It’s been a long time coming - so long that many thought it would never happen, but a new Half-Life game is indeed coming in a few months, as a virtual reality exclusive called Half-Life: Alyx. And if the thought that the next Half-Life game is going to a VR title makes people believe that it won’t be as full-fledged an experience as its predecessors, it seems they’re mistaken.
This decade has seen major strides taken in the development of virtual reality devices from the likes of Oculus, HTC, Sony, and, of course, Valve. Once they were only good for supporting games that were little more than glorified tech demos, but nowadays there are plenty of great VR games for players to literally immerse themselves in for hours on end. To that end, Valve programmer Robin Walker told IGN that the company has been committed to giving the platform a proper full-length game, and it appears that Half-Life: Alyx, a prequel to Half-Life 2, will be that game.
When asked just how big the game will be, Walker said that Valve estimates that the whole story-driven campaign will take players around 13-15 hours on average. “This isn’t a spinoff or a side story, or anything of the sort,” he said. “It’s a full-scale campaign - repeated playtest results indicate it’s about the same length as Half-Life 2.” This wasn’t always the intention, however, as Valve didn’t initially plan to make a VR Half-Life game. According to Walker, the game was born from the company using its previous games to “experiment with new design ideas” and eventually finding a positive reception to its experiments with Half-Life assets and “rudimentary hand physics/interactions.”
This probably won’t come as a surprise to fans who remember that talk of the Half-Life franchise coming to VR has been going on since 2015. In the time since, Valve has heavily committed to VR development with things like the Portal-themed experience The Lab, the Vive headsets it developed with HTC, the SteamVR platform, and its own headset, the Valve Index. Given all this, it was only a matter a time before it produced a full-length game meant to showcase what VR is really capable of.
And as such, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Valve has no plan to release a non-VR version of Half-Life: Alyx. While the rather high costs of most VR headsets are a deterrent for many fans, Walker stressed that it’s not possible to make the game work outside the platform, as the gameplay is intrinsically tied to interacting with the game’s environment in ways that can’t be replicated with a flat screen and a conventional controller. Trying to do so, he said, would lead to Valve “ultimately degrading and sacrificing the quality of the experience on both sides.”
Half-Life: Alyx will be released for VR in March 2020.