Tested host Norman Chan tries his best to be quiet inside a derelict subway train. Crouching steadily, his hands slide open doors to the next car.
A headcrab zombie waits for Chan on the other side and begins shuffling towards him. Without hesitating, he quickly pulls out his gun and empties the last three bullets before the slide locks back. A panicked Chan manages to teleport away from the zombie’s violent swing. He reaches over his shoulder for a new clip, but realizes there aren’t any. A nervous smile draws on Chan’s VR-covered face as the zombie closes in.
Half-Life: Alyx uses its VR platform to turn up the chills felt by players across the beloved first person shooter series. It’s also Valve’s answer to a new Half-Life game fans have been asking for since the last installment in 2007.
In their latest 100th episode, Chan and former Tested editor Will Smith dove into three hours of Alyx at Valve Corporation’s headquarters in Washington. Announced in late November, players become Half-Life 2 partner Alyx Vance in an original story set before meeting Gordon Freeman.
But according to Chan, Alyx is looking to reach most users “on the widest range of PC-based VR headsets with motion controls.” It’s also compatible with eight of the headsets tested with Steam VR:
- Valve Index
- Oculus Rift S & Oculus Quest (with Link cable)
- Oculus Rift CV1 (first generation)
- HTC Vive Cosmos
- HTC Vive (first generation)
- Samsung HMD Odyssey+ with WMR controllers
- Pimax 5K Plus with Index controllers.
For those entering VR through Half Life, they’ll be relying on locomotion options from teleporting to throttling. Valve’s efforts to make the game accessible are apparent and even offers a seated experience for stationary VR players.
The hands-on confirms Alyx will let users move by blinking from one spot to another. Like Epic Games’ Robo Recall, it also includes choosing which direction to face before letting go and teleporting. Personally, I think this is the best way to reduce headaches and increase comfort during longer play sessions.
On the game’s official compatibility page, users who gained their “VR Legs” by overcoming motion sickness can also move around with their analog sticks. Others can also “shift”, which lets players teleport around without losing track of their surroundings.
Staying in motion is the key to surviving encounters with the Combine or other strange Xen enemies. Combat relies exclusively on VR motion controllers across all platforms and lets you handle full-sized varieties of handguns, shotguns and assault weapons.
A level of satisfaction comes from steadying weapons and chambering rounds manually in games such as Pavlov and Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. In Alyx, the same VR gun rules apply and reloading adds tension when enemies get closer.
More importantly, you’ll need steady hands to aim for weak spots. Much like the Dead Space series, headcrab zombies fall apart quicker if you strategically aim for the knees or head (with some enemies having colored spots to set your sights on).
Other situations encourage you to holster your gun for creepier enemies like the ceiling barnacles, which return to fish you away if you’re not careful. Luckily, you can feed them grenades or explosive canisters nearby and watch them come down (in pieces).
If you though low-resolution headcrabs were terrifying enough from your monitor, these life-sized VR ones will mercilessly jump on your face and you’ll have to use your hands to pry them off. You’ve been warned.
Be careful about taking too many hits, as the gameplay also showed a three-heart health system. Take damage, you’ll lose a heart. Thankfully, you can pick up medical stims which can be found by smashing crates and rummaging for supplies.
Scavenging was also shown to help you collect ammo and keycards which can be placed in an inventory system. It’s unknown if hidden Lambda symbols will be back across Alyx’s subways, streets and underground corridors (and if extra exploring brings achievements for Steam bragging rights).
For VR, you won’t be using a Gravity Gun for
physics this time around. Instead, you’ll be using new gravity gloves which let
use the force grab and throw objects from a distance. A small screen
on your hand also shows health and an unknown “resin” count.
It’s also a clever way of bringing in VR-standard telekinesis controls from I Expect You To Die and Virtual Virtual Reality into the game, using technology in the Half-Life universe.
But your hands might have some real-world problems depending on what controllers are being used. Problems rose when Chan struggled to slide his pistol with the larger tracking rings from Windows Mixed Reality controllers.
“In fact, it’s more of the physical design of the other controllers that got in the way of me playing the game,” said Chan during the demo’s afterthoughts.
He also found that most dexterity came from the Valve Index controllers, which allowed for individual finger tracking with Alyx Vance’s hand models.
But is Alyx being tailored to benefit Valve’s native headset the most?
“It seems like they haven’t,” Chan said. “They’ve done a bunch of work to adapt the things that you can do in-game, to work on all these other controllers.”
Half Life: Alyx is coming to all SteamVR compatible headsets in March 2020. You can read our November announcement coverage here. The game can also be pre-purchased on Steam and comes as a free title for all Valve Index Controller owners.
You can see the full 30-minute hands-on video by Tested below