Shooting Combine with Alyx

I have a confession to make. I have never played Half-Life 2 and its episodes 1 and 2. Don’t get me wrong, I have been a big fan of part 1 and all the mods that were released and even though I have bought the games ages ago, I have never played them. That was until Half-Life Alyx got announced…

With Alyx coming at us in March I thought, sure why not, let’s go at it! Installed the 3 games and played them all out in almost a single sitting (I exaggerate of course, but given a few weekends I completed them). And what struck me was (a) the games still hold up even to this day and (b) the story really got to me. With the Half-Life 2 series completed, Alyx now was next. I however did not pre-order the game because I was not sure if my GTX 970 would hold. Alyx requires 6 GB VRAM and my 970 only has 3,5 GB, so I decided to play the waiting game.

A few weeks has passed and more and more people are reporting that a GTX 970 works good enough, some small stutters but very doable. I myself have an Oculus Quest, so I got an Oculus Link cable to get going at it. However I noticed quite fast that I disliked having a cable, especially since I’m used to no wires at all. Fast forward a few days and I see Virtual Desktop on sale. Virtual Desktop allows you to access your PC remotely and stream SteamVR games to your Oculus Quest if you have a 5 GHz WiFi router/network. Without hesitation I bought, installed and fired up Half-Life Alyx again. And there I was in City 17, wire free, grabbing bottles and tossing them at random people. You don’t need full loco motion turning, just turn in real life!

Last weekend I finally finished the game. I’ve been playing it on average 1 hour a day, since the Half-Life setting is tense, real tense. Playing for more than 1 hour is, at times, stressful and can give you an heart attack. No no, the game has very few jump scares and when they do happen you have plenty of time to react. One of the reasons the game is so tense, is due to the way you experience everything. When you can easily push a button to reload in previous Half-Life games, changes to doing it manually. Pressing F for your flashlight now becomes actually shining the light with your hand while holding your weapon in the other and action sequences cannot easily be jumped over or ignored, you are dead center in them and when something drops in VR the only instinctively reaction you have is to duck for cover.

And this is the beauty of the Half-Life series. With every (major) release it was pushing the gaming industry forward. Half-Life 1 showed us that stories could be told from first person perspective, Half-Life 2 showed us the power of physics and introduced us to Steam and with Half-Life Alyx an enormous push has been made towards VR gaming. I’m not saying that VR gaming didn’t exist before Alyx, but the game pushes the VR gaming so much further.

Now I cannot and will not spoil the game for you, all I can tell you is that if you have a decent PC and are in possession of a VR headset (or could borrow one), go play this game. You will not be disappointed.

Just one final note, as a gamer who dislikes scary horror games, especially in VR. I have survived! So below some tips, which will help you if you are like me (or just want some tips in general for Alyx):

  • Save often: don’t worry there are plenty of health items when playing this game. But saving often makes it less scary since you can just jump forward and see what happens next. Not liking the end result, reload and be ahead of the curve.
  • Always carry something in your off-hand: whether it is to store extra items (like grenades) or to block those annoying head crabs when they go for your head.
  • Your shotgun can have 7 shells: when you get the shotgun, you get the impression that it can only hold 2 shells, this is incorrect. Just open to reload and push some extra shells in. This is also the case when you upgrade your shotgun with the Autoloader.
  • Upgrade your pistol first: with the exception of burst damage, which I rarely used, the pistol is your main weapon and you will get a lot of ammo for it. At a certain point I passed the 1000 bullets mark. After you get Reflex Sight, save all your money for Laser Sight. With Reflex Sight your hud will show red for targets you can shoot (and are alive!) and with Laser Sight your aim becomes almost perfect. This perfect aim also helps shooting down those scary head crabs. Feel free to go for Laser Sight first, but I liked the extra check whether zombies were dead or alive.
  • Swap ammo with last bullet in pistol: when you only have 1 bullet left, you can safely swap your clip, without losing the 1 bullet. This also works with the upgrade Bullet Reservoir, so you can fire and swap clips on the go.
  • Add ammo to your shotgun: if you get the Autoloader upgrade, you can give the Autoloader ammo during the fight, decreasing the time it takes to reload.

There are plenty more tips you can find online, but these have helped me a lot, making it less scary overall and therefor more enjoyable as a total experience.

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