Five and a half questions we still have about Half-Life: Alyx
Christopher Livingston, PC Gamer – February 4, 2020 at 7:23 AM
Will G-Man's origins finally be revealed? Will it take VR to new heights? And will we get to pet the Dog?
(Image credit: Valve)
2020 has already seen a number of significant game delays: Cyberpunk 2077 was re-implanted six months closer to the real 2077, Marvel's Avengers won't be assembled until fall rather than summer, and Dying Light 2's release date died and the light won't shine on it until… okay, I can't make a good pun out of that one. It got delayed.
So, it feels a bit odd that Valve's Half-Life: Alyx is still on track for a release in March! And while we've learned a lot about the full-length VR game starring Alyx Vance, there are still some key unanswered story, setting, and gameplay details we're wondering about. Here are 5 and a half questions we've still got about Half-Life: Alyx.
(Image credit: Valve)
Will we finally learn the truth about G-Man?
There's something to be said about a mysterious character whose true origin and motives are never revealed. We don't need to know absolutely everything about G-Man because it's probably more fun to endlessly speculate. But a few more details wouldn't hurt—he's been one of the most recognizable and notorious figures in games since the original Half-Life arrived over 20 years ago—though surely part of his longevity in our imagination is due to all the lingering questions about him.
It would be difficult to arrange a major exposition dump about G-Man in a Half-Life: Alyx because it seems unlikely that he would just spill all his beans. But it's entirely possible that other characters like the Vortigaunts or Alyx's father, Eli, could fill in some of G-Man's missing backstory. Almost every character in the Half-Life universe has either seen or interacted with him, from Dr. Breen to Odessa Cubbage. Getting a full dossier on the man in the suit would probably be disappointing, but a few more details would be welcome. Even if I don't learn his real name, dimension of origin, or what's in his briefcase, I would like to learn, basically, generally… y'know, what's his deal?
(Image credit: Valve)
Will the story suffer due to it being a prequel?
Prequels are a tricky thing to nail because writers are often handcuffed to what's already been presented as the immutable future. Take the Star Wars prequels as a horrifying example. There's a handful of throwaway lines from the original Star Wars trilogy about the Clone Wars and Anakin already being a great pilot when he met Obi-Wan. So, those lines were treated as gospel truth, leading to the invention of pod racing just to make Baby Anakin a pilot and two whole films about Boba Fett's Dad's clones being used to make storm troopers. That's just a couple reasons the prequels were such hot garbage—because they adhered to a couple frivolous details written decades prior. (Though the pod racing game was pretty sweet, and I've heard the Clone Wars cartoon was good. So maybe it was all worth it?)
Plus, prequels can go out of their way to explain the origins of things we don't even need to know—just to pick on Star Wars again, do you feel better or worse having learned how Han Solo got his last name? The answer: worse. Much, much worse.
Half-Life: Alyx isn't just a prequel, either—it's sandwiched between the original Half-Life and Half-Life 2, meaning both the past and future are set in stone, which makes things even trickier. It makes it tougher to expand the lore without contradicting some existing detail, and even adding new weapons, technology, and enemy types can ultimately feel weird. Where are Alyx's gravity gloves in Half-Life 2, for example? They already seem much easier to use than a two-handed gravity gun, so why didn't she hang onto them? Why did they remove those platforms from the Striders in the future? They'd be super fun to ride around on. And so on.
Knowing which characters survive to reach Half-Life 2 means we don't really have to worry about Eli's fate in HL:A. Even if he gets kidnapped (again) we know he makes it out. We know where the Vances and Kleiner and Barney end up already, so any peril they may encounter isn't really much to worry about. None of this means the story can't still be satisfying and enriching, of course, but it does make things harder than they'd be in a sequel, where the writers could have full rein and color outside the lines.
(Image credit: Valve)
Will it end on yet another cliffhanger?
Valve loves cliffhangers—the original Half-Life, Half-Life 2, and Opposing Force all ended with G-Man stuffing our heroes in an interdimensional janitor's closet with the promise of future employment. And naturally Half-Life 2: Episode 2 ended with a situation that has yet to be—and may never be—resolved.
I'm curious if Valve will go the same route again, ending with a cliffhanger or some tantalizing opening to a follow-up game dangling at the end of Half-Life Alyx. I sort of hope they don't, though. With Adrian Shepard's story still unresolved, with Half-Life 2: Episode 2's similarly unsatisfying (in retrospect) ending, the questions about the Borealis and even the final fate of Gordon Freeman himself left unanswered... maybe it's a terrible idea to leave yet another character in the Half-Life universe stamped with a big question mark. Wrap up Half-Life: Alyx's story with a bow, I say. Slap a big THE END on it. Give us closure on this part of Alyx's story, even if we'll never have closure on her (and Freeman's) future story.
Will Half-Life: Alyx push VR to new limits?
From what we've seen and heard so far, in some respects Valve is playing things on the safe side when it comes to VR. Unlike Boneworks or the upcoming Medal of Honor VR game, which only have full locomotion options for movement, you'll be able to use the teleportation locomotion system in Half-Life: Alyx—essentially pointing to a spot and then 'blinking' to it instantaneously. This isn't a bad option to include: it's extremely helpful for those who experience motion sickness in VR, and you can use normal locomotion if you prefer.
But some of the other elements of the VR design sound a bit, well, disappointing. Barnacles, the Lurkers Above of the Half-Life universe, won't even drag you up to the ceiling which is, like, kinda their whole deal. "We experimented with moving the player, but moving the player without their input in VR didn’t work very well," Valve said during a Reddit AMA. Even jumping is mostly off the menu. "We tried a few iterations of jumping, but ultimately found that even in continuous motion, players preferred dealing with those jumps with a teleport-style movement.”
So it's not really pushing the VR envelope in the same way a game like Boneworks does, with a full-body simulation, jumping, and other complex physical systems. On the other hand, the footage we've seen is still incredibly impressive. The movement of objects—Alyx pushing items aside to peek around them or to find ammo hidden on a shelf—already feels far more interactive and believable than the types of interaction you see in a lot of VR games. In the demo for Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond I played, for example, the ammo was usually just sitting out somewhere obvious to grab. While Half-Life: Alyx may be sticking with disembodied VR hands and not even letting barnacles drag us up to the ceiling, it may still find new and inventive ways to use VR. Plus, it looks gorgeous, hence the relatively steep system requirements.
Will it inspire more full-length VR games from big studios?
There's no doubt the announcement of Half-Life: Alyx has created a lot of renewed interest in VR. Valve's Index quickly sold out, indicating that some VR enthusiasts want to play it with the latest and greatest hardware, and people who have been looking for a reason to buy their first VR headset obviously finally found a great one.
But full-length and full-price VR-only games are pretty rare. Bethesda retrofitted Fallout 4 and Skyrim to VR, No Man's Sky is fully playable in VR now, too, but there really aren't many big, full-featured, built-from-the-ground up VR games out there. We don't know if that will change, but I suspect the intense interest in HL:A and the sales of all that expensive VR gear it's generating will prod big studios to produce their own full-feature VR games. We'll find out over the next few years.
We gonna get Dog or what?
This is the half-question because, surely, we're gonna get some Dog. We have to. While I think it's a mistake to give in completely to fan service, if I don't see Dog in Half-Life: Alyx I'm not sure I'll be able to call myself a fan anymore. Let me pet Dog in VR and I'll forgive all the headcrabs leaping at my virtual face.
This article originally appeared at PC Gamer*.