Half Life: Alyx is the side swiping out of nowhere VR exclusive sequel that no-one knew they wanted, but given the mass affection for prior entries, this fresh effort from Valve is primed to take those silly looking headsets into legitimate mainstream territory.
Even the tiniest glimmer of hope that Half Life may rise once again is enough to set the internet ablaze. We've all seen the concept art for Episode 3, the sly update to LinkedIn developer profiles, and everyone's hopes dashed when Valve would announce a new game only for it to be a card battler. We don't mean to disparage their attempts to diversify their output. But the radio silence with regards to this much beloved franchise has been fiercely disappointing, and so it's with unquestionable enthusiasm that we preview this brand new take on the series.
Alyx is positioned as a prequel to Half Life 2, VR exclusive, with gravity gloves instead of the equivalent gun, and featuring a fully fledged narrative campaign that isn't a tech demo in disguise. The reveal trailer already showed some John Wick esque feats of clip swapping prowess, but additional gameplay mechanics have since been confirmed. You'll be able to pick up and throw objects, solve environmental puzzles, manipulate dynamic physics, and indulge in the same kind of first person sandbox that made this a household name.
One huge change (beyond the obvious hardware required to play) is Alyx being fully voiced as the main protagonist; while she has always been a verbose character, traditionally the player controlled avatar in Half Life (when you're wandering around as Gordon Freeman) is a tad on the quiet side. Most conversations traditionally are passive exchanges, where characters would address Gordon with open statements not seeking a response. It's an interesting change that, while maintaining consistency with what has come before in Alyx's performance, will likely take some getting used to.
Despite being offered as a freebie for owners of Valve's Index, Half-Life: Alyx isn't in fact restricted to that particular wearable, with early suggestions of some timed exclusivity that proved about as reliable as a headcrab ignoring you as you approach. You'll be able to jump in across all PC supported headsets, although at time of writing, a port to PSVR isn't currently being considered. We wouldn't put it past Valve to drop a next gen PS5 related announcement sometime in 2020, if Sony have solidified their virtual reality plans in time for launch.
Beyond that, Valve are remaining tight lipped over releasing any further details. Some other titbits worth mentioning include the return of the oft used Source 2 engine (heavily modified for ideal VR conditions), the ever elusive G-Man is back in the mix, and you'll spend a great deal of time knocking about in City 17. It really is a delicious slice of nostalgia, wrapped in a current gen package that should be commended (and not belittled) for trying to do something different.
Whether or not this is the start of another set of episodic Half Life adventures in the VR space remains to be seen. In any case, Half-Life: Alyx will be, for many gamers, a return to Valve's golden era that feels like years in the making. But the truth is: they never really went away. Turns out patience really is a virtue, and we're sure it will be worth the wait.
Half-Life: Alyx launches in March 2020 for Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality.