A new Half-Life is finally upon us. Here’s everything you need to know about it.
It’s been several long years. Countless pleas for Half-Life had gone unanswered. Finally, in November 2019, Valve announced Half-Life: Alyx, the first full-fledged title in the franchise since Half-Life 2 launched in November 2004. It’s currently slated to release on March 23rd but what should you know before buying it? Let’s go over a few things here.
Story and Setting
As the title indicates, you’ll be playing as Alyx Vance, Gordon Freeman’s companion throughout Half-Life 2. The story is set before the second game as Alyx and her father Eli Vance battle against the Combine while laying the foundations for the resistance. This will essentially be Alyx’s introduction to a number of Combine tactics as she and her father come up with ways to defeat them.
The G-Man Returns
The initial announcement trailer ended with everyone’s favourite “mutual friend”, the G-Man, making an appearance. As the presence guiding Freeman throughout the events of Half-Life 1 and 2, he’s remained shrouded in mystery all these years. However, in a recent audio clip by voice actor Mike Shapiro on New Year’s Eve, the G-Man said he’d see us in the New Year and to “prepare for consequences”. If that’s not a tease for disaster, we don’t know what is.
New and Returning Voice Cast
In addition to Mike Shapiro returning to voice the G-Man, Tony Todd and Ellen McLain will once voice again voice the Vortigaunts and Combine Overwatch respectively. Alyx Vance will be voiced by Ozioma Akagha, who’s taking over from Merle Dandridge, while Eli Vance is being voiced by James Moses Black. Meanwhile, newcomer Cissy Jones is also included, though her role is still unknown.
Exclusive to VR
Unlike previous titles – including many of Valve’s flagship releases – Half-Life: Alyx is exclusive to VR. Valve said that the project started as an “exploration of VR.” As the team used the headset and controllers, it realized that “there’s so much opportunity that we can’t really translate back to the keyboard” and decided to go VR-only. The title supports all major PC VR headsets including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality and of course, Valve Index.
Many of the same fundamentals from previous games carry over here. Along with first person shooting, Alyx will explore the world, meet different NPCs and solve puzzles. VR expands upon the core gameplay significantly – you’ll have to physically search through shelves and load ammo into your gun, for instance. However, it offers some cool sequences like aiming around walls or physically removing a Headcrab with your hands. Players can wield all weapons one-handed to allow for puzzle solving and world interaction with their free hand.
Before there was the Gravity Gun, there were Gravity Gloves which allow for pulling on distant objects like weapons. One particular sequence in the announcement trailer saw Alyx seemingly pulling a grenade from an enemy’s pack for her own use. Expect some physics-based puzzle solving as well in keeping with the Half-Life heritage.
Movement Options and Finger Tracking
Half-Life: Alyx will support room scale and can be played while sitting or standing. It also supports a variety of movement options like walking with the right analog stick, teleportation and shifting, which allows for smoothly going from one point to the next. Finger tracking via the Index controllers is also supported and while fun in its own ways, Valve has stated they’re not required to enjoy the core gameplay.
Free for Valve Index Owners
Valve Index has been sold out since the announcement of Half-Life: Alyx. Consumers who own Index prior to the game’s release will get the game for free along with some other bonuses. These include alternate gun skins for use in-game, themed content for Counter-Strike: GO, and even being able to traverse the game’s environments within SteamVR Home.
Similar in Length to Half-Life 2
VR titles aren’t typically super-long experiences, though games like Asgard’s Wrath are notable exceptions. Half-Life: Alyx is thankfully another exception with Valve claiming it to have as much content as Half-Life 2. Geoff Keighley, who presented “The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx” feature, reported finishing the game in just over 15 hours and noted it to be a “full-blown Half-Life experience.” Valve also said to The Verge previously that this a linear title from beginning to end – with some branching paths but still linear as a whole – and could be played for hours with the ability to save anywhere.
Valve’s Largest Development Team
Over 80 Valve developers have worked on Half-Life: Alyx, making it the company’s single-largest team ever. Whether this includes Campo Santo, which was developing In the Valley of Gods before putting it on hold to help with Half-Life: Alyx, is unknown. Regardless, Valve has insisted this to be the “next part of the Half-Life story” and in terms of manpower at least, it’s devoting a good chunk of its resources.
When Half-Life first released, it wasn’t really known for its multiplayer until Minh Le and Jesse Cliffe gave us Counter-Strike and started a revolution in the online space. Half-Life: Alyx may start its own little revolution but it won’t be in multiplayer. At least, not initially/ Programmer Robin Walker told The Verge that there are currently no plans for multiplayer modes. Never say never, but don’t hold your breath either.
Despite the lack of multiplayer, it wouldn’t be a Half-Life title without some kind of mod support. Half-Life: Alyx is confirmed to have full support with the Steam Workshop. It may take some time before we see anything on the scale of Afraid of Monsters or Gunman Chronicles but there’s immense potential all the same.
Hammer Level Editor
If you’re keen on level design, then you can mess around with Valve’s Hammer level editor – which has been updated with VR components – and create new environments when Half-Life: Alyx releases. So while there will be a wait for full-fledged mods, explore gorgeous new levels in the meantime isn’t the worst trade-off.
Current PC Requirements
Valve hasn’t revealed the official PC requirements for the game just yet. All we have to go off of is the Steam listing for minimum requirements, which includes Windows 10 as the recommended OS, an Intel Core i5-7500 or AMD Ryzen 5 1600 CPU, 12 GB of RAM and either an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 580 with 6 GB of video memory. Again, these will likely change near launch so keep an eye out.
PlayStation VR Release Not Ruled Out
For those who already have PlayStation VR and don’t want to drop $999 on a Valve Index, there is some good news. Valve is currently focused on the game’s initial release but hasn’t “ruled anything out.” Speaking to Push Square, designer Greg Coomer said, “We believe Sony’s VR platform has been a huge success for the medium, and we assume that lots of Sony customers would love to experience this new chapter of Half-Life.” So perhaps somewhere down the line, it could arrive for PS4 players (if not for the PS5).