Why Half-Life: Alyx is my game of the year

Half-Life 2 is without doubt one of the final issues that makes me really feel like a fan, and that’s why I used to be afraid of Half-Life: Alyx.

Writing about video video games modified my relationship with the medium. I’m used to analyzing precisely why I like my favourite video games. Assembly builders has helped me see their work as an idiosyncratic human creation, not a magical self-contained artifact. I’ve encountered the worst of fan tradition, and it’s made me cautious of deep, unconditional, inarticulable loyalty to media.

For some cause, although, Half-Life 2 and its follow-up episodes are particular. They’re not my favorite games, and even my favorite Half-Life games. Like a robotic short-circuiting whereas attempting to articulate the idea of affection, I’m incapable of explaining my deep funding within the story of a crowbar-wielding physicist named Gordon Freeman preventing an oppressive alien regime along with his tech-genius associate Alyx Vance. However I performed the video games in faculty, and I someway developed the form of obsession that leads you down a rabbit gap of Garry’s Mod fan comics since you simply need to be round extra Half-Life. A decade later, lengthy after I gave up on the fabled Half-Life 3, Gordon and Alyx nonetheless felt like previous associates.

When Valve introduced Half-Life: Alyx for digital actuality, promising a Half-Life 2 prequel that may tackle the sequence’ cliffhanger ending, I knew I’d find yourself reviewing it. And a part of me dreaded the prospect. At worst, the sport is perhaps horrible. Even when it was okay, I fearful encountering a brand new Half-Life sport would expose my fandom as easy nostalgia — one thing I may bear in mind feeling, however solely take pleasure in as an echo from a decade in the past.

Half-Life: Alyx was neither horrible nor simply okay. I wrote about the game at length in March, explaining how good it’s — each as a VR expertise and a first-person shooter. Alyx recaptures the seamless degree design that Valve perfected in earlier Half-Life video games. It combines Half-Life 2’s physics system with the pleasure of getting precise motion-tracked “arms” via VR controllers. Like Half-Life 2, it applies that ethos to each specific puzzles and random, humorous mechanics like grabbing hats to guard you from overhead enemies.

Alyx is one in all a number of good VR shooters. However it has a novel design that’s intuitive but realistically clumsy. To fireside a gun, it’s important to hit a button to eject {a magazine} or crack open a chamber, seize new ammunition from behind your shoulder, match the ammo into the gun, and cock it earlier than firing. Whereas that’s clearly nonetheless a simplified tackle actual firearms, it’s a enjoyable and distinctive ability to grasp, in addition to a reasonably difficult one within the warmth of fight. Alyx is lengthy for a VR sport — which suggests it’s about so long as a standard mid-length shooter — however the system by no means will get previous.

Not like most of my colleagues’ favourite video games this yr, a lot of folks can’t simply play Alyx, because the sport requires each a wired VR headset and a gaming PC. However it’s solely turn out to be extra accessible since launch. It’s simpler to discover a headset with the brand new wired HP Reverb G2 and the convertible Oculus Quest 2, and we’ve seen some restocks of Valve’s Index, one of the simplest ways to play the sport. I went again to Alyx this summer time with the Quest 2, and almost all of the inconveniences I complained about in March have been fastened or improved. I’m hoping Alyx will get extra of the eye it deserves in 2021.

However Alyx is my sport of the yr for extra private causes, too. As a result of because it seems, I discover Half-Life’s world as compelling in 2020 as I did years in the past. (Properly, possibly not compelling sufficient to dig up all of the previous comics once more.) Like Half-Life 2, it’s a few post-apocalyptic world that mixes decaying brutalism with serene pure landscapes and plenty of alien weirdness. Its story — surprisingly candy, critical however unpretentious, and generally endearingly corny — focuses on Alyx Vance and her bonds with an older era that also remembers the pre-alien invasion world.

Alyx concludes with its own cliffhanger involving the G-Man, a strong and enigmatic agent of some unknown energy. It additionally teases a real sequel to Half-Life 2. I’m not going to lift my hopes an excessive amount of simply but. However I’m unreasonably excited already, as a result of critically, who’s that man working for? Why is he so curious about Alyx? What’s his deal?

And once more, I can logically clarify why Alyx is nice, however not fairly why it makes me so joyful. 2020 has supplied a lot of sturdy contenders for the yr’s greatest video games; I’m definitely on board with universally beloved picks like Hades or the creepy and narratively modern World of Horror. However Alyx is the one sport that lets me hang around with a mystical three-armed alien earlier than getting my face eaten by a headcrab, and that feels simply pretty much as good as I bear in mind.

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