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Playing Half-Life Alyx on a HTC Vive

Half-Life Alyx is a long-awaited title from Valve, in fact we have been waiting 13 years for a new Half-Life game. I still remember trying to get Steam to apply a Half-Life 2 patch over an ISDN connection back in 2004. This heightened my anticipation even more to play a game that changed the gaming landscape forever. I feel that Half-Life Alyx is no different. The moment I stepped into the Half-Life universe filled with strange creatures and an oppressing military system, I knew this experience will be in my memory for some time to come. Alyx will set the benchmark of what we will expect from VR titles in the future.

Getting into the hardware

Like many of you, I am hesitant to drop a huge amount of money on a VR headset of my own when the games are so limited. But I knew I had to play Half-Life Alyx and needed to get my hands on a VR headset. I got lucky and borrowed an HTC Vive headset from a kind colleague at work to be able to experience Half-Life Alyx. I read multiple articles online which states that the best native experience that you’ll find will be on the Valve Index. This is understandable because it’s Valve’s own piece of hardware and they would want Half-Life Alyx to perform optimally on their hardware. The Valve Index boasts the finger movement detection on their controller. This allows each finger to function on its own compared to the Vive where you have buttons that will control multiple fingers at once.

Does Half-Life Alyx perform well on an HTC Vive?

After I set up my gaming room for the HTC Vive, I ignored any review or comment that said it’s a sub-par experience on an HTC Vive. I wanted to experience it for myself and avoid having the experience tarnished by the available reviews. Then the wait began, I ploughed through all the different demons in Doom Eternal, but I constantly minimised the game to see if Alyx was ready. I did this for about 3-4 times per hour, until a friend sent me a message on Discord, telling me that the game is out and ready to play. Here we go!

The HTC Vive’s controllers are simple to understand, and the button layout was well designed during its development. The controller features a multi-function trackpad, a dual-stage trigger and haptic feedback. But how does the HTC Vive controller feel when navigating the world of Half-Life Alyx? It’s simple, with Half-Life Alyx you have a couple of different movement options:

Blink

This gives Alyx the ability to teleport to different destinations in the immediate environment. You see two feet being telegraphed where she will teleport to. This is probably the most common way of moving in VR games.

Shift

This enables Alyx to teleport to destinations with a fast linear movement.

Continuous

Move continuously based on your head orientation.

Continuous Hand

Move continuously based on your hand orientation.

You can get a bit more detail about exactly what every different movement type entails here.

I opted for the continuous movement option. Walking in the direction that I am looking, to me, felt the most natural out of all the options. With the HTC Vive controller, you walk forward using your thumb and the multi-function trackpad. If you need to turn around quickly, you can snap-turn with your left controller’s multi-function trackpad and your thumb. After about an hour of gameplay, the navigation should be second nature to you, and you won’t have any issues moving through this detailed world.

Graphic quality on the HTC Vive

You can find my full PC spec on my author page on our website. The most important question here is, what GPU am I running? I am running a 1080ti and I have had no issues with performance on the HTC Vive in Half-Life Alyx. The Source 2 engine runs buttery smooth, as expected, and might I add the game is absolute eye candy. With the HTC Vive’s resolution being 1080×1200 per eye and combined, you get 2160×1200. The display quality is still impressive compared to newer VR headsets that push more pixels to each eye. The only noticeable graphic artifact that I experienced was some fuzziness during the experience, I believe this is because of a lower resolution on the Vive.

Gameplay with the HTC Vive

We already covered how great the movement is with the HTC Vive, now let’s talk a bit about the shooting and looting aspect of Half-Life Alyx. You get to do a lot of moving, looting and shooting in this game so it’s important to get familiar with the HTC Vive’s controllers.

Half-Life Alyx HTC Vive

Shooting

When you get your pistol in the game, it does not have any attachments, leaving you aiming down the sights like the bad-ass sharpshooter that you are. Half-Life Alyx did a great job of teaching the player all the ins and outs of the mechanics before putting you in a dangerous situation. Don’t worry though, when you are in a dangerous situation, you’ll be ready. One thing that I found out later in the game was that when you hold a gun and you bring your hands together, it stabilises your aim. This made me land more headshots on those damn zombies. The weapon handling in this game is satisfying, and it creates a deep layer of immersion when you look at all the detail they added to your guns.

Half-Life Alyx HTC Vive pistol
Reloading your epic pistol

You get to eject an empty magazine in the heat of battle and replace it with a fresh magazine. If you emptied the magazine, you have to cock the pistol before you can start shooting again, this adds a great dynamic to the combat. After a battle, you can check if there is still a bullet in the chamber. You can also turn the weapon sideways to see how much ammo is left in the magazine. These mechanics combined makes for a great weapon handling experience.

Half-Life Alyx HTC Vive machine
When the combine brings in the heavy hitters

Looting

In Half-Life Alyx, ammo and health are not abundant and you will have to interact with the strange world around you to find what you need. You can swoosh everything off a shelf, hoping to find a stray magazine or even some other valuable items. Always check buckets and drawers when scavenging for resources. The HTC Vive controllers feel like they become your hands, and picking something up using the trigger doesn’t feel that unusual anymore. Another mechanic I love, which makes you feel like a true survivor, is when you pick up some surplus ammo, you have to store it in your backpack. The same concept applies when you have to take out items from your backpack. An example would be that when you need to reload your weapon, pull a fresh magazine from your backpack, reload your weapon and head back into the fight.

Half-Life Alyx HTC Vive
Scavenging for loot

Is it a great experience on the HTC Vive?

With the HTC Vive being one of the first VR headsets to hit the consumer market in 2016, it still runs new titles such as Half-Life Alyx with no problems at all. I would say if you have an HTC Vive and wonder if you should pick up the game, don’t hesitate at all, it’s a lovely experience. To everyone else out there wondering if they should get the game, I would recommend you either borrow or rent an HTC Vive to experience the latest Half-Life title. Heck, you might even strike a decent deal on a second-hand HTC Vive as the Vive is being discontinued and being replaced with the HTC Cosmos.

Reloading your shotgun

If this is the future of VR games, count me the hell in.

A word of caution, watch out for those pesky head crabs, when they jump on your face, it’s quite a horrific experience.

Beards Swords and Shotguns Crew