City 17 has never looked so good.
I’m walking alongside a set of train tracks stretching through a decrepit railyard. Turning the corner, I spot a pack of barnacles perched above me, just waiting for some poor unsuspecting soul to wander within reach of their deadly tongues. I pick up a nearby barrel with both hands and huck it at their sticky appendages, distracting them long enough to sneak past. This is when I noticed a bloodied corpse propped up against the wall. Putting my weapon away, I grabbed his body and turned him over, revealing an extra clip of ammo tucked in his pocket.
While this may not sound like the most thrilling gameplay, it’s these moments, as well as many others, that make Half-Life: Alyx so special. Valve has put an astounding level of detail into this game, resulting in one of the most immersive VR experiences I’ve ever played, and I’m barely a few chapters in. Don’t get me wrong, HL:A has so far featured an impressive amount of jaw-dropping moments, but it’s the little moments in between these grandiose set-pieces that breathe life into its absolutely massive world.
I’ll do my best to avoid revealing any spoilers moving forward.
As confirmed by Valve ahead of release, Half-Life: Alyx takes place between Half-Life and Half-Life 2. Players step into the shoes Alyx Vance, resistance fighter, daughter of Black Mesa scientist Eli Vance, and future sidekick to one Gordon Freeman. The game begins simple enough. You’re in the middle of a recon mission when you’re instructed by Dr. Vance to head back to base. Unfortunately, things don’t go exactly according to plan and you soon find yourself on the wrong side of a technologically-superior race of aliens from another dimension. Mondays, am I right?
As I stated before, there are plenty of showstopping moments in HL:A that will leave you breathless. Sometimes it’s a towering Combine Strider appearing out of nowhere from behind a building, other times it’s just a scenic view of the massive mechanical walls surrounding the quarantine zones. From a distance, certain portions of City 17 almost look like paintings. But, again, it’s these smaller instances and interactions that really set Half-Life: Alyx apart.
Very early on in the game, you’re equipped with what a fellow resistance member refers to as “Gravity Gloves.” A prototype of the Gravity Gun introduced in Half-Life 2, these devices allow you to grab objects from a distance and flick them towards you. It’s a simple mechanic, but one that adds a surprising bit of fun to what would normally be considered mundane activities.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Half-Life game without a healthy amount of environmental puzzles, many of which making use of this kinetic grab functionality. The game rewards exploration, scattering additional ammo and other collectibles throughout hidden portions of the map for you to discover. Sometimes they’ll be blocked by unmovable obstacles and you’ll need to use your gloves to reach them.
A few hours in and I’ve only scratched the service of Half-Life: Alyx. I’m still noticing a bunch of small details that I really appreciate. During load screens, for instance, the game marks the center of your playspace, allowing you to reposition yourself before hopping into the next chapter. As we continue to dive deeper into City 17, I’m sure we’ll have plenty more to talk about over the coming days. Be sure to keep a look-out for our official review coming later this week!
Half-Life: Alyx is available now on all Steam-compatible VR headsets for $59.99.
Feature Image Credit: Valve Corp.