Half-Life: Alyx is available now for VR users and while the player count is lower than people are used to seeing, it’s important to remember that the demographic is different than your everyday release. While being exclusively set in virtual reality, the reviews have been wildly positive and for good reason. To enjoy this adventure, you need more than just a VR headset, you need an understanding of where this game originated from and how this is actually genius on Valve’s part.

With Half-Life 3 being the long-standing desire-turned-meme in the gaming community, many were shocked to see the downright incredible trailer for Half-Life: Alyx, though of course some were quick to call the VR experience a spin-off. This couldn’t be further from the truth, in fact – Alyx does a phenomenal job at doing exactly what the first two games in the Half-Life series did: it’s turning the gaming industry on its head.

Players once again dive into the role of Alyx Vance in a world even more horrifying than what we’ve previously experienced. With modern-day graphics and the immersion only VR can offer, everything that made the first two games incredible were increased tenfold. From the darkened, derelict corridors, to the creatures hiding in the depths waiting to eat your face off – Valve took the challenge of making Half-Life feel heart-pounding even further and they did it well.

VR in itself is an incredible technology, though it’s not for everyone. Some get tired of having equipment strapped to their face for long periods of time while others experience a sort of motion sickness. I, personally, fall in the latter half of that statement but what astounded me was that I didn’t experience any issues at all during my time as Alyx. In fact, Valve did a damn good job at making me not want to put the headset down at all, which surprised me! Mechanically speaking, Valve handled this VR entry perfectly, ensuring that VR veterans and noobs alike could enjoy the experience without negative side effects, something that isn’t the easiest to do.

Valve also did an incredible job with the story! The pacing was perfect, the puzzle inclusion was flawless and exactly what a Half-Life fan would expect, and the (no spoilers) ending, the ending, was as close to flawless as one could hope to get.

For those that may be unaware, Half-Life: Alyx is set 5 years before the events seen in Half-LIfe 2 and begins with Alyx performing recon in City 17. The opening sequence will immediately enthrall any Half-Life fans in itself with the throwbacks immediately felt relating to the series, but it’s also done in a way that newcomers to the franchise will have a good feel as to what’s going on. This game would have absolutely been phenomenal as a normal release but the VR aspect took it to a level that was dismissed when the announcement first landed. Being able to not only see this environment that Half-Life fans have loved for so long, but to also interact with it in a realistic way? Feel it, move within it? Explore it? It’s unreal. There were moments when playing Alyx that my breath would be taken away, I would feel my heart in my chest because I couldn’t believe this was really happening. As a huge Half-Life fan, I was in the game in a way I never thought possible and Valve’s special attention to detail definitely did not go unnoticed.

I’d also like to take a quick moment to pay homage to the incredible Force-Pull ability in the game. For not being a Star Wars game, I felt pretty Jedi-y at times and being able to take Alyx’s hands and actually manipulate the environment around me in freeform was … addictive.

Half-Life: Alyx takes the gore from the first two games, the story from the first two games, the dreadful feeling of the world around the player from the first two games and pumped that right up past 11. Despite many’s reservations about the jump to VR, this move was the best thing Valve could have done for the Half-Life franchise. The blood, the existential crisis, the action – all taken to unbelievable heights that create an experience that will leave lasting memories much in the way that the first Half-Life did.

What made the first two games so incredible wasn’t just the amazing story, it was how integrated the experience was and developed in a way that forever changed the face of gaming. When Half-Life 1 and 2 released, it completely transformed how players experienced shooters and altered the way developers approached gameplay. Even BioShock creator Kevin Levine mentioned in the past that his incredible BioShock series was Half-Life reskinned. This is also a major reason why we haven’t seen Half-Life 3 before now. While Alyx is a prequel to 2, it is the next step in the series, and the reason why the company waited so long is that they didn’t want to touch the series until they knew they could change gaming in an impactful way in the same manner that the first two games did. And that’s exactly what they did!

Half-Life: Alyx is setting the stage for VR games and they did it in a way that will challenge other VR developers to dive deeper into the process of creation and make these engaging experiences have more meaning than ever before, both narratively and mechanically.

A word to the wise, though: this game gets intense. It’ll make you feel trapped at times, terrified at times, all-powerful at times, and all of that leads up into a very momentous ending. No spoilers, but prepare to be shocked. This ain’t your momma’s Half-Life, this is something even greater. 

For those that want to get in on the Alyx experience, you don’t need to have a Valve Index, though that is the recommended setup. Players with the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest (with a PC link), and Windows Mixed Reality can all take part in the action.