Up For Debate - Did Half-Life: Alyx really need to be VR exclusive?

Written by Chad Norton on Sat, Apr 4, 2020 10:31 AM
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It’s been well over a decade since we last got the last Half-Life game, and just as long since we got that infamous cliffhanger to Half-Life 2: Episode 2. Ever since then, fans have been pleading for a new entry into the Half-Life franchise to conclude the story that Valve started in 1998, whether that be Half-Life 3, or even Half-Life 2: Episode 3.

Now we finally have another Half-Life game, but it’s a prequel, and doesn’t follow Gordon Freeman, the hero of the originals. Instead Half-Life: Alyx follows Alyx Vance, set before the events of Half-Life 2 begin. And being a VR-exclusive game, it has understandably become a hot topic of controversy across the internet as large numbers of fans dont have expensive VR headsets with which to step into this new entry in a very much loved series.

The game has been out for around two weeks now and I feel like some of the initial hype has died down and we can finally talk about it with the benefit of hindsight. I briefly mentioned it in my Alyx review, but it seems like there wasn’t actually a lot that Alyx did with VR that absolutely couldnt have been done without VR.

I thought today we could explore this and make this a place for us to chat about how this made us feel and what we thought the reasoning behind this was. So, firstly, did Half-Life: Alyx really need to be a VR-exclusive game? And secondly, is Half-Life: Alyx alone worth buying a VR headset for?

I’m going to suggest a couple of sides to this, both of which seem to have strong points, but lets see what you guys think. Have you played Half-Life Alyx? If you haven’t, would you be willing to buy a headset for it?

Case 1: Alyx absolutely needed to be a VR-exclusive game. Right now virtual reality is still very much in its infancy. There’s a chicken and egg problem with it at the moment; developers are scared to make games for VR because not many people own the hardware, and people are scared to buy the hardware because there’s not many games worth buying it for.

So in comes Valve, one of the original pioneers for Virtual Reality. With the HTC Vive, SteamVR and a tonne of compatibility features for other VR headsets. Valve pretty much got themselves in at the front to lead the industry. But as the numbers of adopters failed to arrive, largely due to the heavy price tag and the lack of games, Valve (who monitors all the numbers) could see the industry needed a push to get more people to buy more headsets, so that more games would be made with better quality. You know Valve will now have some juicier numbers to present to developers to encourage them into going down the VR route.

And so along comes a new Half-Life game, one of the most notorious franchises of Valve’s because of what seems like a fear of cocking up HL 3. Just to consider that for a moment, Half Life 3 is mythical. It is a powerful driver of users whenever rumours arise around it. If Valve commit to that idea and cock it up, they lose control of the mythical gaming legend. For a long time we’ve joked about a new Half-Life game, and how it will never come. Then when Valve announced it, there were those who were die hard enough to purchase a VR headset specifically for it, it was their little nudge they needed into the VR world. Valve turn that mythical monster, at least a tiny element of what it is, to point gamers to buying their VR headsets and help bump start the VR gaming niche. And they have argueably done it without removing our thirst for HL 3, therefore allowed them to maintain control over that PR beast.

But to do all of this properly Half Life Alyx had to be built from the ground up, solely for Virtual Reality, so that it worked brilliantly, in all regards for VR. Now we have more people with VR headsets, and a bigger audience for developers to make games for. And with the spectacular response to the game, surely developers will see a market for fully-fledged, AAA virtual reality video games? If Half-Life: Alyx wasn’t VR-exclsuive, there wouldn’t be nearly as many people with VR headsets in their living rooms, and then not nearly as much interest in VR for developers and Alyx would have been less of a game for it as its focus/ game mechanics would have been diluted.

Case 2: Alyx definitely did not need to be VR-exclusive. Just to make it clear, I’m not talking about whether HL: Alyx should be a VR game, but whether it needed to be exclusively made for Virtual Reality. Many other games have managed to be ported over into a fully-fledged VR version, and that was without building it from the ground up with virtual reality in mind. Both Fallout 4 VR and Payday 2 VR (feel free to suggest more below, they’re just the first ones that came to mind) are great games that come from a non-VR version of themselves. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to do it the other way around?

I’m talking about making the game with VR in mind, designing a lot of the game for virtual reality, and then porting it over to standard keyboard and mouse controls with new puzzles that reflect the new control mode. It wouldn’t be exactly the same experience, but neither is Fallout 4 VR or Payday 2 VR, as both of them feel very different and are played in slightly different ways, when in a virtual environment.

Plus, the move of making a VR-exclusive game has alienated a large audience of fans from Valve. When we transition to next-gen consoles, most developers at the time will make current-gen and next-gen versions of their game. Yet with VR this is completely different. Many people can’t afford the large price tag of VR… the feeling that the message is "Want to play Half Life Alyx? Well buy a VR headset or tough luck" is a painful pill to swallow for long standing fans around the world, without different levels of poverty.

I’m extremely lucky to have my own Virtual Reality setup, but part of me feels a little shame towards Valve for disregarding such a large loyal audience. No matter how good the game is for the VR industry, the amount of non-VR owners who cant play but want to play Alyx, is still far, far larger than those who can afford the tech.

Ok, over to you, what do you think? Should Half-Life: Alyx have been a VR-exclusive? Did the VR industry need it? Or did the fans need it more? Is it worth it alone to buy a VR headset for? Is VR something you are now considering as the games start to show up? Let us know your thoughts!

Did HL Alyx need to be VR exclusive?

Would you buy a VR headset for HL Alyx?

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19:20 Apr-06-2020

They can do whatever the hell they want. Their success is their answer.

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10:44 Apr-07-2020

Well said.

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12:29 Apr-05-2020

Valve have never really cared about accessibility with the Half Life series. It's always been their tech demo franchise, often played by most years after it's out because the means to play it at release just aren't easily attainable.

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20:18 Apr-08-2020

What are you talking about? Half-Life 2 was so well optimized it could run on a toaster when it was released.

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04:01 Apr-05-2020

Did HL2 need to be a Steam exclusive? Nope but Valve made the push they felt needed to get things moving in a certain direction. Same thing for HL:A and VR.
Valve is in a position no one else is in and they saw it.

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21:34 Apr-04-2020

I think it was necessary to make it VR-only. Half life 2 was one of the first games with insane-physics, no other game felt like that one! if half life 2 was released today, it would have been "just an average game!"

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21:20 Apr-04-2020

Nope, it didn't need to, Valve could have made it in regular game and decided not to, because they want to do VR. So they designed game to fit VR best, to use it to its advantage as part of atmosphere, as well as use of all new mechanics. And no, I will not buy VR headset, so Alyx will stay first HL game I will never play. If Valve cared about their old fans, we would get regular HL game as well.

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21:22 Apr-04-2020

But we didn't because Gabe only cares about his new toy. Which is currently VR. Don't worry he will dump that equally as he did regular gaming, when he gets new toy to play with. They could easily make return of HL with regular game and on the side release VR game, which would make everyone happy. Now they released game most likely won't play.

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20:19 Apr-04-2020

No. No. It most certainly didn't. Just No.

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18:27 Apr-04-2020

I agree with Digital Foundry's take on this matter. The Half Life franchise itself has been all about technological innovations from the get-go. Half Life 1 released - everyone's jaw dropped, HL 2 released -same reaction, HL Alyx - ditto. HL2's physics engine was in a league of its own. Same way HL Alyx exhibits another technological leap because of VR.

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15:45 Apr-04-2020

VR needed a AAA game made for it from the ground up, not a port ala Fallout 4 or Skyrim. If you actually played HL:A, you would see that it would be rather boring if translated directly to a 2D screen. The areas to explore are quite small, to accomodate VR, but contain a lot of detail that would be appreciated with VR.

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15:54 Apr-04-2020

A very good point.
I think VR games could actually give "smaller" games more depth and a longer lease of life.

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16:30 Apr-04-2020

Medfreak, like you said, HL:A is better in VR. Without VR it would be just as boring as Half Life 2.

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15:36 Apr-04-2020

It needed in order for Valve to sell their VR set

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18:32 Apr-04-2020

And that's why the game runs on literally every headset out there..

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21:16 Apr-04-2020

Nope, it pretty much helped selling Index, because till announcement, interest was there, but not that high, after Alyx announcement it was sold out. Because in the end of the day, since Valve made both, people will perceive this as "best played on Index". Despite having support of other headsets.

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11:40 Apr-04-2020

Be it hardware or online stores they all need exclusives to build a following. Valve have clearly put a lot of time and effort into making VR a viable gaming medium and an exclusive using the Half Life brand provides some consumers with a better reason to take the step into VR. As in the console market in Japan with Dragon Quest where they would buy a new console just to play that one game.

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11:30 Apr-04-2020

Hell yeah it had to be vr exclusive and everyone saying otherwise hasn't played it or hasn't really looked into it. The game as it is would be insanely boring and repetitive without VR. Could they have made a different game that didn't require VR? Sure, but HL Alyx as it is wouldn't be good without it.

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11:25 Apr-04-2020

Well im fine with hl alyx being vr exclusive and im also fine not being able to play it at the moment because i dont have vr. VR has a huge potential however at the moment its just not worth it for many many reasons such as, possibility to be nauseous, low resolution, bulky, quite expensive, not enough content, need quite a bit of room space etc. etc. There are loads of fun games released or remastered at the moment and i prefer for vr to mature first then i might investin it

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11:16 Apr-04-2020

I am pretty sure everyone who said NO in the poll didn't own the Valve and didn't finish the game of Half-Life: Alyx. It was meant to be played like that since the whole game mechanic and play style had that point in mind. They did it smooth as f**k and it's a epic game!

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11:02 Apr-04-2020

Vr needs strong exclusives to be made a case for... just like how consoles for many needs exclusives to be pushed for case and point being Xbox vs playstation: there is no doubt that Xbox has the stronger hardware so why are people choosing Playstation over Xbox? EXCLUSIVES EXCLUSIVES EXCLUSIVES! without exclusives that strong i highly doubt playstation would be in the lead

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11:27 Apr-04-2020

Yeah vr needs full blown AAA games with rich story and gameplay to make vr at least somewhat compelling today, currently most vr "games" are just demos.

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15:38 Apr-04-2020

Well I hope that happens once the VR sets goes under $300

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