Just a few minutes after the half-life: Alyx, I met a strider. These giants cast ominous shadows on anyone who dares to pass under them. Her spindle-shaped legs and jagged hips form a silhouette of sheer menace. I looked at the strider in awe. I could practically feel the wind buffeting my face as it trampled past the balcony on which I was standing. Then I raised both hands and turned it off.
In Half-Life: Alyx, you're not a serial hero Gordon Freeman. You are Alyx Vance, Gordon's best friend and member of the Resistance, who is on a mission to rescue her father shortly before her first meeting with Gordon. However, it doesn't take long for Alyx and her compatriots to learn about the existence of a Combine super weapon and to try to destroy it or claim it for humanity.
You are Alyx, but you are also you: Alyx is a game that can only be played in VR, which makes it a much more personal experience than Half-Life, Half-Life 2 or their episodic sequels. Do you want to defiantly kill a strider? Do it. Do you want to pick up a zombie corpse and flip its face around like it's the third (and worst) henchman? Sure, hit yourself out. Would you like to try to do the same with a head crab just to make it jump out of your hands onto your face? It is your funeral. That is special. You can be stupid They can be expressive and dramatic. You can pick up every last object you find in the game world, carefully examine it and then throw it into an abyss. You can embody Alyx any way you want.
Here are 20 minutes of Half-Life: Alyx in action.
For the same reason, however, you are the one who does all the actions. Do you need to reload your pistol? They do every step in the process, rather than a lightning weapon assistant. It is your butter fingers that take ammunition out of your backpack, load the magazine into your gun and cock it while a head crab zombie attacks you like a drunk gorilla. I dropped the ammunition magazine. I've done it several times. Every time I ran away from the head crab zombie, whimpering audibly with fear.
Alyx is a full-blown half-life adventure that, at least in terms of length and girth, competes with everything the series has produced. But VR is changing the way you interact with City 17 and its residents. If Alyx shoots all the cylinders and plunges you into fear and atmosphere while you are constantly introducing new VR-specific mechanics and ideas, the game gives a certain amount of unknownness to places and enemies whose novelty is worn out by serial fans. But in part because of the need to get people used to this bold new VR world, games that were a little too much before are venerated. It takes a few hours for them to step onto the floor, which really feels new, and try to replicate some elements from previous half-life games that are not well suited for VR. Half-Life is another beast in VR. It's more stressful and intense than its predecessor without VR. It can be downright exhausting – sometimes for highly commendable reasons and sometimes for deeply frustrating reasons. Alyx reveals what VR games can be, but maybe what they should avoid for fear of overwhelming or frustrating players.
Then a head crab jumps onto your actual human face and you freak out the absolute fuck.
Half-Life: Alyx is a return to a universe that has been inactive since Half-Life 2: Episode 2 2007. However, it is also the first game in the series to be developed from the ground up for VR headsets. With this in mind, the game has to teach you a lot in a relatively short amount of time: How to move in VR by moving forward in any direction instead of moving seamlessly through levels like in a standard FPS. How to collect and store ammunition by physically putting them in your backpack. How to pick up the legendary Half-Life 2 gravity cannon with Alyx's gravity gloves to pull objects from a distance solves the longstanding VR problem of clumsily reaching for things. Using Alyx's multitool, a small electronic device that can hack human and combine technology to solve various types of puzzles that manipulate holograms in 3D spaces to upgrade ammunition, health, and weapons to access devices that are included in different combinations. So put your weapons in upgrade machines that give them new parts like additional ammo slots and laser sights. How to open closets. How to aim your dang gun with your own two hands instead of a mouse or controller.
These things may sound simple, but they take time to memorize your muscle memory. And so Alyx is relatively easy for you in the first few hours. The pace is nice and steady. Levels are simplified zombie games – uncomplicated, almost so far that they can no longer be forgotten. The game introduces new concepts and challenges as soon as you feel ready to tackle them, not a moment earlier. You will encounter enemies whom you would like to greet as a half-life fan like old friends.
But then a head crab jumps onto your actual human face and you freak out the absolute fuck. During my 17-hour playthrough, the head crabs never stopped giving me a disgusting feeling of fear. This is far from my first VR rodeo. I'm used to video game enemies trying to break into my IRL area. So my reaction is a testament to Half-Life's animation and sound design skills: Alyx’s development team that the mere idea of being touched by these staggering meatball monsters provoked a deep dislike in me. (Relevant side note: In this case it is possible to catch jumping crabs with outstretched hands. When I first tried it, I did so with a bucket, for fear that my hands could approach the creature's gurgling crawling.)
I found this to be true for many members of Half-Life's classic monster closet. Head crab zombies. Barnacles. Ant lions. Toxic crabs – oh god, toxic crabs! Without saying too much, I just want to say that Alyx contains a segment that contains plenty of darkness and toxic head crabs, as you would expect from a half-life game. It is masterfully designed. I've never been so scared playing a video game, especially towards the end of this section. During the level's crescendo, I freaked out and forgot to hold my gun, let alone aim. Then I teleported face to face against a wall. My adrenaline rose like a freshly burst hydrant. For a brief moment I couldn't remember how to shape words. I only knew that I was deeply and authentically afraid. This level was not particularly difficult, but after playing it, I had to lie down on the couch and take a breather. It felt like part of my lizard brain really thought I had just had a brush with death.
But even if it is easy for you, Alyx is a stressful experience. It's one thing in a standard half-life game to get an annoying, blade-tipped "Manhack" robot into your room. It's different when you hover around your head and neck in VR. You want to scream or empty a full clip to make sure it doesn't rise and let your personal bubble burst again. The first time a swarm of them came after me, it was overwhelming. There were just so many, and they were moving so fast, buzzing so menacingly. I meandered through a series of narrow streets to keep my distance and cursed when my scared shots pinged uselessly from the walls every time the manhacks got close enough to open fire.
Over time, I've adapted thanks to the game's series of slowly escalating challenges. A few hours later I met real Combine soldiers with assault rifles. I felt ready. The whole scene was beautifully decorated, with a nostalgically tickling Combine radio chatter behind a moving train. I knew what I had to do. I retreated behind a piece of cover. The train passed. Synth-laden guitar music replaced an otherwise meager soundtrack. Two soldiers saw me. They opened fire. I ducked down. Physically with my whole body. I hit one with my gun. He shot back. I ducked down again. One of his shots grazed me and took away part of one of my three hearts of health. But that was my moment. I have shot over and over again. I've reloaded with the speed and effectiveness of an action film hero, or at least someone who doesn't die in the first scene of an action film. Eventually, a soldier fell dead and triggered the familiar flat-line sound of the heart monitor that has accompanied Combine's deaths since time immemorial (2004). I then did a short job with his friend with some sloppy but effective follow-up shots.
After the second soldier fell, I got up and raised my arms in triumph. I haven't landed perfect headshots or slaughtered a horde of alien peepholes like Gordon. "Gosh, he's good at butchering alien holes," Freeman, but I got my first real test with balance and a bit of style instead of panic and spaghetti out of my pockets. Then I went to one of the deceased soldiers, grabbed his head and slapped him like the legendary third henchman. I was ready for new challenges.
The game agreed. After the first five hours, Alyx takes off his children's gloves. This leads to some of the game's best moments: Flood marks not just for Half-Life: Alyx, but for Half-Life in general. When Half-Life: Alyx stops paying tribute to the enemies and encounters that have previously taken place and brings completely new (at least for Half-Life) ideas to the table, it increases more often than faltering.
A level towards the middle of the game is to avoid an overpowering creature that is sightless, but also reacts to the slightest sounds and, according to another character, "tears your arms off" if it ever gets your hands on you. I haven't fired a single bullet for this entire level because I like my arms. Instead, I had to sneak around and physically cover my mouth with my hand in a funny twist to prevent Alyx from audibly coughing for poisonous spores scattered around the area's corridors. The level, in turn, found increasingly devilish ways to force myself close with this surging monstrosity, often by forcing me to solve puzzles spitting away from his saliva cheeks. The level was clever and terrifying, revising the puzzle ideas from previous levels to adapt them to the Don & # 39; t Wake Daddy formula. Every time I entered a new part of it, I let out an annoyed sigh and said, "Oh, you gotta be kidding me." I loved it.
There are other first class levels as well. One takes place in a zoo. It is very funny. Another makes great use of verticality. There is one with explosive barrels that gives you at least points for creativity. Oh, and the last level is Bonkers.
But when I reached the end of the game it felt like it had exceeded its greeting a little. Many of its challenges – both in terms of combat and puzzles – escalate gradually, and after crossing a certain point, VR becomes a liability rather than an immersion improver. There are frustrating segments and mechanical stumbling blocks that practically made me spit with frustration.
In his apparent rush to feel like a real first person shooter instead of a VR shooting range, Half-Life: Alyx throws more enemies at you every time you land in the open. These enemies are certainly more stationary than normal FPS villains, but they still follow you, flank you, throw grenades to get you out of cover, and send manhacks to hunt you down. This is exciting at first and fits the premise of the game: After all, Alyx is a normal person who faces overwhelming alien forces. It's incredibly cool to get out of cover and blow up a Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine wannabe with a shotgun with one hand while injecting a health injection into your stomach with the other. That is real gums!
But these battles quickly develop into unpleasant games from Ring Around The Rosie, in which you use stop-start warp controls and jerky analog racket-based turns to flee through battle arenas to occasionally blow up enemies before using your short-range teleport -Sprint continue new cover. It is simply not an ideal control configuration for this type of sustained locomotion or situational awareness (although you can at least change the extent to which you activate game options). In a fast combat scenario, it just doesn't feel natural. On more than a few occasions, my hand got stuck on an object, or my gaze turned in the wrong direction, or my head was partially wrapped in a wall. It is inherently more stressful when enemies destroy the "real" than throwing abstract health points from a video game avatar, and it's not fun to feel like you're controlling a faulty tin man at the same time. Sometimes it's even annoying.
Alyx often gives third acts of encounters that don't feel like they need them or that feel like they could get on a complicated mess in a normal first person shooter. But this is a VR game where the line between fun and frustration is thin.
Some enemies introduced later in the game make this type of combat more enjoyable, others do the opposite. For example, normal ant lions come up to you in scary swarms, but it's fun to blow their legs off to slow them down. Blue ant lions, however, throw slime of mucus at you, which does quite serious damage and leaves a residue over your eyes that temporarily affects your already restricted (compared to normal FPS) vision. Fight them in isolated rules. To avoid their explosions, I moved my head, pushed my feet away in time, and even jumped back, almost tripping over the couch behind me. But mix blue ant lions into a group of regular ant lions and combine soldiers, and you have a recipe for frustration. It just feels cheap to be hit by a blinding explosion out of nowhere when you freak out. Neither is it time to fight them in an entertaining way while fending off ten or more enemies. You have to juggle too many other factors while fighting against controls that are not suitable for nuanced maneuvering at high speeds.
It doesn't help that there are a few too many in every encounter, including the bosses. A boss in particular shows up first as a clever hide-and-seek challenge and then as another, much more dangerous fight that is clever in another way. But then the game captures you in a basement with two of these bosses and a group of head crab zombies and forces you to run in a circle to avoid attacks that cover much of the ground, and it's like "OK, we understand it ". Alyx often gives third acts of encounters that don't feel like they need them or that feel like they could get on a complicated mess in a normal first person shooter. But this is a VR game where the line between fun and frustration is thin.
The game's recurring multi-tool puzzles mostly don't suffer from the same problems as the fight, but they also reach a point in the later sections of the game where the returns decrease as they grow out of cool manipulations of three-dimensional spaces, unwieldy multi-part exercises to outperform previous iterations of the same puzzle. There are several recurring multi-tool puzzles in Half-Life: Alyx: the hologram ball through which you lead blue lights (without avoiding red light swarms), the hologram ball that prompts you to match segments of the same color on their surface hologram from mini Constellations that you organize so that light rays pass through certain areas, and the hologram in which you use your multitool to trace wires in walls and complete circuits by changing the direction of the current flow.
Many of them are optional. Most of them are fine, but there are so many of them, and new ones just add more steps instead of fundamentally changing the nature of the puzzle in question. More blue lights that guide each other while hoping that your controller doesn't flip out and force you to start over. More mini constellations for dressing and crafting until they are perfectly aligned. More circuits follow through more rooms. After a while, the game feels repeated. As in combat, even the smallest problems with the sensitivity of the controller or sensor malfunctions can lead to a disturbing, premature standstill.
I also wonder if the chapter-based, elongated storytelling of a traditional single player FPS fits well with virtual reality. I tried to play Alyx like I did at Half-Life 2 back then, and immersed myself in its history and world through a series of game sessions lasting several hours. I got away with adrenaline nerves and body aches. The VR of this fidelity is simply more intense than a standard video game. Alyx makes excellent use of its detailed (according to VR standards) graphics and shows a world that is slowly developing from dirty to absolutely smeared in all kinds of foreign liquids. Combined with great sound and visual design, you're afraid of what's around every corner. But it takes a toll over time, especially when these monsters finally stop bumping and bumping on your face at night.
Add to that the obvious fact that VR is more physical than normal games. During a certain game session, I got up, walked, jumped, and crouched. None of these actions are difficult or intense in themselves, but they add up. Fortunately, Half-Life: Alyx offers a number of accessibility features to lighten the load and allow more players to play, e.g. B. a single control mode, a squat switch, a stand switch for seated players and a height adjustment. However, the standard mode of the game requires more physicality than players expect, as it is difficult for the knees and back to usually stand in one place for a long period of time. There is also the barrier-free elephant in the room: price. To experience Half-Life: Alyx in all its glory, you need an expensive headset that is connected to an (at least) equally expensive PC, not to mention an apartment or living room with enough space so that you can move around comfortably . This game is certainly not for everyone for now.
Half-life: Alyx reaches some astonishingly high heights and at the same time manages to be too ambitious and too conservative. At various points, it tries to be VR's long-time, Gordon Freeman-like savior who is full of fresh ideas about how VR can transform video games with inventive and immersive mechanics, proof that VR can match traditional action games that work for everyone others are thought of as interfaces and a triumphantly nostalgic return to the half-life universe. Not surprisingly, these goals sometimes conflict.
In many ways, the end result corresponds to the legacy of the Half-Life series. Messiness has always been part of the package. Half-Life was a masterpiece, but nobody would call it perfect, as the gigantic fan remake project shows, which has spent more than a decade fixing its bugs. In truth, the story of Half-Life 2 wasn't a narrative revolution – at least not in terms of the content of the story it told. It puzzled to fill gaps in which the substance stalled and had many other problems. But the sense of place and the techniques with which the players were able to completely soak up the details of this world have influenced countless future games. And that means none of all of the game's physically oriented mechanical innovations.
Half-life: Alyx reaches some astonishingly high heights and at the same time manages to be too ambitious and too conservative.
Half-Life: Alyx is similarly a game with quiet revolutions that make it more than the sum of its parts, with pioneering ideas without which we may one day no longer imagine VR games. Its locations feel like worn areas in its arches until a little too late. The story has a wild twist, but otherwise it pretty much goes exactly where you would expect it to. It lacks the emotional severity needed to really make the main hits sing – Alyx’s relationship with resistance member Russel, who chats in her ear during her trip, is more lively than heartfelt, and most of the others Characters appear briefly rather than get time to be up to date, you know, characters. It's in many ways another Half-Life game in the form of Half-Life 2 and its episodes in which it could have been more.
At the same time, I was able to pull over the item's mechanic alone for days. Once you get it down, it feels so good to stretch your hand like Iron Man, pull a distant object towards you, and press your controller (or just a trigger if you prefer) to catch it. Every time I did it, I felt like a cool genius. My partner told me that I looked cool in real life while I was doing it. Nobody ever looks cool in real life when doing things in VR! And it solves so many problems associated with navigating in virtual spaces. You don't have to grab at odd angles to grab things and confuse or otherwise damage VR setup. You can just snap your wrist and you have it: the thing you wanted. I'm not kidding when I say that my brain still thinks I should have this power in real life. In the past five days, I've absent-mindedly tried to pull small objects on myself by snapping my wrist. It hasn't worked so far, but I still hope.