While we’ve got plenty more to come, last week we asked you to leave the burning questions about Half-Life: Alyx you wanted us to answer based on the four hours Ryan McCaffrey and I have each played. And this week, we’ve got answers!
We couldn’t answer every question as there are still things we can’t reveal just yet (including many story and mechanic-specific details) but here are some of the top suggestions and ones we liked (edited very lightly for clarity), organized by question and answered by me and Ryan.
What’s movement like?
MrBurnsReturns: I’m curious to how you managed to tolerate free movement vs teleport movement? Is it viable to free move through the entire game?
Dipman: Which of the three movement options is the least nauseating? And are there any unavoidable portions of the game that can make you dizzy or lightheaded regardless of which method you’re using?
BritBayonet: Did you try different modes of movement? Which ones do you think worked the best? Were head crabs absolutely terrifying?
Ryan: I ended up only using the middle movement option — the quick zip that’s between teleport and full walking. I want to try the walk when I sit down to play it at home, but I was so entrenched in the game, knowing my time was limited, that I just wanted to go-go-go at Valve. No nausea for me on that setting, thankfully! I even went down a long elevator at one point and didn’t get that weird feeling in my stomach that I’ve had in other VR games. And yeah, the headcrabs are most definitely scarier than ever when they’re leaping right at your face. 🙂
Tom: I can second Ryan on the rare elevator ride being the only thing I saw that might unavoidably affect you in a negative way (and also that headcrabs are terrifying). I also mostly played with the quick zip, and I think the answer to free movement is a personal one. If you find you can manage it in other VR games, I don’t have any reason to think you won’t here. And if it makes you uneasy elsewhere, Alyx will probably be no different. But I was entirely comfortable playing with teleport movement!
Could it run on PSVR?
Phoenixlau: Given what you have played so far, how easily do you feel Half-Life: Alyx could be ported to PSVR, given the lower power spec and control scheme differences? Do you think the overall experience would survive essentially intact, e.g. Witcher 3 on Switch?
Boriordan: Do you think it could run on PS4? What about the controls?
Tom: It’s an interesting question, and one Ryan and I can only speculate on. The question of “could the PS4 and PSVR actually handle running this game” is one I can’t answer, I don’t make games! But Valve has done enough work to make sure Alyx operates as expected across so many different headsets and control styles (and has designed the actual levels and controls to enable that flexibility) that I would at least guess they could get the movement stuff working on the now hilariously outdated Move controllers.
Ryan: As Tom said, all we can do is speculate. My gut says that PSVR and the PS4 wouldn’t run Alyx at an image quality and/or framerate that Valve would find acceptable, but Valve is much smarter and more talented than I am, so who knows? But I would not hold my breath waiting for a PSVR version. Maybe PSVR2 in a couple years, if Sony decides to stick with VR on PS5?
Are there loading screens?
Tri-slide: Do the levels load seamlessly or is there a static loading screen? Or are there loading “rooms” you wait in while the next thing loads?
Tom: There are loading screens, different visually but almost identical in function to those in Half-Life 2. Occasionally (though really not too frequently) you’ll reach a dead end or empty hallway where an overlay interrupts you saying it’s loading, and before too long it fades away and you can keep on trucking.
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What’s the deal with Barnacles?
TKFTGuillotine: I assume the change in Barnacles’ behaviour has something to do with some people feeling uncomfortable being “lifted.” Is there any hope of this being added back in as an option (similar to teleport and free movement both being options)?
Tom: That’s exactly right, you’re no longer lifted into the air by barnacles because Valve tried it and said it just didn’t feel good from the VR perspective. They’ll still lift items and enemies (and even hard hats right off your head), but if you get grabbed your vision just gets a bit weird and you slowly start losing health. As far as I am aware, there is no option to change this.
I’ll admit I was a little disappointed at first, but you interact with and make barnacles lift objects in interesting so much that it doesn’t really feel different if you aren’t getting grabbed yourself.
Ryan: Agreed, this was a bummer. I actually ran up to a Barnacle on purpose when I first started playing to see what that would be like in VR. But I trust Valve tested it enough that they felt it wasn’t the best player experience.
Does this feel like a step forward for VR games/will it make an impact?
Junomesh: Does it feel like a step forward for VR or does the VR feel like a gimmick?
Jimmon10: Did you see anything in this game mechanics, physical interaction, etc that lead you to believe this is a step forward and something that hasn’t been done yet in VR? Not asking for specifics just generally wondering if most of this has already been done in VR but this time it’s done by Valve with a great IP and attention to detail.
KBABZ: How does the game seem to compare to the bigger VR titles like Astro Bot Rescue Mission and No Man’s Sky?
Pastawithlegs111: Do you think the game will make a lasting impact on gaming?
Alucard2003: Do you believe this game could revolutionize VR gaming the same way Half-Life did for gaming?
Ryan: I honestly don’t know what it would take at this point for VR to go totally mainstream, like console gaming. I’m not sure one game can bear that burden. But I am confident that Half-Life: Alyx is BY FAR the most compelling reason to play a video game in VR that’s existed thus far. It will make sense that this HAD to be a VR game as soon as you play it. If Valve ported this out of VR to regular PC-monitor gaming, it would lose the soul of what makes it compelling.
Tom: I feel the same way about this making sense why it’s VR once you play it, it’s not just a gimmick. To answer Jimmon1 specifically, I think it’s the second part: Alyx isn’t doing a whole lot we haven’t seen elsewhere, but I’ve never played a VR game that does it in such a complete, refined package. To Alucard2003, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alyx has a similar impact on VR games that Half-Life did generally – I think people are potentially going to play this and say “Oh, THAT’S what a full-budget VR game can be.”
Does this mean more Half-Life?
Mjinvr: Do you think through this game, Valve will someday – not long from now – be able to count up to that elusive number?
Tom: Only time will tell for the fabled 1+2 specifically, but Valve at least told us that Alyx has indeed made them want to make more Half-Life games in general! You can check out Ryan’s interview about that here.
Ryan: As you’ll also hear in my interview with Gabe Newell next week, yes, Valve seems to have reopened the door to Half-Life, rather than slam it shut after Alyx ships. I am not sure we’ll see a Half-Life 3, though; my sense is that Valve wants to keep playing in VR. Unless…Half-Life 3 is in VR? It’s Valve so they’ll do it if they want to; it doesn’t matter if it only sells 100,000 copies. They have Steam to fund anything they want with seemingly no financial risks.
Are there large, open areas like in Half-Life 2?
Mavox: Are there any larger, more open environments like in Half-Life 2? Always loved that worn, desolate coastline. Even though it was still linear, it felt open. Anything like that in Alyx?
Tom: Not that I saw. In general, Alyx’s level design seemed to actually be more condensed sometimes – mind you, that’s not a criticism. Playing in VR drastically changes the proper pacing and movement of an FPS, and Alyx uses that to its advantage by making dense levels that twist around on themselves in cool ways and feel full of tiny detail. But also remember, we only played four hours, so there could always be something we didn’t see!
Ryan: Yeah, nothing THAT big in the first four hours, but you still have room to roam when the designers want you to. I am eager to see where the other two-thirds of the game takes us.
Will Half-Life: Alyx stay interesting the whole way through?
KBABZ: Do you see Alyx being able to sustain its gameplay for 12-15 hours?
Tom: This is a great question, because it’s not “will it actually be 12-15 hours long?” It’s “will it get boring or repetitive halfway through and outstay its welcome? It’s tricky to answer when we only got four hours in, but everything I saw leads me to think that early appeal will last.
Alyx teases you along with its new weapons, relying on gun upgrades to spice things up in a way that totally worked for me. Also, similar to other Half-Life games, each new chapter seemed to be centered around some clever idea or theme, so even when I was using the same weapons, I was doing so in a very different way. We’ll have to wait and see of course, but I am at least optimistic in this regard!
Our favorite/least favorite part of playing?
Pastawithlegs111: what was your favourite/least favourite part of the gameplay?
Ryan: I don’t want to spoil ANYTHING for you, but I’ll say that even in the first four hours, Valve mixes things up and toys with your emotions a bit. I won’t say how or which emotions they toy with, but the pacing in variety and gameplay is phenomenal thus far.
Tom: Similarly, my favorite part so far involved a character I can’t (and don’t want to) say anything about – just rest assured that Half-Life isn’t letting “story” fall to the wayside here. And I genuinely had to sit here and think to find anything I notably disliked about this game, it’s really good! I guess I would say the hacking puzzles (things like aligning lasers or connecting points on a ball) are a little uninteresting? But they also aren’t common enough to annoy me too much or wear out their welcome!
Were there any “clumsy” physics moments?
Maralzo: While physics-based interaction is undoubtedly the future of VR immersion, I find that it can be a little clumsy sometimes when two objects (including your hands) get stuck or behave in ways you don’t want it to. It’s a common issue when mixing artificial locomotion with physics-based interaction. Did you experience such “clumsiness” while trying to work around the physics?
Ryan: Playing Alyx was my first time using the Valve Index, and it was obvious why it’s the top-of-the-line VR tech. I ran into very few collision issues or physics wonkiness. It’s fair to ask if that was because of Index or because of Valve’s design and polish, but regardless, it felt great to play.
Tom: There will always be a little bit of this in VR, I imagine, but I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary either. Something that hasn’t really been mentioned much is that whatever weapon you have equipped is stuck to your hand – you can’t drop it on the ground accidentally or pass it the other one (there is a setting for left/right-handedness), and you don’t have to hold anything to grip it.
I was sort of annoyed by this at first, but eventually I really liked it because it just meant I never had to worry about what my gun was doing. That goes a long way toward cutting down clumsy weapon moments you might have had in other VR games.
Will you be able to play a long time comfortably? Seated?
Nouvis: This being a game fully in VR, do you feel that from your few hours of playing it, can Alyx be a game that you can play for a few hours at a time like a normal sit down on the couch, or does the experience become too overwhelming after extended play sessions?
Tom: I think this will definitely depend on how you personally manage in VR, but I spent at least an hour and half playing while standing at one point and just wanted to keep going. The fact that Alyx can be played seated is certainly helpful toward that extended comfort too. Also, not having to clench a button or trigger to grip your gun (as I mentioned above) genuinely did mean my fingers didn’t get tired as fast!
Ryan: If Valve had let me, I don’t think I would’ve left until I’d finished the campaign. It was that compelling, and I was comfortable enough in the headset that I didn’t feel the need to stop and take a break at any point.
Does it “feel” like Half-Life?
CommanderPorkjuice: I’m curious about whether this new title has the same “feel” as HL2….what sticks with me the most about that game is how it felt to explore that world…how spooky and intriguing and alarming it was!
Ryan: See my full preview for my detailed answer to that very question. 🙂
What about Index finger tracking, or using other headsets?
C-bing-ha: Which VR set up was used during the play through? Valve Index? Also, is it possible to feel any haptic feedback in the controllers when catching things or using weapons?
Yellowplastik: To what extent does it implement the valve index features, specifically the finger recognition?
Webbheadd: Will playing on an Oculus Quest with link cable mean you’re missing out on the full experience? Does the Index’ finger tracking really make a difference?
Ryan: Finger tracking didn’t really seem to matter as I played on the Index, but it’s also entirely possible there was cool stuff I could’ve been doing with it that I didn’t know about.
Tom: We both used the Index, but part of Alyx being able to run on everything from an Index to a Vive to an Oculus Quest to Windows Mixed Reality is that it needs work on even the platforms with less functionality. So while I really liked that the Index controllers let me open and relax my hands (and I didn’t take specific note of any haptic feedback, but I could have just not been paying attention), you should still be able to enjoy this game with other input devices.
Do you wish it wasn’t VR?
RealFrowns: Did you ever find yourselves wishing you were playing a new traditional FPS Half Life game instead of this VR game?
Ryan: Not instead of. But in addition to, yeah! Of COURSE I’d love a proper Half-Life 3 that picks up where Episode 2 left off and merges the Portal and Half-Life universes. But for now, Alyx is damn impressive and I can’t wait to play the rest of it.
Tom: Agreed here too. I was certainly a little letdown at first when I heard it was VR exclusive, but after playing Alyx that disappointment went away. It’s not VR just as a gimmick to sell the Index or anything – Valve has made this game for VR, and it’s extremely cool to see what happens to an FPS that’s built from the ground up with that in mind instead of simply trying to translate a 2D shooter to this new medium. I don’t think Alyx would work if it were just ported to non-VR.