Warning! This article contains heavy spoilers for the story and ending of Half-Life: Alyx.
What a relief! After all those years of waiting, Half-Life: Alyx is great. Not only is it an excellent VR game, it's an excellent Half-Life game. It's filled with deeply unsettling horror, electrifying action scenes, stunning environments, physics puzzles, and a great story surrounding a few characters we know from past games and others that are new to the Half-Life universe.
Plus, you can pick up headcrabs and use them to play basketball.
Several of us here at PC Gamer have played through to the ending. And boy oh boy, does Half-Life: Alyx ever have an ending. We're dying to talk about it, and we can't wait any longer. Naturally, there are going to be major spoilers for the story and ending of Half-Life: Alyx below.
If you choose to scroll down this page, you're gonna find three things. First, a video showing the ending of Half-Life: Alyx if you'd like to see it with your own eyes. Second, a brief synopsis of the ending and the events leading up to it. Finally, there's a discussion between James and Chris about the whole damn thing—the ending, the end of the ending, and speculation about what might be coming next.
Spoilers, lot of them—all of them—start just below.
The Half-Life: Alyx ending, summarized
Alyx is trying to reach a location known as The Vault, a huge structure hovering above City 17, where her pal Russell has discovered the Combine are hiding a 'superweapon'. Along the way, Alyx overhears a mysterious woman (we never see her face) talking to a Combine Advisor about what's inside The Vault—and it's no mere weapon. The mysterious woman says it's a prison for someone who raised hell during the Black Mesa Incident and then disappeared.
Russell's theory? Gordon Freeman is locked in The Vault. Alyx gets inside, where she travels through a spooky apartment building in the grips of some bizarre space-time properties: there's a weird, ghostly tenant who seems frozen in time, Alyx can walk on the ceiling, objects are floating, and at one point the building splits into a mirror image of itself. When Alyx crosses into the mirror world and reaches the prison at the center of The Vault, she opens it and discovers it's not Gordon Freeman in there after all. It's G-Man.
G-Man takes Alyx into the future, showing her the events at the end of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, where Eli Vance is killed by a Combine Advisor. G-Man gives Alyx the power to change that important moment in Half-Life history—and she does, killing the Advisor and saving Eli from death. Then G-Man places Alyx in stasis for future assignment.
The credits roll, and we get one final scene. We're no longer Alyx Vance. We're Gordon Freeman! It's the end of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, but Eli is alive, and Alyx has vanished. Dog comes bounding in with Freeman's crowbar, and Eli hands it to Gordon, asking if he's ready to go to work. The end.
Chris: So, the ending. It's, um. It's something. I can't start, you start.
James: It's a lot. We get that wild tour through the space-time house where some ghost man, who doesn't look like any character I recognize, is just hanging out. Then it 'splits' and the house mirrors itself from above. I got the impression that this was the beginning of a split timeline, which is almost necessary for how much Alyx's ending confuses the events of the previous Half-Life games. That's not Gordon in that cage. I knew it as soon as I saw his silhouette. Excellent, chilling twist.
Chris: At some point before the end I suspected it wasn't Freeman in there. Part of the reason was I'd been looking out for those classic Half-Life G-Man sightings while I played, and I hadn't seen any. I started thinking maybe the reason he wasn't periodically showing up to spy on me was that he was the one locked in the Vault. But it was still a thrill to confirm it, even though I'd been really excited at the prospect of rescuing Freeman, or just seeing him frozen in a cyber-fridge or whatever.
James: Yeah, I suspected it wasn't Gordon at times, if only because I didn't think Valve would be willing to show us Gordon in the third-person. And they do, but only in the G-Man sequence. It's weird seeing that guy (us) in the HEV suit in VR, a big bearded dork, picking up his glasses from the void.
Chris: It was a cool, exciting moment, like when you see him briefly in Opposing Force and Blue Shift. After the space-time house we walk through some sort of Combine energy field that super-charges our gravity gloves. We can pull these energy orbs out of wall sockets and basically Hadouken the Combine soldiers. It's a heavy ode to the ending of Half-Life 2 where our gravity gun gets the power to pick up soldiers instead of just objects. I think it was a lot more fun and surprising in HL2, but it's still cool in Alyx, basically Force-shocking the Combine.
James: Yeah, and the grenade hallway is a fun little romp, too. It's important to keep in mind that all this green electric energy, the stuff powering Alyx's force lightning and keeping the G-Man locked up, is from the Vortigaunts. It's also the Vortigaunts that pull Gordon to safety at the end of HL2 and away from the G-Man. It's also their focus on healing Alyx in Episode 2 that lets the creep slip in for a quick word. Vortigaunts, the Vortessence, which has always alluded to experiencing time in the fourth dimension, all at once and simultaneously, seems to be a power in the same vein as what the G-Man is capable of. I don't know how it matters and I worry that Half-Life is going to get too timey-wimey, but I appreciate how Half-Life: Alyx reframes our greater journey so far in some brain-breaking ways.
Chris: It is nice to once again see G-Man isn't all-powerful and can at least briefly be hindered by some Vort magic. I'm kind of left wondering how the Combine really managed to catch him, and knowing him and pop-culture villains in general these days, I expect getting locked up was all part of his plan.
James: You just know that guy is steeping and twiddling his fingers when we're not watching.
Chris: G-Man says he can 'nudge' certain events from time to time, and offers to do so for Alyx. That nudge is basically to undo Eli's death. Eli lives! Half-Life history is either rewritten or as you said—signified by the ghost house splitting in two—this is an entirely new timeline.
James: Yeah, since we don't get to spend time with anyone or check out the world post nudge, we don't get much of a hint as to the greater implications of Alyx getting 'hired' just yet. Did you get a clearer idea of what the G-Man and his employers want from all this? What's he gonna task Alyx with?
Chris: I still don't know what G-Man's bosses want except to keep the Combine on our planet. Maybe having the Combine on earth keeps them busy and allows G-Man's employers to take care of some other business the Combine has been interfering with? As for what he plans for Alyx, I can only assume he'll free her when he needs another wrench thrown in the works.
What do you think about Eli's death basically being undone?
James: I typically hate that comic book kind of move, but it was a severe trade. And now we get to see Eli as a truly Mad Dad. There's some room to really take his character to dark places here, and given his history as a fairly straight-laced good guy scientist, I wonder what he'll be capable of driven by the desire to not only punch every Combine in the face, but also G-Man in the face several times over. A small resistance might build into a mad scientist powerhouse with its own morally questionable tactics.
Chris: A bit of rage would certainly make him more interesting, yeah. As for his death being undone, I feel like if it was a TV show, I might cry bullshit. And in some ways it is kinda bullshit? Suddenly inventing new powers for G-Man, a character who has existed for over 20 years, is a bit of a cheat. Yeah, we knew he had some sort of time powers, dimensional powers, is semi-omniscient or at least very well informed, but now he's either rewinding and changing the past or fast-forwarding and changing the future.
James: I just hope we don't get to peer too much into the logic or inner-workings of the G-Man and his associates. Keeping that stuff at a distance, obscured, is what I love most about the Half-Life cosmology. It feels truly alien, inexplicable, and more horrific for it. These new powers do feel a bit arbitrary, but I think I can still assign that arbitration to my puny human brain and continue to fear Mr. G. I think the result of this will be a scrambled mess of timelines and events that won't make much sense, and shouldn't, exactly. What matters is that it moves a few characters around, escalates the stakes, and makes the G-Man more of a callous villain than ever.
Chris: I don't think I need to know every last detail about G-Man, because it is fun to speculate, but I would like to know a little more of the why if not the how. Someday, eventually, I'd like to know who employs him and why he's involved in all this. And maybe what he really looks like. I doubt he's actually a pale dude in a suit.
James: He's probably a pale dude in cargo shorts.
The post-credits scene
Chris: There's a post-credits sequence where we see Eli Vance at the end of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, freaking out because Alyx—future Alyx—has been taken by G-Man. And we're standing there as Gordon Freeman. We're Gordon Freeman again! But in VR! Thrilling! Dog shows up! Exciting! Eli hands us our crowbar and says we've got work to do. We're ready! Then the game ends. Shit!
Now Valve has two different Half-Life games that end at the same exact time and place. Once again, we're steps away from the helicopter that will take us to the Borealis but we still can't go to the Borealis. We've been standing there next to that chopper in Gordon's boots for 13 years. And now we're standing there again.
James: I really hope Aperture still factors into the story moving forward. The Borealis was its ship, and while I don't need GLaDOS showing up or any big crossover with Portal, I'm big on the idea of expanding the cast of big corporate players fiddling around with powers beyond their control. That's what I love about Half-Life, the contrast between the banal and inexplicable. G-Man is a guy in a suit but also an all-powerful entity that works for even more all-powerful entities.
But yeah, Eli passing the crowbar to you (Gordon) at the end? It felt like a statement of intent. Leaving Half-Life hanging after that for too long would feel extremely cruel. But now Gordon needs to hit the Borealis and find a way to reach Alyx. Science and human stakes are high. It's a nice escalation overall.
Chris: It's hard to trust a statement of intent from Valve after Episode 3 just simply never came out, but I do feel a bit more confident we'll see a new Half-Life game in comparatively less time.
By the way, the woman we eavesdrop on, who is talking to an Advisor about moving the Vault—we never learn her name or see her face. Could it be Judith Mossman? In Half-Life 2 she sided with Breen and the Combine so this is her kinda move, and since Alyx never sees her face she wouldn't know Mossman was a traitor during HL2.
James: That's who I assumed it was and I'm not sure if it being someone else or someone new would change things for the better. If it's Mossman and she knows about the G-Man? That's interesting. Stack that with her betrayal in HL2, plus her journey to the Borealis and, yeah, she's suddenly a much bigger player than ever.
Chris: Let's place quick bets on what the next Half-Life game will be. Half-Life 3 in VR? Half-Life 3 not in VR? Half-Life: Alyx 2? Half-Life 2: Episode 3? I'm gonna guess it'll be Half-Life: Kleiner. No gravity gloves but you've got a lab coat.
James: Valve always says it uses Half-Life games to solve problems, both with tech and design. I think Alyx proves you can make good VR games. I don't think it makes a case for VR as The Platform, the existing FPS design space is still rife with problems. Better tech, both in consoles and PCs, is changing the scale and potential of the medium all the time. I want to see how Valve reimagines the traditional shooter with all this in mind. And, frankly, keeping Half-Life in VR is classist. This shit won't be affordable for a long time and even then, your enjoyment of Alyx is probably relative to the size of your VR play space. Some of these problems are out of Valve's reach. I want to see it solve problems for the majority of PC gamers.