Breaking down the key moments in the Half-Life: Alyx gameplay videos

Is this finally VR's 'killer app'? Here's what we can glean about Alyx's game design from Valve's new footage

Half-Life: Alyx is due to arrive this month as a PC exclusive for those who have VR headsets. In fact, its impending arrival has seen Valve Index stocks run low, as well as VR sales increase massively since the game’s announcement last year.

Yesterday, Valve released three impressive gameplay videos giving players and fans a taste of what to expect from its next game. There’s a lot to dig into here as Valve looks to adapt a traditional shooter series to the fiddly, niche platform of virtual reality, while also finally revisiting the universe that made its name. Let’s have a look through those videos and see what we can find.

Alyx takes place between the original Half-Life and Half-Life 2, and finds players taking control of Alyx Vance rather than Gordon Freeman. It follows humanity’s catastrophic loss in the Seven-Hour War against the Combine, in which the latter more or less subjugated our planet. Despite this loss, and that the residents of City 17 now live under Combine rule, Alyx and her father Eli begin building a resistance.

Half-life: Alyx Gameplay Video 1

The first video finds Alyx in a beaten down subway system which is now overrun with ‘zombines’ and headcrabs. It shows off a stealthy, slow-paced playing style using movement by teleportation with subtle black fades to explore the environment.

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Pulling Items

Right from the start we can see Alyx interact with objects without needing to be right next to them. The player simply targets the item they want, and it’s pulled quickly towards them. This is also seen later in the video at 3:25 where an explosive canister is pulled from a great distance from cover as a tactical way of eliminating the zombine.

Interactive Doors

We see Alyx open the set of doors at the start of the first gameplay video as if the player is physically opening them. Towards the end of the same video, we also see the doors opening individually, implying players could just choose to open one door if they wanted. I know interactive doors aren’t anything new, but it just looks so appealing here. Additionally, in the second video, we see Alyx rattle a locked door’s handle but it’s not clear if this is just a fixed animation or if it responded directly to the player.

Basically, what I’m asking is: can we stand around just shaking door handles for minutes at a time?

Corpse Physics

Valve is renowned for its physics, and we get to see numerous cases of this coming back in an even more interactive, and comical way. Alyx, for example, flips over a dead Headcrab using her gun, and later on brushes a recently killed Headcrab off of the acquisition station.

Weapon Upgrades

Alyx is an engineer, so it makes sense that she has the skills to upgrade her weapons. Alyx deposits a pistol into an ‘acquisition station’, opening up a touchscreen interface which the player browses for upgrades to purchase. A material called ‘Resin’ appears to be the currency you’ll use to do this.

Upgrades are listed on the acquisition station screen and selected by prodding them. In the video, we see players choosing between a reflex sight, bullet reservoir, burst fire, and laser sight. However, with no resin, an ’insufficient’ notification appears.

Hats!?

Alyx picks up a construction helmet after she’s finished fiddling with the acquisition station, and then brings it above the camera and seems to wear it. Of course, we don’t get to see Alyx wearing the helmet because the game’s in first-person, but the rim of the hat falls into view throughout the video, so it’s not like it’s invisible after it’s equipped.

Inventory Depositing

At 1:58 we see an interesting way of depositing special items, presumably into an inventory. Alyx grabs an antlion grub in a sealed glass container, and drops it into an orange circle at the base of her right wrist. Shortly after, the container is pulled back out of the wrist and equipped in the left hand. This is a different process to the gathering of other objects throughout the video – it looks like all consumable items – such as ammo, resin, and health – are deposited into the inventory by bringing them up to the player’s head.

Health Stations

The antlion grub in a container is seemingly used to charge health stations, as shown at 2:23. The health station liquifies the grub, which appears to power the machine. Then numerous needles stab into Alyx’s hand.

HUD Display

During the health station sequence, we see how the player’s health is displayed via an in-game HUD. There are three red hearts on the back of Alyx’s left glove.

Despite lots of ledges and gaps, the player never jumps - it seems Alyx’s boots are on the ground

There’s also a second display that seems to indicate different types of information: during non-combat moments, the display is blue, and seems to increase when the player picks up what looks like a battery at 1:47. However, when a weapon is equipped, the display shows an orange bullet icon with numbers.

The pistol itself has an ammo counter on its left side, so the display on the glove doesn’t seem to be linked to the weapon – instead, it’s probably displaying how much ammo the player has left in their inventory.

HALF-LIFE: ALYX Video 2

The second gameplay video for Half-Life: Alyx is also slow-paced and exploration-focused, and shows continuous movement rather than using teleportation locomotion. The environment also has a more alien feel to it.

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Hacking

Once again, Alyx is an engineer and she’s capable of hacking into computer systems. There’s a minigame for this which is shown right at the start: Alyx is hacking a mechanical door, and brings up a holographic interface. The globe that appears has four pairs of coloured icons, two red, two blue, two yellow, and two green.

Using a device, the player has to manipulate the globe with one hand and link the icons together with the other. The challenge appears to be that the colours vanish once the hacking begins, so it’s a case of remembering where they were.

Xen Ecosystems

Xen, the border world that connects two or more dimensions, was discovered by the Black Mesa Research Facility. Black Mesa’s research into Xen eventually led to the Lambda Incident, which saw alien creatures teleporting into the facility. This incident led to the Combine invading Earth and the beginning of the Seven-Hour War, which Half-Life: Alyx immediately follows.

Throughout the video, we see that the environment has become overrun with extraterrestrial flora and fauna as well as living organisms such as the headcrab that lands on the door and the barnacle that shows up at 2:50.

Xen Grenade

We see Alyx having a gentle snatching contest with one Xen lifeform which is clutching an organic device. Alyx deposits this into her inventory and then a bit later, takes it out and waves it at the headcrab that’s drooling for her. It seems the player activates the Xen grenade by squishing it, causing it to emit a green glow. After lobbing it through a hole above the doorway it explodes, taking down the door (and the headcrab) with it.

Inability to Jump?

Throughout the video, we can see lots of drops, ledges, and gaps, but the player doesn’t seem to travel across any of these and instead follows a linear path around them. The player doesn’t jump at any point, so it seems like Alyx’s boots are entirely on the ground.

HALF-LIFE: ALYX Video 3

The third video shows a slight twist on movement in a more heated scenario. While making use of teleportation, the fades we see in the first video are no longer present. Instead, the player teleports instantly to the desired location. This may be a contextual response to the surrounding gameplay, as this video shows off the gunplay in more detail, giving us an action-packed fight against several Combine soldiers.

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Explosive Combine

The first Combine we see seems to be wearing a suit with a canister strapped to its back. When fired upon, flames erupt from the canister and shortly afterwards, the Combine explodes to its extravagant death.

Interactive Cover

One of the key moments in this video is when the player takes cover behind a vehicle. As the player moves around to its side, a Combine follows suit, but by pulling the vehicle’s door open, the player is able to use it as cover against the oncoming bullets.

This is a particularly clever feature and makes me wonder what other cover we can improvise from environmental props. I remember progressing through some battles in Half-Life 2 by holding a barrel in front of me.

Supply Boxes!

Half-Life was one of the first games to feature breakable crates. This iconic feature is still present, with a new generation of supply boxes just waiting for you to break them open and gather whatever’s inside. The difference now is that players get the pleasure of whacking the box with a pistol, rather than shooting it or hitting it with Gordon Freeman’s crowbar.

As Alyx players can grab grenades and lob them right back, even catching them in mid-air. Badass.

Hidden Supplies

We saw an example of this in the first gameplay video where Alyx tips out a bucket of props to gather the batteries hidden amongst them. In this video, we see another example, as Alyx opens a toilet seat to grab an item.

Ladder Climbing

We see Alyx climbing a ladder, which in itself is a normal activity, but it appears as if the player has to physically grab each rung. What’s interesting here is that, when holding onto the top of the ladder, the player equips their weapon with the other hand, allowing them to peek up and take out the Combine. You might need to watch it at 0.25 speed to see it in all its glory, but it’s awesome.

Reloading Looks Awesome

Throughout all three videos, we see examples of reloading mechanics which find the player physically loading the ammo and lockin’ ‘n’ loadin’. But there’s something about this reloading animation that looks incredibly enticing. It really breathes life into the game and should connect the player physically to the process of handling a weapon.

Throwing Back Grenades

During combat, we see a grenade entering the building where Alyx is hiding. Normally you’d either run or hope it doesn’t do much damage. However, as Alyx, players can grab the grenade and lob it right back at the Combine. This is shown twice, with the second grenade being caught mid-air. Badass.

Grenade Attachments

There’s a clever sequence where the player takes a grenade from the table, but instead of activating it and lobbing it as we saw earlier, they turn their gun to its side, open a quick menu, and then attach the grenade to the muzzle of the weapon. This allows the player to shoot the grenade as if from a grenade launcher.

Puddles

Something I noticed while watching back the grenade attachment sequence was when the bucket on the table is knocked over, it also smashes a bottle onto the floor. After the bottle has smashed, a puddle forms on the floor. Minor details!

This concludes our breakdown of the new gameplay, but it’s not long now until the full release. Half-Life: Alyx is out on March 23, 2020, and will be available as a PC VR exclusive. A list of Half-Life: Alyx system specs is available, and if you want to build a PC specifically for it… we’ve got you covered.

Personally, I’m immensely excited. Alyx is set to be as long as Half-Life 2, so a properly meaty experience, and it’s looking very polished in these videos – almost as if we’re watching a cinematic. The range of innovative new environmental interactions also suggests Valve is determined to make this VR’s first truly essential game, and one that finally proves VR’s intrinsic value as a platform, for better or worse.

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