6 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Playing Half-Life: Alyx in VR
After a long, long wait, Half-Life: Alyx is finally bringing us back to the world of Half-Life. Here are our tips to get the most out of it.
It’s not an understatement to say that it’s been a long, long, long wait for a new Half-Life game, and thankfully Valve has finally delivered with the highly-anticipated Half-Life: Alyx. With the game’s release today, everyone will get the chance to dive back into the world of Half-Life through the eyes of Alyx Vance, and more importantly, utilizing virtual reality to make it all feel that much more real.
With the game releasing today (and our full review out now), Half-Life: Alyx presents a unique experience for both longtime Half-Life fans and VR players. Technically-speaking, it is one of the most impressive and fully-realized VR games that has released to date, and gives Half-Life fans a new experience in the series that is built entirely from the ground up for VR.
Whether you’re new to the series, new to VR, or (like myself) a longtime fan that is eager to see what Valve has in store, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of playing Half-Life: Alyx.
Find the locomotion settings that work best for you
Before you get too deep into the experience of playing Half-Life: Alyx, one of my first recommendations would be to spend some time in the beginning area of the game (the first segment in City 17), pause the game, and just go through the settings. While the game itself will take care of visual and graphical settings automatically based on your hardware configuration, you should spend some time in the game’s locomotion and controller setting menus. Thankfully, the starting area doesn’t have much happening in terms of action, giving you plenty of time to acclimate to playing in VR.
As a VR game, Half-Life: Alyx supports a number of different configurations for both gameplay and what type of locomotion you want to use to move Alyx throughout the world. In terms of play style, you have the options of playing standing up, sitting down, or utilizing room-scale VR to completely immerse you in the experience. Likewise, for locomotion, you are able to use either continuous motion (like a traditional FPS), blink (move your character instantly), or teleport (seamlessly move Alyx to a new area).
If you’re coming to the world of VR relatively new, it’s important to get a feel for what systems work best for you; this depends on your tolerance for motion sickness or disorientation. Personally speaking, I don’t do well most of the time with standing up and playing a VR game where there is a lot of movement. So, the best system for me in Half-Life: Alyx was playing sitting down and using continuous motion with the Oculus Touch controllers. To me, this both helped avert motion sickness and basically felt like playing previous Half-Life games. However, if you have a higher tolerance and have the space for it, going for either standing play or room-scale VR will definitely let you get the full experience Valve has to offer with Half-Life: Alyx.
Take breaks while playing
This is a pretty standard rule of thumb for most VR games, but especially in the case of Half-Life: Alyx. With the game taking about 10-15 hours to complete (I finished it in 12 hours), it’s a lengthy experience compared to the shorter play sessions most VR games typically offer. If it helps to keep track: Half-Life: Alyx has 11 chapters that are each roughly an hour to 1.5 hours.
With the game broken up into this chapter structure, playing for an hour or so (until you get to the next chapter) gives a good opportunity to take a break and give your eyes a rest, as well as warding off any discomfort or motion sickness. While reviewing the game, I was able to play Half-Life: Alyx for roughly 2-3 hours pretty comfortably during a session (since I was played seated), but your mileage may vary depending on how you are playing and what your VR set-up is.
That said, even though it’s easy to get sucked into the story and world of Half-Life: Alyx, be sure to give yourself a chance to take a break for a bit before diving back in for more.
Explore every area thoroughly
The Half-Life series thrives on immersing players in its world and using the environment to tell its story, and Half-Life: Alyx is probably the best example of this yet. Using virtual reality, the storytelling moments and world-building are really given a chance to shine, aside from just being a stellar showcase for what VR can do in a narrative-driven game.
That being said, be sure to give yourself a chance to explore each area in Half-Life: Alyx, as you’ll find a ton of smaller details and moments to flesh out both the environments you are walking through and the greater Half-Life universe. There are some particularly memorable setpieces that you’ll want to spend some time going through and soaking in all the details, though I don’t want to spoil anything.
Most of all, taking time to explore each environment and poke around is crucial to collecting ammo and other supplies that you’ll need along the way. This is especially important for resin, which are small pieces of cylindrical ore hidden in the environments that you can collect and use to upgrade your weapons over the course of the game.
Be observant if you get lost
Thankfully, like its predecessors, Half-Life: Alyx progresses in a linear fashion, so the game funnels you through to new areas pretty clearly and efficiently. There are only a few instances where you’ll get to areas that might be a bit more open or that you may have to backtrack a little. However, if you find yourself lost or unsure where to go, just try looking around and taking a keener eye to things. In particular, look out for objects or items that are yellow — generally, those will help point you in the right direction for either areas that you need to go in or objects that you might need to utilize.
If you’re stuck on a puzzle or some other kind of environmental challenge, make sure to take an extra look around in case there was something you missed; this might be a hidden switch or another item behind another object. Valve makes full use of what VR can do in Half-Life: Alyx, so be sure to poke around and play with objects. Likewise, if you truly get stuck on a puzzle for a longer period of time, occasionally Alyx will ask Russell for a hand to figure things out, giving a helpful clue or hint of what you need to do next.
Try to conserve your ammo and supplies
Half-Life has always had elements of survival-horror to it (look no further than Half-Life 2‘s Ravenholm level), and Half-Life: Alyx continues that tradition with some harrowing segments that will test your stress levels. Even when you’re faced with a barrage of headcrab zombies or Combine soldiers, the most important thing is not to panic, and to try and limit how much ammo you’re using at a time.
Generally, Half-Life: Alyx will give you the ammo and supplies that you need at a given time, but there were definitely a few situations that I ran into while playing where I was running short on ammo, so be conscious of how many shells or cartridges you have for the pistol, shotgun, and Combine SMG. My suggestion: make sure to take advantage of explosive barrels in the environment to take out groups of enemies, or in the second half of the game, make use of grenades, which you’ll be able to find an abundance in some areas.
Likewise, each enemy has their own unique “tell” of when they’re getting ready to attack or when they’ve been eliminated, making it easy to both identify which enemy you’re about to face and when the best time to take them on is. Once you encounter them, you’ll know immediately the best ways to take on enemies like headcrabs, zombies, barnacles, and Combine soldiers and the most effective ways of eliminating them.
Use the game’s physics and VR to your advantage
As a VR game, having the ability to freely move around the environment in Half-Life: Alyx and interact with objects has its advantages that other games wouldn’t normally offer. Coming from its predecessor Half-Life 2, one of those elements, in particular, are the ways that you can use the game’s physics engine to your advantage in combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving.
Alyx’s pair of gravity gloves are especially important in Half-Life: Alyx, as they give the ability to pull in objects from afar, even from some longer distances. This can be used to your advantage in a number of ways, from grabbing hard to reach collectibles, ammo, and supplies, to more combat-heavy purposes like grabbing an explosive to throw at an enemy. You’ll also need to use them for a variety of puzzles that you’ll come across in the game, especially in instances where grabbing crucial items for your next objective might require some tricky physics manipulation to accomplish.
Given that it shares a lot of similarities with Half-Life 2, there are many moments where you’ll be able to utilize the physics engine to help you out in tough situations. With tons of objects around each environment, don’t be afraid to get crafty with how you use objects; this can range from makeshift weapons to tools for puzzles. Also, remember that gravity can work to your benefit, like one situation where I delightfully dropped grenades from above on an unsuspecting group of headcrab zombies. *Chef’s kiss*
Half-Life: Alyx is available now on PC through Steam, and supports Valve Index, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality.