It’s been well over a decade since we last got the last Half-Life game, and just as long since we got that infamous cliffhanger to Half-Life 2: Episode 2. Ever since then, fans have been pleading for a new entry into the Half-Life franchise to conclude the story that Valve started in 1998, whether that be Half-Life 3, or even Half-Life 2: Episode 3.
Now we finally have another Half-Life game, but it’s a prequel, and doesn’t follow Gordon Freeman, the hero of the originals. Instead Half-Life: Alyx follows Alyx Vance, set before the events of Half-Life 2 begin. And being a VR-exclusive game, it has understandably become a hot topic of controversy across the internet as large numbers of fans dont have expensive VR headsets with which to step into this new entry in a very much loved series.
The game has been out for around two weeks now and I feel like some of the initial hype has died down and we can finally talk about it with the benefit of hindsight. I briefly mentioned it in my Alyx review, but it seems like there wasn’t actually a lot that Alyx did with VR that absolutely couldnt have been done without VR.
I thought today we could explore this and make this a place for us to chat about how this made us feel and what we thought the reasoning behind this was. So, firstly, did Half-Life: Alyx really need to be a VR-exclusive game? And secondly, is Half-Life: Alyx alone worth buying a VR headset for?
I’m going to suggest a couple of sides to this, both of which seem to have strong points, but lets see what you guys think. Have you played Half-Life Alyx? If you haven’t, would you be willing to buy a headset for it?
Case 1: Alyx absolutely needed to be a VR-exclusive game. Right now virtual reality is still very much in its infancy. There’s a chicken and egg problem with it at the moment; developers are scared to make games for VR because not many people own the hardware, and people are scared to buy the hardware because there’s not many games worth buying it for.
So in comes Valve, one of the original pioneers for Virtual Reality. With the HTC Vive, SteamVR and a tonne of compatibility features for other VR headsets. Valve pretty much got themselves in at the front to lead the industry. But as the numbers of adopters failed to arrive, largely due to the heavy price tag and the lack of games, Valve (who monitors all the numbers) could see the industry needed a push to get more people to buy more headsets, so that more games would be made with better quality. You know Valve will now have some juicier numbers to present to developers to encourage them into going down the VR route.
And so along comes a new Half-Life game, one of the most notorious franchises of Valve’s because of what seems like a fear of cocking up HL 3. Just to consider that for a moment, Half Life 3 is mythical. It is a powerful driver of users whenever rumours arise around it. If Valve commit to that idea and cock it up, they lose control of the mythical gaming legend. For a long time we’ve joked about a new Half-Life game, and how it will never come. Then when Valve announced it, there were those who were die hard enough to purchase a VR headset specifically for it, it was their little nudge they needed into the VR world. Valve turn that mythical monster, at least a tiny element of what it is, to point gamers to buying their VR headsets and help bump start the VR gaming niche. And they have argueably done it without removing our thirst for HL 3, therefore allowed them to maintain control over that PR beast.
But to do all of this properly Half Life Alyx had to be built from the ground up, solely for Virtual Reality, so that it worked brilliantly, in all regards for VR. Now we have more people with VR headsets, and a bigger audience for developers to make games for. And with the spectacular response to the game, surely developers will see a market for fully-fledged, AAA virtual reality video games? If Half-Life: Alyx wasn’t VR-exclsuive, there wouldn’t be nearly as many people with VR headsets in their living rooms, and then not nearly as much interest in VR for developers and Alyx would have been less of a game for it as its focus/ game mechanics would have been diluted.
Case 2: Alyx definitely did not need to be VR-exclusive. Just to make it clear, I’m not talking about whether HL: Alyx should be a VR game, but whether it needed to be exclusively made for Virtual Reality. Many other games have managed to be ported over into a fully-fledged VR version, and that was without building it from the ground up with virtual reality in mind. Both Fallout 4 VR and Payday 2 VR (feel free to suggest more below, they’re just the first ones that came to mind) are great games that come from a non-VR version of themselves. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to do it the other way around?
I’m talking about making the game with VR in mind, designing a lot of the game for virtual reality, and then porting it over to standard keyboard and mouse controls with new puzzles that reflect the new control mode. It wouldn’t be exactly the same experience, but neither is Fallout 4 VR or Payday 2 VR, as both of them feel very different and are played in slightly different ways, when in a virtual environment.
Plus, the move of making a VR-exclusive game has alienated a large audience of fans from Valve. When we transition to next-gen consoles, most developers at the time will make current-gen and next-gen versions of their game. Yet with VR this is completely different. Many people can’t afford the large price tag of VR… the feeling that the message is "Want to play Half Life Alyx? Well buy a VR headset or tough luck" is a painful pill to swallow for long standing fans around the world, without different levels of poverty.
I’m extremely lucky to have my own Virtual Reality setup, but part of me feels a little shame towards Valve for disregarding such a large loyal audience. No matter how good the game is for the VR industry, the amount of non-VR owners who cant play but want to play Alyx, is still far, far larger than those who can afford the tech.
Ok, over to you, what do you think? Should Half-Life: Alyx have been a VR-exclusive? Did the VR industry need it? Or did the fans need it more? Is it worth it alone to buy a VR headset for? Is VR something you are now considering as the games start to show up? Let us know your thoughts!