Valve released its excellent Index virtual reality headset in May, and at the time everyone expected a bombshell game to go along with it. Rumors that it was Half-Life themed were swirling even then, not necessarily the long-awaited Half-Life 3 but...something. The first Half-Life themed “something” in over a decade.
Earlier this week Valve confirmed the rumors, announcing (sort-of) Half-Life: Alyx, and calling it their “flagship VR game.” And it is definitely that, with Valve updating the ancient Half-Life website today for the first time in a decade, revealing that Alyx is a “full-length” $60 game due to release for “all PC-based VR headsets” on March 20, 2020—though Index owners (either the headset or the cheaper controllers) will get it for free. A little added incentive to buy Valve’s hardware instead of a Vive or Rift.
Alas, Valve also confirmed it’s definitely not Half-Life 3. More like Half-Life 1.5, actually—meaning Alyx takes place between the events of the original Half-Life and Half-Life 2. A pre-sequel, to borrow a term from Borderlands. From the press release:
“Set between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2, Alyx Vance and her father Eli secretly mount the resistance to the brutal occupation of Earth by a mysterious alien race known as The Combine. As Alyx, players take the fight to the Combine to save the future of humanity.”
So uh...pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a game set between Half-Life and Half-Life 2. The latter began with Gordon Freeman waking up from stasis to find the Combine had already conquered Earth, but now I guess we’ll get to see the famed Seven Hour War for ourselves. Stick around for that G-Man cameo, as well.
The hope I guess—at least for those of us who care about VR—is that Alyx will be groundbreaking enough to drive mass adoption of the platform. That’s always been a factor behind these Half-Life VR rumors, really. Half-Life 2 is the game that forced Steam onto millions of PCs, effectively propelling us into the era of digital game downloads. People gnashed their teeth and complained, but Valve’s vision won in the end.
Whether Half-Life: Alyx will prove similarly compelling? I’m not sure. The potential is there, as a built-for-VR Half-Life could prove just as revolutionary as Half-Life 2’s physics did at the time. And hey, the fact it works on the $399 Oculus Rift S just as well as the $1,000 Index is a good start. The barrier to entry isn’t too, too high.
Still, it’s hard to know. We’ve had plenty of VR shooters, many of them quite good. Can Valve make something substantially better? Or if not, does the Half-Life name carry enough cachet to drive headset sales on its own? I guess we’ll find out in a few short months.