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Half-Life: Alyx review

Game released Mar 23, 2020

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94%
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Half Life: Alyx

Jason reviews Stormland
Review by: Pedro
Posted on: Jun 17, 2020
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About

From the developers of Half-Life, Portal, Counter-strike, Pay for Defeat, Team Fortress, Dota and Left 4 Dead. Game developer 'Valve' brings you Half-Life: Alyx - a stunning, graphical VR masterpiece and highly immersive AAA FPS (First-person Shooter). Developed for windows-based computers - available for the Oculus Rift, Rift S, Vive Cosmos, Valve Index and Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Half-Life: Alyx has been beautifully crafted with VR in mind - with textures and environments so detailed, you'll almost feel like you're there! Upgrade your weapons, tackle strange crab-like creatures, take on the Combine soldiers and their deadly flying drones, solve cryptic puzzles and admire a wide variety of atmospheric, cinematic environments.

Age Rating: 16+ (IARC - PEGI)

Game Languages: English, French, German, Korean, Spanish (Spain) and Japanese

Game Length: Expect about 12 - 15 hours of gameplay.

Download Size: 66 GB (disc space required)

Synopsis

Set between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2, Alyx and her father Eli Vance initiate an early resistance to the Combine's brutal occupation of Earth.

The Seven-Hour War was a brief but decisive confrontation between the Combine and the governments of Earth. Although the war was lost, it is still fresh in the minds of the people who fought in it.  In the shadow of a rising Combine fortress known as the Citadel, residents of City 17 learn to live under the rule of their invaders, but among this scattered population are two of Earth's most resourceful scientists: Dr. Eli Vance and his daughter Alyx, the founders of a dawning resistance.

In the game you and your father were relocated to City 17. In the years since then you've continued your secret scientific activity - performing vital research, and building the necessary tools for the few humans brave enough to go up against the Combine.


Gameplay  |  Health  |  Batteries  |  Half-Life Weapons  |  Enemies and Tips  |  Jeff  | Verdict  |  Half-Life Games  | 



Russell

Every day you learn more about your enemy and work toward finding weaknesses within the Combine.

Lean around a broken wall and under a barnacle to make an impossible shot. Rummage through shelves and cabinets to find supplies - a healing syringe and some ammo for your weapons. Use powerful tools to hack alien interfaces, manipulate gravity, throw objects, explore strange and new environments, solve puzzles and engage in combat. Tear a Headcrab off your face and throw it into a trash can.

Half-Life: Alyx was experienced with the following setup: Oculus Rift S. PC Specification: Intel Core i7 9700K 3.6GHz CPU -  MSI MEG Z390 Ace motherboard - Nvidia GTX 1070Ti GPU - 32GB DDR4 RAM (3200 MHz). The game ran adequately well with no major performance issues whatsoever. For the best experience try Half-Life; Alyx on the Valve Index or better still, on the HP Reverb G2 in conjunction with the NVIDIA RTX 3080.


GO TO: Half-Life Alyx - Game tips




Gameplay Review

Configuration 
Like many games, you start off by configuring your controllers, setting your player height, room layout, boundaries and other common UI tweaks (optional). To be honest, I didn't change anything. I left everything as the system defaults. The game auto-detects your computer specs, so I wouldn't recommend messing around with any settings that you’re unsure of, certainly the ‘Performance’ option, which sets the capabilities of the graphics processing unit (GPU). My ‘Performance’ was already set by default to ‘High Fidelity’. You can still change these. Available options are; Low, medium and ‘Ultra Fidelity’, for those with super powerful GPU’s. Another thing I found handy (if you pardon the pun) was that the right-handed option was preselected. I don’t know whether the game proactively knew about this, from my Oculus profile, but I guess it’s something you should check in case you’re left-handed.

configuring controllers

Reconnaissance

Half-Life: Alyx opens with you placed on the top balcony of your hideout, where you’re immediately presented with spectacular, awe inspiring visuals overlooking the rooftops of City 17, where towering, long-legged robots stride effortlessly through the streets and flying space vehicles zip through the sky. There's also the odd pigeon thrown in for aesthetics, further adding to the immersion.

The short Reconnaissance mission primarily kicks off the story, but more importantly it's a way to introduce and demonstrate to you some of the game mechanics by exploring and interacting with the objects around you, some of which are non essential, but fun anyway, like mucking around with the radio and scaring pigeons. Fun aside, it's about getting used to using your controllers, exploring the surrounding area and your apartment hideout, and eventually finding your way out into the back alleys of City 17.

Reconnaissance mission

It’s all in the hands

What’s really impressive about Half-Life: Alyx is how your fingers on your virtual hands adapt to what you touch and interact with, such as when you tune a radio or pick up a marker pen to write on glass. Even when you push a button in a lift, your finger will automatically point to press the button, just how you’d react in the real world. You’ll notice this feature throughout the game. You can literally interact with almost every object in the game. It’s just so damn clever. In fact, who needs expensive controllers or gloves that mimic finger movements, Half-Life: Alyx almost appears to have finger tracking built-in to game mechanics and almost every hand and finger action is responsive to your thinking and actions.

If you own Index controllers, you'll only experience a few things not possible with other controllers - such as being able to crush a can by squeezing the controller, or relax your hands without dropping it. Cosmetically Valve Index's advanced hand recognition may make Alyx's hands look more realistic because of the finger tracking, aside from that, there’s not much difference, as all VR controllers work adequately well and you won’t miss out on anything.

Write on glass

Gravity and haptic vibration

Sticking with the controllers here - when you pick up an object, like an unopened tin of food or a similar solid object, you almost feel it’s weight somehow. I know it sounds strange, we’re in a virtual world right, so how’s it even possible! I agree - you don’t actually feel the object's weight. Example; as you grasp to remove the tin from the shelf it doesn’t float as such (as you’d expect) when it reaches thin air, where gravity would normally kick-in. You’ll see the object drop down along with your virtual hand, just slightly, but enough to trick your brain momentarily, giving you the perception that the object has weight. It's mind-bending stuff!

Gravity and finger mechanics

Okay, still on the controllers here. Many of the items you interact with using your hands, or controllers to be more precise, vibrate. There’re many scenarios where this happens. The first real experience is when you’re tasered with a cattle prod in the lift, whilst trying to escape your apartment. There’re many ways controller vibration is used throughout the game. It's great fun and kind of rewarding to a certain degree. The healing bay for example:  When you place your hand into the device a series of needles probe and bombard your fingers and hand whilst injecting with health serum. It’s at this point the controller vibrates to simulate what you're seeing to closely resemble what you’d expect to experience. It's a pretty strange sensation but adds to the immersion.

Half-Life: Alyx - Vibrating controllers

Gravity Gloves (Russells)

Acquired early on in the level Entanglement, Gravity gloves are probably the most important gadget in Half-Life: Alyx. These things are absolutely fantastic. I could do with a pair of these for picking up items around the home, like the TV remote!

The Gravity Gloves, AKA “Russells”, appropriately named after Russell who invented them, are acquired shortly after meeting Russell in his secret hideaway. The gravity gloves take some getting used to, but given that you’ve plenty of time to practice out in the backyard, just outside Russell’s back window, there’s no excuse.

The gloves allow Alyx (you) to pull distant objects closer to you then catch them in mid-air. You point your hand at the object whilst squeezing the trigger. You’ll know when it's targeted as the outer edge of the object will glow orange. Then it’s just a case of flicking your hand back towards you to bring it in, catching it mid-flight by making a grip. The “Russells” do have some limitations, in that you can only pull objects light enough to be easily carried in a single hand; so don’t expect them to pull large oil barrels or anything like that.

Gravity Gloves (Russells)

The gravity gloves do more than just pull to catch objects, they also act as a UI (user interface) for displaying vital information and stats. At any time you can check the back of your glove on your non-dominant hand to see a display that shows your health (in hearts) as well as the amount of ammo you're carrying for your current weapon (weapon you’re holding). If you’re not equipped with a weapon, the display will list your resin count and health.

Watch the Trailer



Storage

Store items you pick up in your backpack. It’s quick and easy. You simply raise your hand over your shoulder and let the item go, however, it’s only possible to store ammo and resin in your backpack. Items such as health syringes and battery packs must be stored in your wrist pockets.




Health for Alyx

During combat it’s inevitable that your health will gradually reduce over time. It’s at this point you’ll probably need to consider healing yourself. There are two options to rejuvenate your health in Half Life: Alyx. These are:

Syringes

Syringes are scattered throughout the city, so you’re highly likely to come across one on your travels. Don’t worry though, these discarded syringes aren't the leftovers from drug addicts - you will get a quick fix, but won’t catch hepatitis or anything like that. The syringes are conveniently full, so haven't been used. They contain the glowing life-blood from the Antlion grub, handy because they're nice and easy to spot.

The syringe can be stored in either of your wrist pockets for use later on, or used immediately by injecting it into your torso, hand or leg. In controller terms, injection is achieved by pressing the action button (usually the top button).

Healing bays 

Medical stations or Healing bays (being their correct name), can be found throughout the city. Healing bays are mainly used by the Combine, but are safe to use for anyone with human DNA. These healing bay contraptions are a godsend, especially when you're low on health.

The primary part of the Healing bay is the glass canister which houses the Antlion, a special grub containing a bioluminescent green liquid known for its extraordinary healing properties. Most Healing bays don’t contain these grub canisters, so you’ll need to have a poke around to find one. You shouldn’t have to go far, there’s usually always one nearby.

Antlion Healing bay 

The Health station is a doddle to use. It’s activated by pulling back on the red lever, which in turn forces a piston into the canister, compressing and squashing the grub to extract its juices, in tandem with the opening of the hand plate. The healing process begins when you place your hand on the plate. The machine then gets to work by injecting the green liquid into your fingers and various parts of your gravity glove via multiple needles. It’s great, you’ll get a good buzz from it… quite literally, because your controller vibrates.




Batteries/Power cells

Batteries are used as a means of supplying power to devices, such as the various Combine machines, scattered throughout the various levels. They also act as key-cards, providing the main source of power to run the automatic doors throughout City 17.

Electric orbs, known as ‘Revivers’ can also be used as power devices. These ‘Revivers’ aren’t lying around waiting to be picked up; obtaining one is far more challenging than that. These orbs are obtained when you kill a Lightning Dog. You won’t come across a Lightning Dog until you reach Chapter 5: The Northern Star, when the power orb is required to complete the level.

Like batteries, ‘Revivers’ are also stored in your left and right wrist pouches.

Power cell and Reviver

Multi-tool

Your character, Alyx, comes equipped with a tool of her own. She refers to it as the Multi-tool. It’s fairly easy to use and has multiple uses, hence the name ‘multi-tool’. It can act as a scanner to locate wiring hidden within walls and reroute the power source at junctions in order to solve various puzzles, such as opening doors and turning off force fields. The multi tool is also used to solve various holographic puzzles and activate the Combine Fabricator.

Half Life Alyx Multi-tool

Resin blocks

Be sure to collect as many resin blocks as you can. They’re fairly plentiful, with many scattered around the various levels, amid floor debris, in filing cabinets and clothing lockers etc. Although they are small, they do emit a small glow, so keep your eyes peeled. The more you collect the better you’ll be able to upgrade your weapons firepower later on. Oh, and remember, resin blocks can only be stored in your backpack.

Resin blocks

Combine Fabricator

The Combine Fabricator is a sophisticated piece of hi-tech machinery that allows you to upgrade your weapons. The Fabricator is a secure piece of hardware - it requires hacking in order to get in - so you’ll need to plug your hand-held scanner into the access port on the lower front panel, followed by solving a holographic puzzle, in order to gain full access to the control console. It's then a case of inserting the gun you want upgrading into the weapon conversion cradle and selecting an upgrade option from the touch screen display. On doing so the primary resin chamber opens. Reach over your shoulder to grab resin from your backpack and place it into the resin chambers, repeating the process until the primary resin chamber closes. Your weapon will then get upgraded and the weapon conversion cradle will reopen, exposing your upgraded weapon… Enjoy!

Combine Fabricator

Flashlight

The flashlight is acquired in the level “IS Or Will Be”. It’s easy to find as it’s shining away in the left breast pocket of a hanging corpse. Curiosity leads you to it. The flashlight is small but pretty powerful. Once extracted from the corpse you attach it to your gravity glove. Be warned though, as soon as it’s attached the tension builds up in the game's background music, dare I say what happens next. Just make sure you have your shotgun drawn, grab the wrist of your dominant arm to concentrate and focus the beam on an imminent attack! Here come the Toxic Headcrabs!

Flashlight




Verdict

Half-Life: Alyx is by far the best first-person shooter we’ve ever played in VR to date. The team of developers at Valve have done an absolutely fantastic job in what only can only be described as a masterpiece.

The game settings were simple and not overly complicated in any way and didn't require any input from me to get the game started, other than browsing through the various options, mainly to ensure my right controller was set as my dominant hand - and it was. The controller buttons are perfectly laid out, very intuitive, and were a doddle to get used to. I quickly became a master of the gravity gloves and the loading and unloading of the pistol. The shotgun took a little more getting used to, as you tend to forget exactly how each weapon loads.

I loved the variety of weaponry and how each gun had their own characteristics, such as how they're loaded, what firepower they offered, and where and when and what type of gun to use on which type of enemy. 

The interaction with the Combine Fabricator for weapon upgrades was also a nice touch.  It’s a shame there wasn't more resin around so I could upgrade my guns quicker. The grenades were my favourite and very easy to throw unlike Arizona Sunshine, where throwing items any great distance was a very poor experience in my opinion.



Half-Life: Alyx Is not an all-out shooter like my other VR favourite, Gunheart. Shootouts need to be more strategic and a little planning may be necessary. There’re no endless bullets in this game; when you run out, you need to find more.

The puzzles were really enjoyable.  A little challenging at the beginning, but once I did a few, I quickly understood what I needed to do in order to get the job done. The puzzles are great fun and you get a good sense of achievement and self-satisfaction on completion.

I simply loved the revamped Half-Life enemies. Valve did an excellent job ensuring that the enemies correlated perfectly with the previous versions from the Half-Life series of games and without any notable loss of their behaviours and mannerisms. 

The attention to detail in Half-Life: Alyx is astounding, so much so I spent at least 20 minutes gazing at inanimate objects admiring their lifelike textures. Almost every object you look at and interact with is a graphical masterpiece in its own right. Even simple things, such as discovering I could use a marker pen to write something on the dirty windowpane and shortly afterwards realising I could use the nearby eraser to wipe it off, was downright awesome! I couldn’t help but touch and pick up everything I encountered, just to see what it would do or how far I could interact with it. Even the light switches could be toggled on or off! This is attention to detail that is generally overlooked and often not appreciated by some. A game like this certainly deserves the best graphics cards available.

To sum it up - the storyline in Half-Life: Alyx is superb and gameplay-wise, delivered unparalleled immersion, the ability to let us perceive the many virtual, atmospheric environments and the freedom to touch and interact with objects as if they were present in the real world was simply mind-blowing and not far short of spectacular, delivering an expertly crafted immersive adventure inside a unsurpassed VR experience.

Disc Space.

On a final note, I was amazed that Half-Life: Alyx only takes up 66 gigabytes (GB) of disc space, compared to that of Asgard's Wrath which uses a whopping 132GB - It's no wonder why larger disc drives are becoming so popular. Thankfully, due to the super-fast read/write speeds of today's SSDs, games load faster than ever before. You also may be interested to know - we recently did a little research to find out how much disc space games used to take up back in 1996, compared to the present day. The results were pretty shocking! We also did a lengthy review on the best SSD for gaming. Check it out, it could save you some money.

What was your experience playing Half-Life; Alyx?

Do you know of any Half-Life: Alyx tips we should know about? Hey! Why not just share your thoughts with me using the comment box below.

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