Last night, Valve announced it would finally pick up the tattered threads of its own longest-running game franchise — at least, if you squint a lot and are willing to be hopeful about the future. Half-Life Alyx, a new VR flagship title from Valve, will debut on Thursday, at 10 AM Pacific / 1 PM Eastern. The company announced the new game in a Tweet:
We’re excited to unveil Half-Life: Alyx, our flagship VR game, this Thursday at 10am Pacific Time.
Can’t wait to share it with all of you! pic.twitter.com/BupFCxSrTw
— Valve (@valvesoftware) November 18, 2019
Half-Life Alyx is designed for PC VR systems from companies like Oculus and HTC, though presumably Windows Mixed Reality sets and Valve’s own Index will both be supported. This is the VR flagship title that’s been teased and rumored for several years at Valve; Ars reports that this is the VR game we were supposed to get in 2019, with the delay chalked up to infamous “Valve Time.” The game is a prequel, not a sequel — the long-desired, long-rumored, Half Life 3 remains a dead letter.
Under most circumstances, discovering that HLA is a prequel might kill a good portion of my interest; prequels don’t exactly have the best track record of fleshing out worlds or stories in the most compelling fashion. In this case, however, my interest is piqued for several reasons. First, we only know what happened in-between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2 in the broadest sense. Half-Life may have occurred on May 16, 2003 (the exact date is unknown, see this discussion of the timeline for details) and Gordon was in stasis for nearly two decades. HL2, therefore, occurs somewhere between 2015 and 2029, depending on exactly how long Gordon was on ice. We know that during this time, the Combine conquered Earth (during the Seven Hour War) and the initial human / Vortigaunt resistance formed.
What could Half-Life Alyx explore? The creation of Dog, her sidekick in the first game, the initial years of the human resistance, and the thrilling transformation of Barney from a former security guard to intrepid resistance fighter (Half-Life: Barney doesn’t have the same ring, no matter how you slice it). If we really want to get crazy, we could imagine potential Portal crossovers (at least one that clarifies a bit more of Aperture Science’s impact on the world) or an answer to what happened to Adrian Shephard in the events of Half-Life: Opposing Force. Valve has never clarified what the G-Man did with Shephard, so this plot point could theoretically be revisited.
HLA could sport its own unique interface tool for changing how players interact with the game world, according to Ars. If you’ve played HL2, you’re likely aware that the game features a unique weapon that allows you to manipulate the environment–the Gravity Gun. At the time, using the Gravity Gun to manipulate the world around you felt borderline revolutionary, though not many titles have chosen to continue down the path of emphasizing physical interactions and real-world object manipulation in the same fashion.
According to multiple sources, the Gravity Gun of HL2 will be followed by a new type of object manipulation in HLA, using the so-called “Grabbity Gloves,” a name I find simultaneously brilliant and annoying. Supposedly these are used for “point-and-snag” object manipulation, rather than requiring players to walk over and physically pick up objects off the floor. These may favor the controllers used on the Valve Index, which leave your hands free to move. There are rumors that the game could basically be a master-class in how to build environments for VR players.
VR has been looking for a killer app for a long time. It seems absurd to think that Valve — a company known far more for selling games than building anything recent at this point — could inject the kind of killer app that everyone’s been hoping for. This could also be the first ground-up use of the Source 2 engine for a new FPS, thus far the engine has only been used for DOTA-related titles and for Artifact. As for whether the game will be good or a worthwhile sequel to one of the most famous and unfinished gaming franchises of all time, probably best not to speculate. Of all the questions in play, that one seems the most difficult to answer.
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