We haven’t visited City 17 for a long time and a lot has changed from a technological point of view. This time the journey is framed by Valve’s Source 2 engine. Although the underlying technology has been available for some time, it is the most ambitious title available on the platform. The challenges posed by this engine are certainly daunting: higher refresh rates to support headsets that normally run at 90Hz, but Valve also wanted to deliver one of the more detailed VR experiences.
It involves a game world built around fantastic and realistic physics-based materials, with great care placed in all corners of the environment. In VR, even the smallest details can be admired up close, which involves a great degree of detail. The art team has done an exceptional job here: the size and scale of the world is almost perfect, and when you go from a narrower frame to a larger one, it’s very easy to be amazed.
Alyx’s graphics are clearly impressive, which makes it a great game is the incredible degree of interaction with the surrounding world. In fact, the game is defined by its own level of interactivity, and the diversity and variety of actions required to play are the aspects that make the game unique. For example, the simple act of shooting the weapon is taken to new levels with VR. It is not a more realistic objective, but it is our movements themselves which then strongly influence the combat… the weapon lacks bullets.
In a traditional shooter, to reload the gun, just press a button. In Half-Life: Alyx, however, this same process takes place in multiple stages, the first being extracting the carriage from the gun. Then we have to raise our arms over our shoulders to retrieve a magazine and insert it. As the game progresses, you will be able to keep multiple bullets in the weapon and also track bullets in each magazine. We will need two of these to fully reload our upgraded pistol, and it’s a good idea to know how many residual bullets are in a partially used magazine.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of how objects have an actual physical presence in the game world, and the focus is on simulating physics in general. Each setting is packed with individual objects, all with physical emulation (a clear evolution from the Half-Life 2 implementation). One of the main changes here is the ability to collect and manipulate all of these items; in HL2, we could collect objects, but in a very small way. In Half-Life: Alyx, you can literally collect items with your hands and examine them at will.
These properties affect objects in the world that can move and be impacted during play, with transformative effects. The banal becomes extraordinary. The simple act of opening the drawers, moving the boxes and baskets is fascinating and each object has its realistic physical properties. Instead of clicking a single button to search, you need to physically reach objects placed on a surface. These can be placed on top of the others, etc.
Physics is also a big factor in gameplay. In one scene, in front of a blind enemy who locates his prey through refined hearing, one must avoid making noise. At one point, a Headcrab points directly at us, dropping glass bottles. If we’re quick enough we can get them back in half an hour to keep them from dividing by drawing the monster’s attention to us. A simple idea in theory, but very important for the gaming experience. It goes beyond any “guided” gameplay.
Obviously we also have the Russell, or a pair of anti-gravity shoes that allow the player to pull things towards them with a flick of the wrist. An ingenious and fun tool to use. Once these objects are in front of our hands, it becomes easier to appreciate the level of detail they present. For example, the various CRT monitors in the game have real input inputs like the double scart. To take another example, in Russell’s lab it is possible to examine the various monitors, which appear to show the source code that drives the Russell boots.
Before that, there were ink pens, similar to those from Valve’s Lab, that let you write on glass or whiteboards. Their use is quite natural, so much so that you can even indulge in some models. There’s also a working piano, which probably works best with Valve’s stereo headset index finger, but with Oculus Touch it’s fine.
There are tons of little details to the world and the physical nature of it all makes it more believable, which makes the experience more compelling overall. But it is precisely the concept of physics that sees some interesting differences with other VR games , like Boneworks of Stress Level Zero based on the Unity engine. Alyx has many items with physical properties, but most of them are not essential to the central game mechanics. They are just part of the world and add realism. Boneworks, on the other hand, uses physics as the central mechanics of gameplay and has a much deeper impact. And what does this mean for the players?
Alyx’s combat is mostly weapon-based, while Boneworks goes in a different direction – everything has its physics, including weapons, and every item can become a weapon or a tool. You can run towards an enemy and interact with it by pushing it, grabbing it, or using it to interact with other objects. We have guns available, but they are not stuck in the hand. From this point of view, the game has more freedom of action. There are several options for survival and everyone can act according to their guts.
Half-Life: Alyx echoes this approach in different situations. For example, crabs can be treated in this way using objects from the surrounding environment. They can be deflected and it’s fun, but that doesn’t apply to other enemies. Pulling things or even pushing them is unnecessary, we do not harm and we do not influence their behavior. Instead, Boneworks basically lets you do melee combat using the items we have on hand, and that would have helped tremendously in Half-Life.
But the differences don’t end there. In Boneworks, the mechanics of crossing and puzzles are heavily physics-based, while in Half-Life they tend to rely on refined sequences to the point. That’s the only fundamental difference: Half-Life features perfectly designed puzzles that are fun to solve. Boneworks tries a more ambitious approach, offering the possibility of solving problems in several ways. On the other hand, this sometimes causes glitches and quirks, which rarely happens in Alyx.
And maybe Boneworks relies too much on this model and it can cause object impacts with the camera, go against the rules learned in VR development and cause potential comfort issues for many. players suffering from motion sickness.
There are other little things that we liked about Boneworks. For example, you can take a torch and the resulting beam of light creates shadows of every object, even our body, giving us a stronger sense of presence in the world. In Alyx, however, the torches do not cast the shadow of your hands, but only on the world.
So if we look at this comparison with a more general view, it’s clear that Alyx aims to deliver a more accessible, refined, and meticulously crafted VR experience, while Boneworks focuses entirely on the interaction and credibility of the gameplay mechanics. . . But both games represent unforgettable VR experiences that help overcome the limits of VR development.
But Alyx appreciates the fact that he’s imbued with Half-Life DNA, and there are constantly elements of the franchise that we love. Each chapter has a unique concept, so the game is an ongoing surprise. Valve is of course trying to take advantage of the new Half-Life games to deliver new experiences by taking advantage of gameplay innovations, and Alyx does not disappoint from that point of view. Valve’s work is so exquisite that it’s hard not to be surprised. Lapidary we can call it a masterpiece, the most thrilling experience available in a video game right now.
As far as different viewers go, we played it with Oculus Rift S and the experience was comfortable, but we imagine the Index is a cut above because it traces each finger individually (Oculus groups three on a button ). The Vive is perhaps the least suitable if you want to use continuous movement, as touch discs are not optimal for free movement. The point is that the game supports a lot of VR headsets and we can’t test them all, but user reviews give us a good idea of how they stack up against each other, and in fact, we’ve compiled a guide. for the best VR headsets for Half-Life: Alyx
When it comes to system requirements, the minimums are a Core i5 7600 paired with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or an AMD Radeon RX 580. We tested the game on a more powerful Core i5 8400 and can confirm you get a Decent experience with both GPU retail mediums with better holograms turned off. The frame rate is almost always around 70-90fps, but the asynchronous time frame merging technology hides lost frames well. The RX 580 is faster on average but has a less stable frame rate than the GTX 1060, implying that asynchronous timewarp is not effective in some situations.
When playing around with the graphics settings, we didn’t find huge differences between the low and ultra presets, mainly because almost all of the lights and shadows are pre-calculated, while polygons and level of detail cannot. not be changed. Volumetric light is certainly the parameter that has the most impact on performance, and by switching it from ultra to low, it offers + 20% performance.
Alyx is decently played with the minimum configuration, but we recommend having a GTX GTX 1070 level and a Core i5 8400 processor to have less performance issues.
The price of admission to enjoy the Half Life: Alyx experience is certainly steep. Not only do you need a VR headset (an Oculus Rift CV1 with touch controller is probably the most economical solution), but also an above-average gaming PC for smooth, uninterrupted gameplay.
And is all of that expense worth playing a game? Probably not, but that might not be the point. Valve invites you to equip yourself with a VR headset, and once you have it, you’ll have access to a series of equally valuable experiences. Half-Life: So Alyx acts as a catalyst for the spread of VR, and this is precisely the product the environment needed.
We don’t think this will be a game to disappoint you, and once you’ve got everything you need, you’re ready to embark on your long and varied VR adventure.