Half-Life: Alyx is one of the best games of the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t get around to playing it. In order to jump into Valve’s immersive new shooter, you also need to have access to a VR rig, which can set you back a significant amount of money – especially if you don’t have a high-end PC. Personally, I think Half-Life: Alyx is fantastic; it’s the kind of game that makes me glad I invested in VR. But, I’m not here to convince you to spend money a fancy new headset; plenty of people have already made the case for Half-Life: Alyx as a defining VR game. I just want to tell you why it is worth playing if you’re a horror fan.
To start, I want to reiterate that Half-Life: Alyx is a stellar experience on many levels. The series is known for its incredibly engrossing action, pitch-perfect environmental storytelling, and clever puzzles. Half-Life: Alyx features all those elements and does them all remarkably well. The storytelling and action, in particular, have never been more engaging. However, virtual reality amplifies Half-Life’s spookier elements more than anything else.
Horror has always been a part of the Half-Life universe. Since its inception, the series has featured all manner of grotesque body horrors and otherworldly existential terrors. Even so, in the past, those elements were simply part of the sci-fi set-dressing in an otherwise fast-paced first-person shooter; they were never the main focus. There were moments like Half-Life 2’s Ravenholm level, which offers plenty of creeps, but I never would have slotted Half-Life into the horror genre. Half-Life: Alyx embraces horror in a new way.
The biggest change is the fact that you are now immersed in Half-Life’s world like never before, thanks to virtual reality. Previously, we’ve seen the spider-like headcrabs climb walls and lunge. Now, with the razor-shape pinchers seemingly right in your face, it’s hard not to jerk your head back in fear.
VR brings Half-Life’s world into focus, but Valve also doesn’t shy away from the franchise’s horror elements. Alyx serves up one creepy atmospheric sequence after another. In one scene, you explore an abandoned hotel that has become invested with some kind of alien fungus. As you move through this space, you see the remains of previous residents who have become fused with the building’s decor. In another area, you explore a series of dark underground tunnels without a flashlight and listen to headcrabs skitter through the shadows, waiting for the perfect moment to lunge forward. In yet another horrifying sequence, you enter an abandoned zoo and notice that most of the cages have been broken and the animals are gone. Then you hear an unearthly howl in the distance, and your heart begins to race as you wonder what awaits.
One of my favorite sequences comes about midway through the game when you enter an abandoned vodka distillery and play hide and seek with a blind monster named Jeff. That might sound like a pretty silly name for a zombie-like creature, but trust me, you won’t be laughing after your encounter with Jeff. I won’t detail this sequence because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that there were moments during this confrontation where I was asked to complete certain tasks, and I could feel my body fighting against me because it didn’t want to move.
Half-Life: Alyx is far from a traditional horror game. There are long stretches where nothing scary happens, and Valve actively injects humor into intense moments to dilute the tension. Even so, Half-Life: Alyx nearly gave me a heart attack, and I loved every minute of it. If you have VR, you know what to do.