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Valve Announces Half-Life: Alyx, a Virtual Reality Exclusive

Over the past several years, the game development studio Valve has shifted its focus from developing new titles in its various critically-acclaimed video game franchises to developing Steam, its content-delivery platform and investing in innovative technology like virtual reality. As such, it came as a surprise when Valve announced Half-Life: Alyx, a new entry in the famed Half-Life series which revolutionized the first-person shooter genre when its first entry was released for PC in 1998. Half-Life: Alyx, the first entry in the series in more than a decade, is not the highly-anticipated Half-Life 3 that fans of the series have waited for, but instead takes place before the events of Half-Life 2 and puts players in the shoes of Alyx Vance, a supporting character from the main series. As the game is built from the ground up for VR, it will not resemble a first-person shooter in the traditional sense, but rather will ask players to use motion controllers to manipulate objects in virtual 3D space to solve puzzles and engage in combat.

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Valve has not released all of the details about the upcoming title, but has announced a launch date of March 2020 and has promised the game will be a full-length experience. The game’s trailer, posted to Youtube a few days ago, showcases the improved graphical capabilities of the Source 2 engine, which enables advanced lighting and other high-quality effects. Additionally, the trailer gives players a hint of the kind of gameplay they can expect, as the player character is depicted firing weapons and interacting with the visually-updated dystopian world first featured in 2004’s Half-Life 2. The title will only be available for PC, but will support all virtual reality platforms that can be used with a Windows computer.

It doesn’t seem likely that a real Half-Life 3 will ever see the light of day, as Valve has seemed to move on from traditional game development; however, fans may experience some long-awaited closure in the form of Half-Life: Alyx.

While fans are of course excited by the announcement of a new title in the Half-Life series, the game’s exclusivity as a VR title has drawn criticism. For one, though their price has lowered in recent years, virtual reality headsets continue to be prohibitively expensive for most, and they require a similarly-expensive high-powered gaming PC to function well. One of the biggest challenges in VR game design is the problem of locomotion, as allowing players to move freely within a virtual world while remaining physically stationary in the real world causes sensations of nausea in many people. As such, the locomotion system featured in Half-Life: Alyx is likely to be extremely limited compared to the movement systems featured in previous titles in the series. 

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Half-Life: Alyx will mark the first commercial use of the company’s Source 2 engine, an update to the revolutionary Source engine upon which previous titles in the series were built. Valve is also opening up their game development tools to the public, updating Hammer, the company’s free level authoring tool, for compatibility with the new game. Valve has promised that Half-Life: Alyx will be a flagship experience for the VR format, and the game’s $59.99 price tag reflects this ambition. While Half-Life 2 featured the “Gravity Gun” weapon as a tool to manipulate objects in the environment, showing off the game’s then-unique use of a full physics engine to breathe life into the game’s setting, Half-Life: Alyx gives players “Gravity Gloves,” allowing them to pick up objects, like guns and puzzle items, from a short distance.

The last entry in the series, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, ended on a major cliffhanger that after twelve years remains unresolved; while Valve’s newest title in the series takes the form of a prequel, fans still hope that the game will shed light on what happens in the aftermath of the precious title. It doesn’t seem likely that a real Half-Life 3 will ever see the light of day, as Valve has seemed to move on from traditional game development; however, fans may experience some long-awaited closure in the form of Half-Life: Alyx.