Valve has released a trailer for the Half-Life Alyx title they announced earlier this week. It looks pretty damn good. It looks pretty damn good, quite frankly, even when I’m sitting here thinking about all the ways trailers can be used to make something look better than it is. It looks damn good even when I remember that it’s been 13 years since Half-Life Episode 2. It looks damn good when I remember that Valve is a company that barely makes games anymore. I don’t know what Gabe Newell does all day, but I’ve often wondered if he spends at least a few hours a week crouched on top of a dragon-sized horde of gold and precious gems.
It even looks good when I remind myself that I gave up on any chance of a meaningful conclusion to Half-Life 2 years ago.
The reason I’m curious about this game, despite my own long-standing frustrations with Valve and Steam, is because it highlights the function of the new Gravity Gloves (apparently Grabbity Gloves was a pun) and how Valve is going to use them for motion control and interactivity. People don’t remember Half-Life as a franchise because it featured the best weapons or the most amazing environments. People remember these games because they were interactive in ways that pushed the envelope of play. In Half-Life, that took the form of scripted soldiers who reacted to your actions and some light puzzle solving. In Half-Life 2, Valve doubled down on the puzzle-solving and built a new object for environmental manipulation — the Gravity Gun. The latter became iconic, and a lot of HL2’s puzzles or more-fun interactions were based on using it.
This kind of physics-based gameplay impacted the rest of gaming but didn’t go on to play as central a role in the industry as I thought it might back in 2004. VR systems offer an entirely new set of challenges for improving controls and gameplay, and we’ve seen a lot of mud flung at the proverbial wall these past years. Proper controls for VR are still being worked out.
This preview gives some idea of how Valve is solving those problems. The game is set between Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2 and will be a VR exclusive. The game will be free if you own a Valve Index, though, with its $ 1K price tag, not many people may currently own Valve Indexes. Valve has rehired writers like Erik Wolpaw and Jay Pinkerton, who had previously left the company.
Alyx speaks in the demo, meaning she’s not a silent protagonist like Freeman. She uses her hands to manipulate the environment around her and solve puzzles, load weapons, and move objects. Pointing at an object makes it glow, while closing your hand and physically flicking your wrist gives you a moment to “catch” an item, according to Ars. The system appears to allow for a great deal of flexibility based on how we see Alyx move in the demo and I’m really curious to see how it works in real life.
Alyx, by the way, will be voiced by a new actress — Ozioma Akagha replaces Merle Dandridge, who originated the character and voiced her in HL2 and both following Episodes. Eli Vance’s voice actor, Robert Guillarme, passed away in 2017 — he’s been replaced by James Moses Black. The voice actor of Dr. Breen, Robert Culp, has also since died, but there’s no word on whether he’s been replaced for Half-Life Alyx — he may or may not be a member of the Combine, depending on when the game takes place. Also, can anyone identify the voice actor who says “You’re going to need a gun? Don’t worry, it’s unloaded?” Because it’s driving me nuts that I can’t.
This game looks good. It looks innovative. It looks like the kind of game I gave up on Valve ever making again.
Please don’t screw this up.