Let's speculate wildly about Half-Life: Alyx

(Image credit: Valve)

After a whole lot of rumour and speculation, Half-Life: Alyx has finally been confirmed by Valve. That’s big news, but we don't really know anything about the “flagship VR game” yet, except that Alyx is somehow involved (it’s in the name, you see). 

Which obviously leaves a whole lot of room for speculation. And speculate we have: here’s what the team thinks Half-Life: Alyx will be, ahead of the game’s November 21 reveal. There’s also a nice amount of opinion in there too, be warned.

Chris Livingston, staff writer: It's weird that rather than excitement I'm mostly feeling curiosity. That's not something I would have expected from the announcement of a new Half-Life game. But then it's not Half-Life 3 and it's VR only. So that puts a bit of a damper on things.

James Davenport, staff writer: Congrats to all rich people and a quarter of games journalists, a new Half-Life is here! I suppose that after over a decade of will-they-won't-they, a niche spin-off wasn't how I wanted to return to one of my favorite fictional settings, but OK, sure, I'll take whatever at this point. 

Tyler Wilde, executive editor: I knew this was coming, but VR technology is still so young that it feels like a mismatch—an old, beloved PC series on tech that's still developing. Maybe it's what VR needs, but it's surely not what the majority of Half-Life fans want.

The use of "flagship" to describe it certainly has me expecting something very ambitious.

Jody Macgregor, weekend editor: It could be this is a test of the virtual water, that if it sells well enough Valve go ahead with a full VR-exclusive Half-Life sequel, and if it doesn't sell then any future Half-Life games will be VR-optional. I think I have just talked myself into not buying this game.

Chris: I'm wondering how long it will be. Is this going to feel like an extended tech demo or a genuine Half-Life game with real substance? Will it be free or will people have to pay, like, $30 on top of the $600 or so they've already had to spend on hardware? Will there be extra functionality if you own the $1,000 Valve Index with the knuckle controllers? I can't believe I have to wait three more days for the answers.

James: The use of "flagship" to describe it certainly has me expecting something very ambitious. 

Tyler: Gabe Newell said in 2017 that they were making three "big" VR games. He noted at that time that there's no "single piece of content that would cause millions of people justify changing their home computing at all." So presumably this is meant to be that piece of content.

(Image credit: Valve)

Chris: I guess no matter what, at least it's proof that Half-Life isn't completely dead. Valve didn't just ditch it after all. And I think that's positive news even for people without VR headsets. Hm, maybe I am a little excited.

Tyler: It lives. I wonder if, because Half-Life 2 was such a step forward for character animation and physics simulation, Valve felt it needed an even bigger technological leap to bring the series back. Or maybe a bunch of rich engineers just like playing with their $1,000 headsets. A bit of both, I figure.

Chris: So do we think we play as Alyx? In some ways it would be cool, but in another way, if we're playing as her, it would be like she isn't really in the game because we'd be there in her place. Gordon was silent void with Alyx providing all the personality. If we play as Alyx it's sort of like erasing her. But if we're not Alyx, who are we? Maybe we'll play as Dog. I wouldn't mind being Dog. But then it would probably be called Half-Life: Dog. I guess the other question is, when is this game taking place?

Evan Lahti, global editor-in-chief: I can't imagine this is set post-HL2. It would implicitly mean that HL2 as we know it won't continue, that we'll never pick up where we left off and explore the Borealis. Valve needs the creative freedom of a slightly unfamiliar setting here, I'd think.

I think I burned through all my Half-Life nostalgia a few years ago and now I just want something entirely new.

Tyler: This game has been rumored for a while, and the rumor has also been that it's a prequel. Given what you're saying, Evan, I think it really will be a prequel. We'll see Alyx a few years before she met Gordon as she joins the Resistance with Dog at her side. I bet Dog will be upgradeable. The way the story goes, she kept adding to her robot companion over time until it became as big as it is in Half-Life 2.

Chris: I'll honestly be a bit disappointed if it's a prequel and takes us back to Kleiner's lab and Black Mesa East and places like that. Or, frankly, even City 17. Much as I love Half-Life 2, something about waiting all this time only to wind up back in those familiar locations doesn't sound all that appealing. I think I burned through all my Half-Life nostalgia a few years ago and now I just want something entirely new. That said, it would be cool to get a glimpse of Gordon himself, kind of like how he cameoed in Opposing Force.

James: I'm Team New Stuff. Half-Life's settings were defined by stories set in them. I don't need a nostalgic return to anything from the first or second games, though I imagine that's an easy sell for a VR game, getting up close with something familiar. I'm hoping we return to the dimension-hopping built up in the first game. Clearly the Combine will have looked elsewhere for more interplanetary species to enslave. Maybe Alyx does some scouting with Dog, recruits across time and space before the Combine take it all. 

(Image credit: Valve)

Jody: There's a best-of-both-worlds possibility that it's a prequel told in flashback, with a framing device set after Half-Life 2. That way it can be about Young Alyx's Adventures but also Gordon can have a cameo where he's annoyingly quiet, then drops a single line of dialogue in the voice of Troy Baker or Matt Mercer or Nolan North.

Chris: I vote for Ross Scott to do the voice, from Freeman's Mind. That's the only way I think of Gordon now.

Tyler: On the contrary, Alyx should be silent, and Gordon should constantly yap at her.

Evan: Gilbert Gottfried-man.

Chris: One of the failures of Half-Life 2 and the episodes was that when you were paired up with Alyx, she could do all this cool stuff you couldn't do. She could kick Combine soldiers in the head. She could use her shotgun as a melee weapon. She'd leave you behind climb up the side of a building and use a sniper rifle that you never got to use yourself. I always found it annoying that on so many occasions I was reduced to just watching her be a badass. I hope this time Valve doesn't make me stand around in VR watching someone else doing cool stuff that I'm not allowed to do myself.

Shaun Prescott, Australian editor: I really hope it’s not a first-person shooter. There are good examples of VR shooters (think Doom VR, Superhot, Arizona Sunshine), but until VR gets a whole lot better at not making me sick, I’ll always prefer first-person experiences on screen. That said, I doubt Valve will waste the goodwill of its long-dormant series on a game that doesn’t bring something unique to the VR experience. 

(Image credit: Valve Corporation)

Chris: I'm guessing way, way more puzzles than shooting. Valve pretty much pioneered physics puzzles in Half-Life 2 and the game is filled with them to an almost ridiculous degree. I imagine there will lots of object manipulation puzzles, and hopefully some of a sort we haven't seen before in dozens of other VR games.

James: Imagine: creating a counterweight with cinder blocks in VR. 

Chris: In VR I expect to be able to pour the concrete and form the blocks myself.

Shit, I just remembered there are headcrabs. Man, I hope Half-Life: Alyx doesn't have headcrabs. Not even Lamarr, the harmless one. I don't want one of those jumping on my face in VR, please.

Tyler: Half-Life 2 goes a little horror-ey in Ravenholm, but I doubt we'll go back there. Most people can handle some headcrabs and zombies in a standard, flatspace game, but you start to limit even your VR-owning audience when you include jump scares. I hate that stuff in VR. My blood pressure is high enough as it is.

Shaun: I think all of our blood pressures are high at the moment. There’s a new Half-Life game!  Valve has confirmed a proper reveal for November 21 at 10am PT / 1pm ET. 

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