Valve shocked the gaming world last November when they announced the next entry in the Half-Life series was on its way – 13 years after the release of the last one. And just a few short months later, we have it. Half-Life: Alyx came out towards the end of March and was instantly met with fantastic reviews.
A new Half-Life game has been on the cards for over a decade – since the release of Half-Life: Episode 2. To put that into perspective, it was the year the first iPhone released and the ‘smartphone’ was a crazy concept. In the end, VR was the spark Valve needed to get their creative juices flowing once more, and now we have a game that might well have re-invigorated the VR craze. But will it have any long-term effects or is virtual reality still a flash in the pan?
The rise and rise of VR
Half-Life: Alyx is a monumental release for the VR scene. Very few fully fledged games exist for the medium, at least by the metric of game enthusiasts willing to invest in the technology. This is in spite of the many VR games that received wide praise, be it for their quirky charm, like with Job Simulator, or because they were so addictively challenging, as is the case with Beat Saber.
You can even play some full titles in VR – Bethesda made new versions of both Skyrim and Fallout 4, and Capcom touted Resident Evil 7 as a full VR title from the start. These are all reasons enough to own a VR system (if it’s a luxury you can afford) and set the stage for Half-Life: Alyx. All of them are easy recommendations if you were on the lookout for something new. Without them paving the way, would this game exist? If they weren’t there as proof of VR as a concept, would Valve have taken the plunge? Not likely.
Yet the gaming scene has cried out for something meatier, built solely for the medium. Half-Life: Alyx is different. Valve believe in the technology and wanted their own killer app to prove this is more than a concept.
They even have their own VR hardware: the Valve Index. Now they’ve shown the industry that creating a full game for VR is a viable option. With such a big developer leading the charge, we could be on the cusp of a golden age of VR games, especially if PlayStation continues PSVR support on the PS5.
A bright future
This could be the watershed moment most technology goes through. At the start, you have the light games that explore the gimmick and over time you get deeper experiences that embed the gimmick into the core gameplay. Just look at the Wii – various waggle-happy minigame collections like Wii Sports eventually morphed into classics like Super Mario Galaxy. The iPhone had a similar journey, too.
Some might see Half-Life: Alyx as the peak of VR gaming – the natural conclusion to the trend. But it is just the start. Due this year is Iron Man VR, a PlayStation-exclusive superhero romp that puts you in one of cinema’s most famous suits. And you have the return of a classic FPS brand with Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond. It isn’t merely a rushed game with a dormant brand name stuck on it; it has been given to one of EA’s most reliable developers and FPS veterans Respawn Entertainment. The shooting action is sure to be on point.
Even the award-winning mobile gaming series The Room is getting a VR-exclusive entry, proving there is a lot of interest in this format still. Even though its biggest negative has always been the price, it doesn’t seem to be stopping publishers’ belief that this is something worth investing in.
The rich choice of games might be what finally breaks the dam. Those who wouldn’t invest in VR because of the lack of games won’t have an excuse anymore. The user base might be on the brink of blowing up which is exciting for early adopters and the industry at large.
This bout of VR popularity has finally made the dream a reality. VR technology exists and looks amazing, and if we keep pushing, it can reach amazing new heights. What the industry needs are more developers like Valve who are willing to push the boundary and keep VR relevant – to keep that dream alive.
At REALTIME, we’re excited by the prospect of VR and would love nothing more than to see it thrive. It’s part of our love of games. If you have an upcoming project – VR or otherwise – that you would like to discuss, feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.