Half-Life: Alyx is a VR game developed by Valve. It was announced on November 18, 2019, unveiled on November 21, 2019, at 10 AM Pacific Time. It was released on March 23rd, 2020.
Chronologically, the game takes place approximately five years before Half-Life 2.
It was the first official Half-Life game since Half-Life 2: Episode Two, which was released 12 years prior, and the first full-length Half-Life game since Half-Life 2, which was released 15 years prior. It runs on the Source 2 engine, the long in-development successor to the original Source engine.
Set five years before the collapse of the Citadel and the death of Eli Vance, Half-Life: Alyx follows a 19 year old Alyx Vance as she journeys through the Quarantine Zone outside City 17 to uncover the secret of a Combine superweapon called "The Vault."
Pistol: Shortly after acquiring the Russells, Alyx is given a pistol by Russell. This gun is similar to the starting pistols used by Gordon Freeman in both Half-Life games preceding Half-Life: Alyx. The pistol can be upgraded until it ultimately becomes Alyx's Gun from Half-Life 2 and its episodes, with a reflex sight which highlights weak-points, a laser sight which allows the pistol to be aimed without looking down the sights, a bullet reservoir which increases the pistol's capacity to 20+1, and a burst fire mode.
Shotgun: The shotgun, acquired in the third chapter of the game, is break-action, magazine-fed (capacity of 6+1), and semiautomatic. It can be upgraded to have an auto-loader, which automatically loads shells from a holder on the side of the weapon into the magazine once the action has been broken, a laser sight, which indicates the range and spread of the shotgun, a double shot mode, which allows a second shot to be fired immediately after firing (at a speed of approximately 600 rpm), and a grenade launcher (readying a grenade will change the laser sight to show the arc of the grenade).
SMG: While making her way through the Quarantine Zone, Alyx uncovers an 'unbonded' Combine SMG, allowing Alyx to use it without genetic modification. Found in the hotel basement, it functions similarly to SMGs in previous games, allowing rapid-fire of bullets. Like the AR2, it uses Pulse rounds as ammunition and carries the same distinctive muzzle flare. As with the pistol and shotgun, the SMG can be upgraded at fabricators with features such as a reflex sight, laser sight, and an extended magazine.
Grenade: Alyx acquires several Combine grenades during her adventure. They can be activated with the push of a button and are good for clearing out groups of enemies.
Xen Grenade: Alyx finds a Xen variant of the grenade in infested areas, provided by a worm-like dispenser. Like the Combine grenades, they can be fired from her shotgun. Xen grenades glow green when activated.
Multi-tool "Alyx": A redesigned version of the EMP Tool from Half-Life 2 and its episodes, allowing Alyx to hack into combine fabricators, storage pods, and other machinery via short hacking mini-games. It appears to be a modified tape recorder.
Gravity Gloves: Also called the "Russells", the Gravity Gloves are obtained early on in the game and function similarly to the Gravity Gun. However, they only have the pull function - they do not retain the punting or holding features of the Gravity Gun. This allows Alyx to pull items such as Resin, Antlion Grubs, ammo, health pens, and other important items to assist her. The gloves also feature HUD elements such as a resin/ammo counter, health monitor, and later on, a flashlight.
Vodka Bottles: In Chapter 7, vodka bottles found around the distillery are used by Alyx as the primary means to control and evade Jeff. Alyx throws them, and Jeff is lured toward wherever each one is destroyed. These can be stored in Alyx's wrist pockets for convenience, and as a place to hang on to a bottle to give to Russell (for the achievement Team Spirit).
Construction Helmets: Construction helmets are placed throughout the game, which the player can pick up and put on their head. If the player walks under a Barnacle while wearing a helmet, the Barnacle will lift the helmet off, leaving the player unharmed and effectively giving the player a one-time immunity to Barnacles. Should the player kill the Barnacle before it eats the helmet, they can put it back on. There are two colors available to the player: yellow helmets are the more common variant, with light blue helmets being less common. If the player is wearing a construction helmet when they first meet Larry, he will comment on it.
Respirator Masks: Throughout the game the player will come across respirator masks, which they can pick up and put on their mouth. Respirator masks can be used as an alternative to covering Alyx's mouth with her hand when passing through spore clouds. There are two versions available to the player: one has a head-strap sticking straight up that can be seen in the player's view, while the other lacks this strap.
Half-Life: Alyx was largely developed in secret by a team of around 80 developers, the largest team Valve has ever had, with a third of the team having worked on the previous Half-Life games. Work on the game began in 2016 as a way of developing a full-length VR title, which was tested using different Valve franchises, ultimately coming down to either Half-Life or Portal. Eventually it was decided a fully-VR Portal game would be too disorienting for players, whereas Half-Life had the right amount of "story, combat, puzzle, exploration, [and] interaction" that could work in VR.
Half-Life: Alyx was planned to serve as the flagship title for Valve's in-house VR headset, the Valve Index, and was due to release in the summer of 2019 to coincide with the launch of the Index. Six months before this planned release, Valve held an internal playtest with its employees to gauge their feedback. While the game's design, gameplay, and level progression was resoundingly praised, the actual story (written by Rob Yescombe of The Invisible Hours) was heavily criticized for being too bizarre and not in line with the Half-Life universe. To rectify this, Alyx was delayed, and Erik Wolpaw (who had left Valve to work on Psychonauts 2) was re-hired to work alongside Jay Pinkerton and Sean Vanaman on completely redoing the story while preserving the basic gameplay.
Valve kept all information about Half-Life: Alyx from the public until the game's announcement on November 19, 2019. The public's only knowledge about the title came from leaks and rumors concerning a Half-Life title utilizing VR technology. This title was then known simply as "HLVR", never given an official codename. Beginning as early as late 2016, leftover lines of code referring to HLVR within Dota 2 began to appear. These strings suggested new weapons and NPCs, and referred to familiar Half-Life creatures (such as Vortigaunts and Zombies). Fans, at the time, speculated the leftover data was related to the development of Half-Life 3.
The generally accepted narrative about HLVR started to change in 2019 when rumors, leaks and interviews with Valve employees started to suggest that HLVR would be a prequel focused on Alyx Vance, set to release some time in 2020. This latest batch of rumors turned out to be true with the announcement of Half-Life: Alyx.
Half-Life: Alyx received an update on May 28, 2020. Among other things, the update included a "boozy liquid shader" for all bottles in game, courtesy of Valve artist Matthew Wilde who referred to it as his lockdown project.
Instead of the Gravity Gun, the main gameplay element is the "Russells," or rather the Gravity Gloves (code-named the "Grabbity Gloves" during development) which allow Alyx to yank objects within a certain range towards her, and was likely implemented due to the difficulties of bending over in VR. The in-game world is fully interactive, allowing players to pick up objects and depending on the capabilities of their controllers interact with these objects in different ways. Combat takes advantage of the VR environment: players are required to manually reload guns, and can perform tasks while still engaging in active combat.
Half-Life: Alyx was largely built around Valve's in-house VR headset, the Valve Index, along with the accompanying Knuckles controllers; however, the game is compatible with any VR headset that comes with full-motion controllers: players have the option of using a finger-tracking setup or a trigger-based one. Players have multiple options for movement in the VR space: teleport, where the player points at a location with the controller to move to; shift, which involves smoothly zooming from one point to another; and continuous, where the player continuously moves around the environment of their own accord. The game can be played in a roomscale set-up, with options for sitting or standing. Alyx's height can be adjusted to match that of the player's. It is also possible to play the game left-handed or even with only one hand.
Because the game was built from the ground-up in VR, Valve has no plans to develop or release a non-VR version of the game, although they have acknowledged the community will likely create a mod for precisely this purpose. A non-VR developer toolset exists in the game files where a player is able to move around and fire weapons, using a basic set-up that was ported over from Half-Life 2. However it is not possible to play the entire game using this toolset as basic interactions such as pressing buttons or pulling levers do not work with the "use" key.
The Alyx trailer was watched more than 10 million times within the 24 hours of its release. Though fans expressed excitement, there was considerable disappointment at the first Half-Life game in over a decade being a VR-only title, which was still considered an extremely niche market. At the time of the announcement, SteamVR users were estimated at around 1.2 million worldwide, representing roughly 1% of the total Steam demographic.
Nonetheless, the Valve Index sold out in the United States, Canada, and Europe within a week of the game's announcement, and by mid-January 2020 it was completely sold out in all 31 regions the unit is offered. The announcement of the title also had a profound sales effect on VR headsets as a whole, back-ordering all SteamVR-compatible headsets for months, spanning well-past Alyx's release date in some regions. As of a week past Alyx's release date, VR headset prices were still at an all time high due to lack of supply and the heightened demand.The extreme demand for VR headsets was most likely a product of the game's very positive reception among players and fans of the series, combined with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on manufacturing.
The game has been largely well received by critics and fans alike, getting a 93 Metacritic aggregated score at launch, making it the highest rated PC game of 2020 at the time, highest rated VR game, and third highest rated Half-Life game. It has been praised for its well-polished game-play and extremely detailed, photo-realistic environments with a large variety of physics-based interactions.
Some critics have categorized the game to be in the survival horror genre, rather than a traditional FPS like previous Half-Life titles, because of its slower pacing and how it focuses more on exploration and combat in darker, closed environments.
Valve's David Speyrer noted that though the game is a prequel to Half-Life 2, he recommends that players finish Half-Life 2: Episode Two before playing Half-Life: Alyx, "for reasons that will become clear as you progress."
This time, Alyx Vance and Eli Vance are not voiced by Merle Dandridge and Robert Guillaume respectively, the latter due to Guillaume's death in 2017. Instead, Alyx is voiced by Ozioma Akagha, while Eli is voiced by James Moses Black. Dandridge recorded Alyx's dialogue throughout the game's development and confirmed her voice is present in the announcement trailer, but was officially recast at some point in 2019 for reasons that were unclear to her: Valve has publicly stated they wanted a younger voice for the character. Nevertheless, Dandridge gave her blessings to the game and Akagha.
Some of Dandridge's voice recordings as young Alyx are still present in the game's files.
Two prominent Resistance members encountered by Alyx in the game are Olga and Larry, voiced by Cissy Jones and Rich Sommer, who previously starred in the acclaimed 2016 game Firewatch. Firewatch's developers, Campo Santo, previously joined Valve and Firewatch writer Sean Vanaman co-wrote Half-Life: Alyx.
During one of the gameplay trailers for Half-Life: Alyx, the Xen Grenade is used to blast open a door that is locked from the other side. The door is blown in towards the grenade, implying that Xen Grenades implode, rather than explode. There is little evidence of this fact in-game, however, as the door-implosion event was completely removed from the game.
Throughout the game are numerous floppy disks, some of which contain games in a series called Prax Wars, including Prax Wars 2: Dante's Revenge. Prax Wars 2 first appeared in the Half-Life series as the arcade game in the opening of Half-Life: Blue Shift, and shares a title with a cancelled Gearbox game in development prior to their involvement with the Half-Life series.
At one point Alyx comes across a Headcrab attempting to bond to the head of a mannequin, confirming that the creatures hunt by vision rather than smell.
The Half-Life Wiki has more images related to Half-Life: Alyx.