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Half-Life is a legendary game series from the first-person shooter genre. Originally published for PC, the game was developed by the US software company Valve and released on 31 October 1998. Very quickly, the title became the epitome of the modern computer game, where deep atmosphere and a dense story were more important than simple reaction queries. But not only the game principle, also the graphics were a revolution for that time. The gigantic sales figures – the game still sells well even today, measured after two decades – and the public expectations increased the pressure on the developer Valve, better known for its gaming platform Steam, to bring a worthy successor onto the market.
Then there were several internal attempts and postponements but the sequel was finally released on 16 November 2004. And Valve delivered with Half-Life 2 – in the lists for the best games of all time, HL2, as it is abbreviated, landed at least in the top ten. If not even in first place. After it had become rather quiet around the series for a long time, the company Valve from the city of Bellevue in the US state of Washington published Half-Life 2: Episode One and Half-Life 2: Episode Two between the years 2006 and 2007, but these were only shorter episodic add-ons to the original game. But then in November 2019, Valve announced the virtual reality shooter Half-Life: Alyx, which was released on 23 March 2020.
Milestones for flatscreen gaming AND Virtual Reality Gaming
The Half-Life game series is therefore not only an enormous milestone for PC and video consoles and something that every gamer should have played once, the Half-Life series also has great significance for virtual reality. We therefore take a closer look at all currently available Half-Life games in VR and look into the future of the game series. And we take a brief look into the future.
Will Half-Life 3 perhaps appear in AR (or perhaps not at all)? How does Valve itself see the future in terms of virtual reality development? And how will the planned Half-Life Citadel (working title) and Half-Life Deckard (working title) continue the series?
Half-Life VR (Oculus Quest and Oculus Quest 2)
Fun FactBy the way, the title ‘Half-Life’ goes back to the physical term ‘half-life’, which comes from nuclear physics. The symbol of the HL game is a lambda (λ). The symbol λ stands for the physical decay constant.
With the physics allusion, Half-Life not only refers to its science fiction component, the developers wanted to set themselves apart from games like the then popular but rather dull Quake (of which there is also a VR port called QuakeQuest) with their intelligent concept at the time. The result was a gaming experience that for the first time mixed film and computer game – paired with a dash of philosophy and a lot of action and thrills.
This hasn’t changed in almost 25 years: Half-Life 1 is a moving experience, especially in virtual reality. Although the graphics are clearly getting on in years, the immersion of the fantastic port makes up for this. Including some mods that polish up textures and the graphics in general, you even almost experience something like a small feast for the eyes. HL VR can definitely compete with modern games developed for the Oculus Quest.
Dr. Beef and his team are responsible for the virtual reality port. The mod can be easily downloaded via Sidequest. The name of the mod is Lambda1VR and can be downloaded from the official project website: https://www.lambda1vr.com
In addition to the port, the original version of Half-Life is needed to play. However, this is usually heavily discounted and can therefore be obtained for a few bucks. The port itself is free.
A story for Sci-Fi, Horror and Action fans – and philosophers
A huge number of awards and top ratings that were once awarded to Half-Life resulted not least from the dense plot: a mixture of Stephen King’s ‘The Mist’, the film ‘Aliens’ and the film ‘Die Hard’. In the skin of Gordon Freeman, a somewhat nerdy researcher, you start your working day in the underground Black Mesa complex. After small talk with researchers and guards and a visit to the changing rooms, where you slip into a state-of-the-art protective suit, you make your way via lifts and winding corridors to one of the secret laboratories.
But the experiment planned for that day ends in disaster. A shock wave runs through the entire facility, people are buried by collapsing ceilings and aggressive alien life forms such as the disgusting and creepy facehuggers or bizarre tentacle monsters materialise in rooms and corridors and attack the staff. And the player in the form of Gordon Freemann.
All these events are staged cinematographically: As you rush through the complex to find a way to the surface, you pass scientists being attacked by aliens or a lift filled with screaming people plunges into the depths. And then there is the special unit that has to clean up the human remains of the failed experiment.
- Those who played the game back then should definitely experience it again in VR
- Who never played the game should definitely take a look at this piece of gaming history in VR
- Even after more than 25 years, an impressive experience in virtual reality
- HL’s story is still gripping and exciting
- One of the best flat to VR ports (version by Dr. Beef)
- You can tell that the game principle is a bit outdated after 25 years
- A few graphic updates or mods are necessary, otherwise the figures look rather inhuman, which dulls the gameplay a little
Rating: 4 / 5
Half-Life 2 VR (before: Oculus Development Kit | soon: Oculus Quest 2)
The Mod for Half-Life 2 was actually one of the first VR titles to be playable back in 2014, when the current VR craze started in 2013. The game was also one of the first to be ported from flat screen to virtual reality. HL 2 could be played with the developer kits of the Oculus Rift. And that was quite a bit earlier, before the first commercial VR headsets were released in 2016 with the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.
Ironically, a commercial version never appeared, although the immersion set new standards at the time. For many people, however, this was also true in terms of motion sickness, because the mod was not optimised for artificial locomotion. The mod was then no longer compatible with the PC VR glasses Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. In 2017, to everyone’s delight, it was announced that a new, optimised version would be released that would be compatible with all then-current glasses. Complete with VR controller support (the first mod had to be played with gamepad), special VR menus, modernised graphics, realistic weapon interactions and various VR locomotion methods. Even Valve officially gave its blessing to the project.
A new Half-Life 2 VR mod is in development
After the announcement came … nothing. But there is hope again. The team around VR developer Simon “Dr. Beef” Brown, who already realised the fantastic Half-Life 1 VR, is working on a new implementation. In the special Discord community Flatscreen to VR, they want to publish an open-source version that can be further developed by the modding community. The project is based on the previously published Half-Life 2 VR mod. Dr. Beef has already rewritten a large part of the VR code and fixed critical bugs.
Portal 2 VR maybe following
However, it is not yet clear whether the 2013 Source engine will be used or whether the new CS:GO engine will be used. At the moment, the team cannot estimate how much time it will take to change the engine. One advantage would be that a subsequent VR port of Portal 2 could be directly linked to it. Portal 2 is also one of the most popular video games of all time – a virtual reality port would therefore also be hotly anticipated. However, no release date is known for either Half-Life 2 or Portal 2.
Rating: When the new VR port version is released, a test will also appear on www.xreality1.com
Half-Life: Alyx (Almost all PC-VR systems)
First of all, the third game in the series called Half-Life: Alyx is a masterpiece. Looking at the Metacritics and player ratings, the press and fans are unanimously enthusiastic. The release of HL: Alyx even ensured that Valve’s very high-priced headset Index VR Kit, was sold out for a long time before its release. A bad causal connection, because before the release of Alyx nothing less was expected of it than that the game should give the struggling VR industry a new boost and lead VR gaming out of the niche.
Hardware requirements for PC were already a major hurdle, which is why the game has been denied a large fan community to date. So certainly not all players were reached.
However, Half-Life: Alyx leaves the owners of a virtual reality headset free to choose whether they want to play with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality or the Oculus Quest 1 or Oculus Quest 2 wired to the PC with Link.
It doesn’t get more immersive than this
Best playable version is, of course, the one with the Valve Index optimised for virtual reality. But the other headsets are in no way inferior to the immersive gaming fun. For example, you can grab a medipack with your left hand while looking out with your head and shoot an enemy in the head with your right hand. Or you can climb onto a window ledge and throw a grenade into the room with your second hand.
The gripping, throwing and realistic reloading with the finger tracking of the index controllers is outstanding. Almost anything can be gripped, turned, looked at, used and thrown. Thanks to the pressure-sensitive grip of the Valve Index, you can even crush a can. You also get along very well with the Oculus controllers – even if it feels a little less intuitive.
Straightforward but motivating story
Overall, the attention to detail of the VR-only game is striking. Almost everything can be grasped – and as a player it is possible to interact with almost everything. For example, if there are crayons lying around, you can paint all over the window or the wall. Another plus point is the story, which is not outstanding but exciting and therefore should not be spoiled here.
Just this much: The plot takes place before Half-Life 2 and the alien Combine from part one have dominated the earth – and established a surveillance state. Behind them, the resistance is formed by humans and the equally subjugated alien race Vortigaunt. Alyx Vance, controlled by the player, is part of the Resistance and is supposed to go in search of a superweapon. Those who are playing Half-Life for the first time without any prior knowledge will probably not completely understand some of the conversations in Alyx. Before starting Alyx, it is therefore advisable to have had a look at the predecessors. Then you will be able to really enjoy the allusions and anecdotes surrounding the plot of the first part.
Worldbuilding in a virtual World
In addition to the interaction, the world-building is particularly immersive. From the very beginning, the environments in which Alyx Vance moves are convincing. The level of detail is almost lavish. In the outdoor levels, the views of City 17 are astonishing. Ruins, the security hub of the Combine occupiers hovering above the city, patrolling soldiers and frightened citizens – the tension is virtually within reach. With Alyx VR Gameplay mechanics are taken to a new level in and through virtual reality.
You don’t click the mouse or press the keyboard, no, you load a weapon, similar to the real world. This creates real stress in a combat situation against headcrabs or combat soldiers. A flowing reloading sequence must be rehearsed, otherwise it is not too rare to forget to eject the empty magazine and hear the disconcerting click that leads nowhere. And all thi while an alien jumps right into your face. The only thing that helps is a step to the side, ducking or a real jump. Half-Life: Alyx is not only mentally demanding, but also physically tense.
A milestone and a step backwards at the same time
In summary, Half-Life: Alyx is a milestone of VR games and 3D shooters in general. The detailed graphics, the professional design, the good 15 hours of gameplay and the well thought-out spatial controls set the bar for virtual reality games. So Valve did everything right with Half-Life: Alyx. But in the end, Valve should still experience a great disappointment with Half-Life: Alyx and the Valve Index.
- A state-of-the-art virtual reality gaming experience
- Intuitve and natural VR interactions
- Great, highly detailed level design
– Hardware-hungry software
Rating: 5 / 5
Half-Life 3 & Half-Life Citadel
Time and again, the internet flirts that Valve would announce a third part of Half-Life. After all, alongside GTA 6 (of which a VR version of GTA San Andreas was also recently announced), Half-Life 3 is probably the most anticipated and desired PC and console game. After the release of Half-Life Alyx, expectations naturally ran high – especially with regard to the final scene at the end of the VR spin-off.
There was news recently from the Youtuber Tyler McVicker. He has been reporting on Valve for many years and has access to sources close to the company. McVicker also predicted the release of Half-Life: Alyx long before the official announcement. The latest reports of the Youtuber, however, announce a black virtual future at Valve: According to them, the company is fed up with Virtual Reality. They are disillusioned with the development of the PC VR platform SteamVR. Large parts of the company have turned away from virtual reality. In the future, the company would rather focus on the portable game console Steam Deck.
Half-Life 3 in Augmented Reality?
At the moment, a very small group at Valve is working on a project that continues the story of Gordon Freeman, but this is said to have met with little internal appreciation. Since this is a classic first-person shooter played with mouse and keyboard, this rumour sounds very credible.
Because Valve itself has already announced several times that the series would only be continued if the result was a radically new gaming experience. This was precisely the reason why virtual reality was chosen at the time – and the result, Half-Life: Alyx, was indeed able to fulfil this claim. But now that they seem to be disappointed with VR again, this new kind of gaming experience would have to be developed once more. Maybe a chance for a Half-Life in virtual reality, like Half-Life 3 AR?
The new Half-Life is a co-op multiplayer title
But there is hope. According to unofficial reports, a new Half-Life project is in development: a co-op multiplayer title codenamed Citadel. Unlike Half-Life: Alyx, however, the HL story will not be continued here. Citadel will be a mixture of first-person shooter and real-time strategy and will be optimised for Steam Deck. The whole thing is described as a mixture of Left 4 Dead, Alien Swarm, real-time strategy and Half-Life.
Citadel was originally planned as an asymmetrical title that VR and PC players could play together. The reversal of course ultimately comes not least from Valve’s turning away from virtual reality. But why was there this big disappointment regarding VR at Valve? With Half-Life: Alyx they wanted to show what was possible in Virtual Reality with computer-bound systems. They wanted to turn the market in favour of PC VR. However, its goals failed not least because of the high entry barriers for players, such as the expensive hardware. But perhaps the problems were not least homemade, since the Valve VR headset Index alone cost more than 900 dollars. Then there was the expensive hardware such as graphics cards or fast processors. No wonder that the bottleneck or the target group became very small.
Valve loses out to Meta
Meanwhile, Meta is buying up a lot of the standout VR gaming studios and offering the Oculus Quest at an unrivalled price. So Valve is in a pretty bad position in direct comparison to Meta’s ecosystem, including VR headset hardware and Metaverse software. Which the former Facebook company is investing billions in, not to mention being more dedicated, to be fair. However, hardware and software development for SteamVR is now no longer a priority for Valve. Employees who previously worked on VR projects have now left Valve to push virtual reality elsewhere. Quite a few presumably also with regard to the Metaverse.
VR Hardware is still in development
Nevertheless, a new autonomous VR goggle called Valve Deckard is still in development. However, the launch will probably be delayed by several years, as the company is currently concentrating on the Steam Deck. Because of this new company focus, fewer and fewer people are working on the new VR hardware.
However, a VR game codenamed HLX is also in development for Deckard, which will use the graphical framework of Half-Life: Alyx. HLX is intended to demonstrate the performance of the Deckard self-contained VR goggles. So the last word on Half-Life VR has not yet been spoken.
Title Source: Rock Paper Shotgun