The trailer showcases first-person shooting and puzzle-solving. The leap in graphical fidelity is enormous, considering the VR game is running on Valve’s own Source 2 engine, rather than the once-revolutionary Source engine from 2004, which powered Half-Life 2.
“Lean to aim around a broken wall and under a Barnacle to make an impossible shot,” says the game’s Steam page, now live for preorders. “Rummage through shelves to find a healing syringe and some shotgun shells. Manipulate tools to hack alien interfaces.”
The game will also ship with Source 2 tools for players to build their own environments. Valve says its level-authoring tool, Hammer, has been updated with all of the game’s virtual-reality gameplay tools and components. Players who already own Valve’s VR headset Index will receive the game for free, but the title will be compatible with any SteamVR compatible headset.
While this isn’t the fabled and now-mythical Half-Life 3, it is the first we’ve seen of the series since 2007. And it’s a series that has often revolutionized the game industry. Half-Life 1 did so by introducing powerful artificial intelligence that reacted to player actions, and first-person story elements that kept players immersed. Half-Life 2 introduced real-time physics, which revolutionized how objects in the game world interacted with each other. The game also showed how this could create compelling and realistic puzzles and action spaces.
The VR installment looks similarly game-changing. When Alyx (presumably the player) rummages through a shelf to pick up a stray shotgun shell, it’s gameplay that looks new to the first-person formula.
There’s hope that Valve would reinvent VR software the same way it did for storytelling in gaming, as well as its Steam storefront, which changed the retail landscape of the industry forever. After all, the first Half-Life game, released in 1998, still boasts better AI combat than you’d find in many modern games.
VR technology has matured, and many still continue to look to it as a new frontier in entertainment. However, many insiders have noted that the medium lacks a “killer app” that can prompt mass purchases, something akin to what “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” did to move Nintendo Switch units.
Valve, in its own tweets, boasts that “VR was built for the kind of gameplay that sits at the heart of Half-Life, and Half-Life: Alyx was built from the ground up for VR."
No matter the format, any “full-length” Half-Life game would’ve come with impossibly high expectations. By pushing it to be exclusive to virtual reality, Valve doesn’t seem worried to set expectations even higher. Time will tell whether the sleeping developing giant has what it takes to push the medium forward.