When video game developer Valve first released Half-Life in 1998, there weren’t many games like it. First-person shooters were cheap, one-dimensional, frequently racist affairs. Half Life, with its immersive environment, dark humor, and Gordon Freeman, a mute MIT theoretical physicist as its protagonist, laid the groundwork for a more ambitious era of modern video games. A generation of fans have been waiting for a follow-up to 2004’s Half-Life 2—which has seen no updates since 2007—and Valve today (Nov. 21) finally delivered. Well, sort of. The company unveiled its first full-length virtual reality game, Half-Life: Alyx.
Half Life: Alyx is not quite a sequel or a prequel. It’s set between the events of Half-Life and 2004’s Half-Life 2. It features resistance fighter Alyx Vance as the protagonist, a character we were introduced to during Half-Life 2. As the child of a scientist, Vance grew up in the confines of the Black Mesa Research Facility (which serves as the main setting for the franchise) and grew up to become one of Freeman’s closest allies in Half-Life 2. Alyx follows Vance and her father, Eli, as they build an early resistance to The Combine, an alien species that took over Earth in the first game. It also features the return of the G-Man, the mysterious bureaucrat in a suit and tie who both helps and harms our main characters. According to the developer, the game will also feature “world exploration, puzzle solving, visceral combat, and an intricately woven story that connects it all with the characters iconic to the Half-Life universe.” Valve will release Alyx in March 2020, but it’s available for pre-order today.
Valve (which owns Steam, the world’s most popular PC gaming platform), has chosen to release the game on a variety of different VR devices instead of exclusively on its own headset. The company this spring debuted a $499 VR headset, the Valve Index, officially entering the VR space currently occupied by HTC Vive, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality devices). Although VR gaming is still very much in its infancy, the hope with the Index is that the device will introduce VR to a wider audience, given the premium price of most high-end VR headsets make them out-of-reach for all but the most hardcore PC gamers.
But there’s an incentive for those who already own the company’s own VR hardware. Valve is making Half-Life Alyx free for current and future owners of the Valve Index headset. (Alyx will also be available on any VR device that can connect to Steam.) Since the video game developer is expected to release another two Half-Life games exclusively for VR, this could be a good reason for devotees of the franchise to splurge.