Alyx needs arms

The best VR games let you forget, if only briefly, that you're in a VR game. It's not an easy feat: you've got a heavy, hot headset strapped onto your face and controllers clutched in both hands. For VR to work its magic, it needs to guide your brain into ignoring all the hardware and letting itself be transported to another world. That's done by making the world highly interactive, by giving you intuitive ways to perform actions, and by avoiding distractions that remind you you're in VR.

So when I saw the floating, disembodied hands featured in the Half-Life: Alyx trailer I was a bit disappointed. Nearly all VR games have disembodied hands, but I was hoping Alyx wouldn't. Floating hands are weird and distracting. They look, frankly, ridiculous. Alyx's grabbity gloves are very cool, but peering inside her empty wrist-sockets every time she reaches for something is too strange to ever feel normal. My eyes can't help but be drawn into those empty glove-holes that somehow lead to human fingers. It's a distraction.

Alyx's hands should be connected to arms, and her arms should be connected to her body. When Gordon Freeman looked down at himself in the Half-Life games, he saw only empty space. Alyx deserves better than that, and I'm a little surprised Valve hasn't done better than that.

Other VR games have been showing players their arms and bodies for a while now, which is why it's so odd to see that Alyx doesn't have her own. Lone Echo (above), Stormland (below), Sariento, and many others render arms and bodies for their players, and they add to the feeling that you've been not just transported into a different world but that you're actually standing (not floating) inside it.

And once you've played a VR game that gives you arms, it's hard to go back to the old floating hand routine. In Creed, the VR boxing game, I can look down at myself, and instead of seeing empty space or my own disappointing torso, I instead see Michael B. Jordan's totally shredded body. (And there's a reason to keep a headset on for 15 hours.) When I start throwing punches, my boxing gloves are connected to arms and I don't have to stare into the void of empty wrist-holes with every jab.

Granted, arms can be occasionally be weird and unconvincing in VR too, as anyone knows who has played a full-bodied game in VR and put their controllers down, or held them in the same hand, or made some sort of movement that briefly confused their virtual elbows. Arms are probably tricky to do well in VR.

But occasional arm and elbow weirdness is preferable to constant floating hand weirdness. Valve has been developing Half-Life: Alyx for four years and it produces its own VR hardware. If anyone can crack the elbow code, shouldn't it be Valve? If Half-Life: Alyx is going to be a next level VR game, that level should include an entirely realized body.

And of course, LA Noire VR wouldn't be the same without the ability to have a full-body YMCA party in the mirror. That VR game came out in 2017. Alyx deserves to have her own dance party in 2020.

Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.