What else could it be? Half-Life Alyx was the Best VR Game of 2020. We’ll be updating our GOTY 2020 hub with new awards and personal picks throughout December.
Chris Livingston: It’s probably not a huge surprise that Valve finally released a new Half-Life game and knocked it out of the park. It is definitely weird, though, that after such a long wait, so many die-hard, lifelong Half-Life fans simply couldn’t play it because they don’t have VR gear. It’s a great game and a fantastic VR experience, but I can’t help but feel bad that some many fans were left out because it’s VR only.
Whatever tech wizardry Valve did under the hood, it felt different from any other VR game I’ve ever played. Typically after a half-hour of wearing a headset I’m ready for a break, but I could play Half-Life: Alyx for hours at a time without getting the headaches and weariness I usually experience in VR. Alyx is also, by far, the best looking VR game I’ve ever played, with so many stop-and-stare moments I lost track, from the first Strider stepping over me in the streets of City 17 to the post-credit sequence. It’s a beautiful game.
But Alyx’s true success is in somehow finding the waning interest I had in the Half-Life saga after all these years and setting it on fire again. The first half of the game dragged more than a little, confining me to slimy sewers and throwing headcrabs at my face, but the second half became a thrilling adventure as the story finally began to unfold and I rushed wide-eyed into its powerful conclusion. As both a prequel and a sequel it seemed like it might be tied too tightly to past and future events to contain anything surprising or contribute much to the saga. But it cleverly tampered with events and characters we’ve known for years to put a new twist on the old story, one so satisfying it makes me fervently hope we don’t have to wait another decade or so to continue the tale.
Andy Kelly: I was not expecting Half-Life: Alyx to be such a good horror game. The Combine firefights are fun, but it’s when you’re in the grimy tunnels beneath City 17 that the game becomes really special. Poison headcrabs were unsettling enough in Half-Life 2, but being in a dark room full of them, in VR, with nothing but a tiny flashlight to guide your way is the most my nerves have been racked since Alien: Isolation. I always found headcrabs a bit annoying in the first two games, but in VR they’re sensational. They leap and screech at you, and you can’t help but flinch when they do. And your run-in with Jeff, a terrifying super-zombie, is one of Half-Life’s greatest set-pieces.
I admit, I’d given up all hope of the Half-Life story ever being continued. I was, at one point, heavily invested in it, but with every year that passed without anything new, it was getting harder to maintain that interest. However, similar to Chris’s experience with the game, after that ending I’m now furiously reading the Half-Life wiki and fan theories again, ready for whatever Valve has to throw at us next.
For Half-Life fans without access to VR (that’s a lot of people, surely), it’s gotta be frustrating to see the story continued in a game that’s inaccessible to them. But it’s better than nothing, right? It was surprising, and exciting, to discover that Alyx, while ostensibly a prequel, shakes up the series’ mythology in some pretty major ways, and hints at the direction a potential Half-Life 3 might head in. This was an unpredictable year in many terrible ways, but getting back into Half-Life lore was not something I ever expected.