since ammunition is often scarce and resin is tucked into corners, cleanup is a core element, further emphasizing Alyx’s scrappy nature.

It’s just as satisfying to take your punchy shotgun with you to a Combine massive as it is to ignite easily placed exploding red barrels or cut Antlions weak points with well-placed pistol shots when four or five of them approach quickly. That’s enough to juggle VR and find a balance between simple enough to handle and complex enough to take advantage of the unique aspects of VR. You physically dive in and out of cover and peek around corners ready to take pictures, and frantically whip up the reload moves as enemies approach you.

Looking at the gameplay as a whole, Half-Life: Alyx takes many of the concepts we’ve seen to evolve since VR was founded and distills them to their basics. It outputs most of them to a T, creating a VR experience that is a complete, cohesive whole. Several accessibility options are also available; Different movement and spin styles can help reduce motion sickness, and there is a single controller mode that allows you to perform all the necessary actions of the game with one hand.

However, well-executed the various elements are, the front half of the game takes a bit of routine. You can begin to see through some of the trite aspects of the combat challenges, script sequences, and dependency on narrow corridors for bits. At one point, I was wondering where the game was going or why I was making an effort to get to this mysterious floating safe. But there is a turning point, and the practiced routines pay off as you begin to feel the increasingly dangerous atmosphere of the game.

As you travel through City 17, you will be struck by the awe-inspiring sights, the thrill of gunfights that increase in intensity as you perform the VR-specific mechanics, and the excruciating tension of some levels. But all that pale compared to the last hour when Half-Life: Alyx solidifies itself as the bravest the series has ever been.

Conclusion

Half-Life: Alyx review not only made up for the transition to VR, but it has also improved many of the aspects we love about Half-Life games. It may not be as pretentious as previous games, but the intimacy of VR brings you closer to a world you may have thought you knew for the past 22 years. Even as fame begins to get used to, the gameplay systems still shine as a cohesive whole. And finally, Half-Life: Alyx concludes you with something unforgettable, transcending VR tropes for one of the greatest moments of gaming.

Frostpunk: The Last Autumn Review

9 Total Score
Our Verdict

The essential pieces of the series are still the same size here and at the most potent moments, Half-Life: Alyx shows you with confidence why it couldn’t have happened otherwise.

Compsmag AU