True to its word, Valve today unveiled Half-Life: Alyx, “a new full-length entry in the Half-Life series” coming to Steam VR-compatible PC devices next March. The game takes place between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2, with the player filling the shoes of anti-Combine resistance leader/scientist Alyx Vance, who plays a critical role in Half-Life 2 and its mini-sequels. As seen in the trailer below, Alyx must work to undermine Combine authority on a post-Black Mesa Incident Earth, while also trying to rescue her captured father, Dr. Eli Vance.
On the game’s Steam page, where pre-orders are naturally available, Valve claims that “VR was built to enable the gameplay that sits at the heart of Half-Life.” Players will use the awesome power of wearing an expensive headset to overcome “deep environmental interactions, puzzle solving, world exploration, and visceral combat.” This wasn’t the case so much in the first game, but Half-Life 2 did trade heavily on Valve’s then-revolutionary physics tech, and VR does seem like a good opportunity to explore some of those themes in a more hands-on fashion.
The trailer shows Alyx peering around shelves on the lookout for Headcrabs, physically moving objects in her way to get a better view. We see her manually load and cock a handgun, and later watch as she discovers (and manipulates) individual shotgun shells behind some junk in a cabinet. At one point, Alyx uses one hand to interact with a terminal of some kind, while the rest of her ducks, weaves, and shoots to hold off a Combine assault on her position. It’s everything that Half-Life games have implied the hero does, only now you have to actually do it, because VR.
Speaking of, Valve lists five compatible VR headset families on Alyx‘s official website: the Valve Index, the HTC Vive family, the Windows Mixed Reality standard, the Oculus Rift, and the Oculus Quest, but only through the Quest’s recently added PC link-up feature. Depending on which headset you own and how many sensors you have for it, you’ll be able to play Alyx at room scale, or at non-room scale while sitting or standing. Players have their choice of teleportation-based movement, A-to-B “zoom” movement, or normal continuous movement via analogue stick.
Valve specifically calls out support for newer-style finger tracking VR controllers (like the Valve Index) and older non-tracking systems (like the OG HTC Vive), but there’s no word on whether it’ll support the Oculus Quest’s forthcoming hand-tracking feature.
Obviously though, Valve would prefer if you’d play Half-Life: Alyx on its in-house VR solutions, so anyone that owns a Valve Index headset and/or just the controllers will get Alyx for free at launch, regardless of when you bought the hardware. Since Valve Index controllers are compatible with the HTC Vive family of headsets, there’s probably a non-zero amount of people who updated to the finger-tracking controllers without buying the new headset as well, or at the very least, are now tempted to do just that. Index hardware owners also get some bonus weapon skins, Alyx-themed spaces for their Steam VR homes, and exclusive “content” for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
By making the first Half-Life game in a decade VR only, Valve is putting forward perhaps the best test yet of the market’s willingness to buy in on VR. And despite what those PlayStation VR sales may have indicated last year, VR is still a hugely expensive investment. A complete Valve Index setup costs $999; the HTC Vive Cosmos is $699; Oculus Rift S and Oculus Quest both run $399; and Windows Mixed Reality is a standard, not a single headset, so good luck researching the huge price range of options available there and figuring out which one is actually worth owning.
All of these prices assume that you already own a decently powerful gaming PC — if not, get ready to add another $600 to $1,000 (or more) to the tab. I’m sure there are console-based Half-Life die-hards who will gladly fork over $2,000 to play the first new game in the series since Ur-Nammu’s reign over the Sumerian Third Dynasty, but it’s a damn big ask for everyone else. Even for someone like me, who enjoys Half-Life games and already owns a powerful computer, I’m still not sold enough on VR to drop an additional four hundo minimum. I also just straight up don’t have the space for it, as is the case for many folk living in tiny apartments and/or with roommates, who might come home while you’ve commandeered the entire living room to play Half-Life: Alyx and who might then decide to pants you for it.