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Doom Eternal Review – Hellaciously Good

Four years after Doom returned from its long exile in a tidal wave of blood and guts we’ve finally got a sequel in Doom: Eternal. But how could id Software improve on their already amazing gunplay? Did Doom 2016 really need a sequel? The answer to the first question is by using some form of black magic far beyond any mortal comprehension, resulting in gunplay so sublime that it might actually be illegal. And the answer to the second question is a resounding yes. Doom: Eternal has quashed any doubts that Doom Eternal 2016 deserved a sequel. But as amazing as Doom: Eternal is, it’s also a game with some problems, and a hell of a lot worth talking about.

Doom Eternal 2016 had a clear mission statement; it didn’t want to get in the way of you killing shit-loads of demons. It scoffed at anything that took you out of the action. Early in the game the Slayer embodies this ideal by literally smashing a screen on which someone was trying to deliver useless exposition. Who cares when there are monsters to be murdered in the most brutally satisfying ways imaginable? Doom 2016 was a no-nonsense shooter. So it’s surprising that for Doom Eternal the crew over at id Entertainment have drastically changed their tune. Now, there’s actual cutscenes and dialogue and exposition and lore. This is a perfect example of how Doom Eternal is a more complex game than its stream-lined predecessor, and why Doom Eternal isn’t better or worse than Doom 2016 – it’s just different, and you’re probably going to wind up liking one a lot more than the other.

Right, so, the story: set a few years after the events of Doom Eternal 2016 the Slayer returns to Earth to find it being consumned by the forces of hell, and as the greatest one-man wrecking crew in the whole damn universe the Slayer sets out on a mission to single-handedly end the demonic invasion of Earth.

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We all know that the Doom Eternal Slayer is nothing short of a incredibly violent force of nature, but Doom Eternal does all it can to reinforce that. The Slayer is presented as practically God-like in every cutscene, striding through the environment while never uttering a word. At one point he clambers into a gigantic cannon and literally fires himself into a building. He’s unstoppable. He’s overwhelming. He’s pure badass if badass had just won a fucking competition for being the most badass badass. He’s the guy that makes demons afraid, and it’s awesome. Of course, he has all the emotional depth of a puddle of fly piss and the character development of a brick, but that doesn’t matter. He’s the Slayer, and he exudes violence.

Still, the game does delve into the Slayer’s past in an effort to explain exactly how he came to be ultimate incarnation of holy shit did he just rip that things head off. And while it’s doing that it also delivers a bunch of lore for the Doom Eternal franchise, some of which can be a tad baffling if you don’t pay attention. It’s actually quite good at times, too, mostly because it doesn’t overstay its welcome. You can also just ignore it or skip the cutscenes entirely if you’d prefer in order to get to the action, so that’s appreciated. Indeed, a lot of the deeper aspects of the story, including details on the Slayer, is hidden away in the Codex entries where only the die-hard fans will likely venture.

The Slayer isn’t just a God-like figure of destruction in the cutscenes, though: the combat goes out of its way to make you feel awesome. First, the sheer fluidity and smoothness of Doom Eternal 2016 is still present and as fantastic as before, but now the double jump has been augmented with a double dash, easy mantling and clambering, and the ability to swing on monkey bars that litter the combat arenas. You’ve got more movement options that ever, and once they’ve become natural you’ll be zipping around like a maniac. You don’t so much move as glide, and it feels oh so good. On top of that the weapons have got both a visual and an audio overhaul, somehow managing to sound even more orgasmically savage as they rip gobs of flesh off the demon hordes. It’s just so fucking good. Doom Eternal 2016 already had some of the greatest feeling first-person shooting in a videogame, and somehow Doom: Eternal has improved on it.

And don’t get met started on the super-shotguns meathook! This beautiful piece of design lets you grapple onto a distant enemy and reel yourself in, quickly closing distances. But you can also use ot to catapult yourself over the heads of demons, relocating from one end of the area to another in a few seconds, or to quickly save yourself from falling into a void.

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Even the demon A.I. has been tweaked so that they are more aggressive and capable of quickly surrounding you unless you take full advantage of the spacious environments that you find yourself in. And what environments those! Doom Eternal 2016 kept itself primarily to Mars and Hell, but Doom: Eternal enjoys travelling and taking in the sights, from the demonically occupied Earth to fantastical, fantasy fortresses there are a lot of amazing vistas to soak up. Stopping for even a second in a fight just isn’t an option as the enemy will descend upon you like a plague of demon locusts. It makes every battle intense and frantic and exhilarating. The best examples of this come in the form of the optional Slayer Gates that offer up the most challenging fights in the entire game – they can be so heart-pumping that I frequently walked away from the game feeling physically tired. That’s how good the shooting is.

Now we get to the added complexity of how combat works; for starters, the amount of ammo you can carry for every weapon has roughly been halved from Doom Eternal 2016, a game in which you could typically rely on a single gun if you wanted to. But now you’ll find yourself constantly swapping from one boomstick to another in order to take advantages of weaknesses and to ensure you can keep firing. Upgrading your ammo capacity helps, but to truly keep a supply of bullets you need to use the chainsaw. Whereas in Doom Eternal 2016 the chainsaw was just a fun tool you might occasionally use, here it’s absolutely essential.

The chainsaw regenerates a single bar of fuel every minute or so, though you can pick up more fuel, and using it slice through a demon rewards you with a shower of ammo and other goodies. It’s like hitting a pinata, only there’s a lot more blood, yelling and instead of a stick you have a chainsaw. So, nothing like a pinata at all, really. Big enemies will take more than a single bar of fuel, but the game cleverly keeps a constant supply of basic demon fodder running around for you to dismember.

As for getting health there are med-packs to be picked up, but like Doom 2016 your best source of healing is to cause pain. Like before you can stagger an enemy by doing enough damage, then execute a gloriously gory Glory kill. The animations for these are amazingly detailed and revel in the sheer brutality of ripping limbs, stabbing demons in the eye with their own forearm bone and yanking out eyes.

If you want to grab some armor that’s where your flame belch comes in, a recharging flamethrower that sets demons alight. Dealing damage or killing demonic dick-heads that are ablaze results in a shower of armor shards. Mind you, since the flamethrower is mapped to R by default I constantly found myself reflexively trying to reload and instead sending a burst of fire into the air. That’s not a criticism of the game, though, that’s just my own stupidity and years of muscle memory.

Finally, you get a recharging frag grenade for crowd control, plus an ice variant that lets you freeze pesky demons in place. Like the flame belch these recharge over time.

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Then there’s your arsenal of weapons, each of which boast two unlockable mods that you can swap between on the fly with a tap of F, giving every gun a total of three firing modes. Your bread-and-blood combat shotgun, for example, can also become a grenades launcher or a fully-automatic death machine that eats ammo and eats away flesh. The heavy machine gun gets a precision sniper scope or a volley of micro-missiles, and so on and so on. It’s a pleasing array of machinery, and since ammo is scarce they all get their time to shine, though you’ll certainly find favorites.

All of this adds up to combat that takes considerably more planning than shooting stuff in Doom Eternal 2016 ever did. That isn’t to imply that Doom 2016 was somehow stupid in the way it handled its combat, but it definitely preferred to let players focus purely on the carnage. Eternal wants you think about what you’re doing, be it remembering to whip out the chainsaw for some casual evisceration, identifying which demons to annihilate first or swapping weapons to best deal with the situation. On the one hand I feel like many people will prefer the simpler thrills of Doom Eternal 2016’s combat, the more focused and direct way in which it hands you a gun and lets you get on with it. But the more I played the more I came to love Doom Eternal’s combat. It still has that satisfying brutality fluidity but now its mixed with smart design that forces you to think about what you’re doing. It’s an exhilarating mix, especially on the higher difficulty levels.

Now we get to another area of added complexity; upgrades, and why there’s so many bloody different things. We start with weapon points which are a way of upgrading your weapon upgrades, and are earned via regular progression through the story and by finding bonus combat encounters that are hidden away. These let you sink points into a few different upgrades for your weapon modules, culminating in an ultimate mastery upgrade that requires you to complete a specific challenge, like using your shotgun’s full auto-mode to destroy Pinky demons. It’s worth the effort, though, because these upgrades provide huge benefits. Mind you, you can skip the challenge by spending a Mastery token that can occasionally be found in the levels.

Next up are the Praetorian tokens that are hidden throughout the various locales, and these are used to buff your suit. That means you can increase the duration of your freeze grenade or the speed at which you clamber around the environment.

After that there are Sentinel Crystals. These glowing rocks are how you expand your ammo capacity, as well as net yourself some more health and armour, both of which are handy when the legions of Hell would like nothing more than to introduce you to the wonderful health benefits of having your guts removed and used as a whip. As an added bonus if you select two upgrades in a set you get a powerful effect such as the flame belch recharging quicker.

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Still with me? Great, because there’s still a little more to go yet; Runes are quite rare and include some rather excellent upgrades. My personal recommendation is the one that increases the amount of time demons will stay in the staggered state, perfect for crowd management or for keeping a Glory kill for later. Only three Runes can be active at any one time, forcing you to make a fund decision as to what fits your method of murder best.

Okay, I promise we’re nearing the end of this bit of the review! The last things you can grab to upgrade yourself are special batteries. These chunky power cells can be slotted into doors aboard the Fortress of Doom Eternal a – a literal fortress floating in space that acts as your little home hub between missions – in order to access Praetorian tokens, Sentinel crystals, upgrade modules and even special costumes.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of these upgrade systems individually. They all work nicely enough and it’s fun to explore the levels to find the various tokens and stuff. But when you consider them together as a whole there’s a real lack of cohesion. It feels like they’ve been haphazardly stacked on top of Doom Eternal’s excellent combat mechanics rather than properly worked into the gameplay.

Speaking of things that don’t quite feel like they’ve been woven into the game correctly, the Fortress of Doom is a fun place to explore but doesn’t add much to Doom Eternal on the whole.

It’s a spacious property with a lovely location that affords grand views of the Earth as it’s consumed by demonic forces, and comes complete with a master suite for the Slayer where collectibles can be displayed. From this floating example of gothic architecture gone crazy can listen to music from prior Doom Eternal games, replay missions and use cheat codes that you’ve discovered.

But aside from spending a few minutes to slot batteries into doors to get more upgrades I never found much of a reason to hang around the fortress. Much like the little home base in Wolfenstein: Youngblood the fortress in Doom: Eternal ultimately feels pointless. Although I do find it hilarious to imagine the mighty Slayer kicking back in his room reading the various magazines strewn around the place.

But then, who I am to judge what the Slayer can and cannot do? I mean, I never would have taken him for a platforming pro, and yet Doom: Eternal proves that despite being built like a small mountain the Slayer is actually a rather agile chap. Confused? Allow me to de-confuse you.

Between adreneline-pumping combat encounters you’ll often find yourself jumping, dashing, swinging and wall-climbing through platforming sections. Given how smooth movement feels in combat it’s unsurprising that the basics of all the climbing and jumping do feel quite solid. Eternal will have you leaping across vast chasms, hitting triggers and clinging onto floating rock coffins…er, for some reason?

And these sections do a rather good job of breaking up the action…but….but, well, they feel strange in a game about smashing demonic faces to pieces. It’s not that I don’t like them because I do, I’m just not completely sure that I like them being in Doom: Eternal. I can see these sections being one of the most divisive aspects of Eternal.

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That’s ultimately the theme of the entire game: Eternal has lost the elegance of 2016’s Doom, becoming a more bloated product. The platforming, the new cutscenes, the cluttered upgrade system, it all dilutes the incredible experience that Doom Eternal 2016 offered. But the tradeoff is a meatier game with more intense, thoughtful combat, and many people will probably really enjoy the platforming and the upgrading. Personally, I find Doom: Eternal to be the better game.

Outside of the glorious campaign, which should take you somewhere around 10-15 hours to burn through, there’s the brand new Battle Mode where two players take on the role of demons and attempt to take down one person who steps into the chunky boots of the Slayer.

As we wrap up this review let’s take a minute to talk about performance, which is nearly flawless. There’s a wealth of graphical options, and the game appears to be beautifully optimised. I didn’t run into any frame drops outside of a few frames here or there, and glitches were also pleasantly infrequent. Doom Eternal runs as smoothly as I could have hoped for, although for some reason it did occasionally decide to forget my resolution settings on firing up the game.

Considering how buttery smooth the whole game runs its amazing just how much visual punch id have packed into the game. This is a gorgeous game. It’s almost hard to notice the wealth of details on enemy models as you carve through them.

In fact, it’s not until I was going through my screenshots for this review that I really noticed some of the little details on the various demons. Probably the best part of the whole package is the lighting model that helps give everything depth. Lovely, lovely stuff.

I said near the beginning of this review that Doom: Eternal is not really a better or worse game than Doom Eternal 2016, it’s just different and some folk are going to vastly prefer one over the other. There’s no denying that Doom: Eternal is a more bloated game, and that expansion comes with some positives and negatives.

The upgrade system feels haphazardly stacked on top of the action and I’m still not convinced that the platforming – as smooth and fun as it is – feels right in a Doom game, but in terms of combat Eternal is nothing short of exceptional.

This is first-person shooting at its very best. Some will prefer the elegance of Doom 2016, but personally I preferred this more thoughtful brand of shooting that forced me to use the entire arsenal of weapons and every inch of the environment in order to stay alive. That heart-pumping combat prevails over any other small complaints I might have about Doom: Eternal.

We might all be facing one of the most challenging and uncertain times in recent memory, but we do know one thing for certain: Doom Eternal is Eternal, and hellaciously brilliant.

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Review

Half-Life: Alyx Review – A VR Masterpiece

The world might be in the middle of a pandemic that’s forced us all to huddle inside while stuffing our faces and watching Netflix, but there’s one glowing beacon of hope: thirteen years after the last adventures of Gordon Freeman we have finally got a new Half-Life. Except, it’s not Half-Life 3, it’s a prequel. And it’s in VR, so you might not be able to play it. What we have is Half-Life: Alyx, a prequel to Half-Life 2 and a very obvious passion project from Valve. This is a game designed for virtual reality and built to the highest standards. I’d actually be surprised if Valve made a profit on Half Life: Alyx because it looks and feels like a lot of money was sunk into its creation, versus the relatively small audience that can buy it. But that doesn’t matter right now. All we need to know is just how good is Half-Life: Alyx?

The first thing we need to talk about, though, is what I played Alyx on. There’s absolutely no question that Valve would love for you to experience Half-Life: Alyx on the Valve Index with all of its fancy finger-sensing technology and what have you. Since I’m not a millionaire I don’t have the Index, so instead I played through Half-Life: Alyx on the Oculus Rift S and all my opinions will come from that. But I’m going to give a spoiler for this whole review: Half-Life: Alyx is an exceptional VR experience even on the Rift S, so if you are fortunate enough own the Index then that experience will only be better.

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I think the real brilliance of Half Life: Alyx is how good Valve are at all the little interactions. Most games go too far in one direction or the either, using hefty assistance to do things or leaving players fumbling around like a newborn baby trying to play the piano. Take the recent Boneworks as an example: it’s driven by its physics system, and thus something as easy as reloading a pistol can result in you gracelessly trying to slam home a magazine, at least until you wrap your head around how everything works. Because it simulates having a body as well you can find yourself accidentally getting caught on tables because you forgot where your non-existent legs were. In many ways it’s quest for more realism is what constantly drags me out of the illusion.

In other games the level of assistance the developers use can mean the gun practically reloads itself. Again, it shatters the illusion of being there. Half-Life: Alyx finds a lovely middle-ground, helping you out just enough to make things like reloads smooth without ever feeling like it’s doing it for you. And this applies to almost everything, from opening doors to spinning handles to moving boxes around and more. The way the physics work let you play around in the world in a believable way, without awkwardly getting in the way. Valve have carefully judged everything, and it makes Alyx feel incredibly polished, thereby also keeping you feeling immersed in the action. The only time that immersion gets shattered is when a loading screen pops up. And be warned, on an old-fashioned HDD those loading times can be a bit long.

Half-Life: Alyx is actually a prequel, taking place between the events of the first two games and following the story of the titular Alyx of whom you will inhabit the disembodied hands of. The majority of the plot revolves around Alyx’s dad being kidnapped and her journey to rescue him, and that’s all I say because the narrative really is a lot of fun and best experienced with no prior knowledge of events. What you should know is that the performances in this game are excellent, and that it’s genuinely funny. And that’s because of the banter between Alyx and the constant voice in her ear, Russel. At one point Alyx is a little creeped out, so she asks Russel to just talk to her about anything, and so he launches into a tale about what a club sandwich is, describing to her this lavish, somewhat ridiculous foodstuff from before Earth’s downfall at the hands of the Combine. It’s a moment that feels believable, heart-warming and funny all at the same time, and is a prime example of how Valve handle the dialogue throughout the game. Whenever you get to meet someone in person the models are detailed and react to your presence, even flinching away when you try to prod them in the eyeball. It’s a real shame that for the majority of the game there’s nobody else around, or at least nobody that isn’t trying to shoot you.

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But what if you aren’t familiar with Half-Life? Is this still a story you can follow and enjoy? That’s a tricky question, but I believe the answer is yes, at least for the most part. The majority of the game is simply about finding Alyx’s father, so that obviously doesn’t require much Half-Life knowledge. Where you might struggle is being dumped into a world that’s already been invaded by an alien force known as the Combine. Still, you should be able to get up to speed quickly, even if the first Head Crab that leaps at your face is probably going to scare the snot out of you.

The pacing is yet another area that Half-Life: Alyx excels in, consistently managing to keep the 10-15 hour campaign feeling fun, fresh and interesting. There’s a hefty dose of light horror here, with a lot of your time spent in darkened corridors complete with flickering lights and creepy sounds, slowly making your way through the environments while waiting to see if a head crab is going to leap out to nom on your face. Patience in these moments is rewarded with a few bigger, outside areas and amazing vistas. Indeed, the opening sequence lets you see a Strider making its way across the rooftops of the city, huge cables dangling from its body. It’s a properly jaw-dropping moment.

That pacing extends to the gameplay itself. One minute you’ll be fighting head crabs that leap toward your face and shambling zombies, the next you’re in a firefight with the Combine, ducking and weaving to avoid the incoming bullets. Valve know exactly when to let the game breath with exploration or clever dialogue, and when to stick you in a fun fight or have you solve a puzzle. It meant that across the 15-hours it took for me to play through the campaign I was never bored and never got fed up with a particular idea.

Key to the way that you interact with the world of Half-Life: Alyx are the gravity gloves given to you early on. With these stylish hand warmers you can point to a distant object and then, with a sort of flick of your wrist, send it whizzing into the air in a lovely arc toward your hand where you can neatly catch it. It takes a few minutes to get the gist of how it works and occasionally you’ll struggle to aim at something specific, but once you get the hang of it the whole process feels smooth, easy and satisfying. We’ve seen mechanics like this in other VR games, but the fact that you have to flick your wrist and catch the object makes it feel more engaging in Half-Life: Alyx. And before long you’ll be firing a pistol in one hand and summoning ammo in the other.

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There isn’t a huge arsenal of weapons to pick from, but each feels distinct and look fantastic. My personal favourite of the three is the shotgun. You reload it by cracking open the barrel, feeding in slugs and then flicking the gun to snap it closed, then finally you pull back on the handle to prime it. And when you pull the trigger you’re rewarded with a satisfying boom that bounces off the walls and gives you that lovely low-down tingle. But the pistol also has a nice pop when you pull the trigger and is the gun of choice for accurate shooting. Finally, there’s a Combine weapon that’s essentially an SMG for spraying bullets. Good use of vibration through the Rift S controllers and excellent audio design ensures that all three guns feel great to use.

Likewise, while the enemy variety isn’t massive they all feel different and interesting to fight. It kicks off with the Barnacles, which are stuck to the ceilings with their long tongues dangling down, waiting to drag you up to your death. They provide an easy start, a static target that you can hone your skills on. Plus, it’s great fun to lure enemies into them, or feed them an explosive barrel. Then come the head crabs, the classic Half-Life foe. These little bastards leap toward your face, and scurry around on four legs. They aren’t exactly a huge threat, it’s really just their creep-factor that makes them intimidating. The slow-moving zombies that have been taken over by a head crab are a simple foe to battle as well, again acting more like a way of easing you into the combat. Plus, some of them have the pesky armoured head crabs clinging to their face. Then there’s the Combine themselves who engage you in heated gunfights where you can use the full extent of VR to hunker down behind cover or lean out from behind walls. I’ve got limited space in my house to play in, so I can only imagine how much more fun the fights would be if you had loads of room to move around.

I love how the combat plays out in Half-Life: Alyx. Popping out of cover to deliver a few well-aimed shots to a Combine helmet feels awesome, as does that slightly panicky unloading of shotgun shells into a surprise head crab. I also love the way you reload ammo by grabbing it from over your shoulder, presumably from some sort of infinite backpack, the same place you store all the bullets you hoover up. Slamming home a magazine or hastily feeding shells into the shotgun never gets old. Really, the only thing I didn’t like about combat is that it’s a bit easy. Even on the hardest setting you’ll likely only die a few times, and that means the fights don’t feel as tense as they probably could. But ultimately that feels like a tiny complaint given just how immersive and exhilarating the fights feel.

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It’s clear that Valve want you to take your time and explore the world they’ve created, and to encourage them ammo is scarce unless you actually go looking for it. You’ll typically find ammo hiding in boxes, on top of shelves, in drawers or cheekily glinting off in the distance. Plus, exploration rewards you with Resin, the material needed to upgrade your weapons at special stations. And if nothing else exploration is worth it just because Half-Life: Alyx looks bloody good and is packed with details where ever you look. I kept stopping off to stare at the alien fauna which would react to my presence and even occasionally try to bite my fingers. Huge set-pieces are rare but when they do occur they look amazing.

If you do happen to run out of ammo entirely, which is a possibility if you’re a bit twitchy with the trigger, then that’s when you’ll discover that Half-Life: Alyx doesn’t have any sort of melee system. Sure, you can use a chair to smack a head crab out of the air or throw a box at a Combine soldier but it won’t actually do any damage, and the Combine will probably just look at you like you’ve lost your damn mind. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t even a rudimentary melee system, and actually found myself reflexively grabbing things to smack an enemy with before remembering it wasn’t possible. However, Valve said that they did spend a long time trying to fit melee into the game and simply couldn’t find a system they felt worked, which is understandable. Thus far the only games that have done melee well in VR have been built almost entirely around that one idea.

I briefly mentioned upgrading your weapons, which is something else Alyx does exceptionally well. Like the guns themselves the upgrades available aren’t extensive, but each one makes a big difference and choosing between them is a genuinely tricky choice. The auto-loader for the shotgun lets you load in slugs so much faster, the laser sight for the pistol is a God-send when you’re aiming for headshots against the Combine and the mag-extender for the SMG makes blind-firing around cover a doddle. Yup, hunting down all that Resin is worth the effort.

One little thing that did bother was how you swap weapons. By pressing in the right stick you bring up a menu, and then choose your weapon by moving your whole hand up, down, left or right. For the most part this works fine enough, but when you’re in the middle of a hectic firefight and need to quickly swap weapons it becomes awkward and clumsy. Quite often I’d be trying to keep my eyes on my foes while changing weapons only to discover I’d accidentally select the multi-tool instead of my shotgun.

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Outside of shooting stuff in the face and generally messing around with the game, Valve use puzzles to help break everything up. Usually these pop up in the form of containers that need opened or pesky doors that refuse to open. You might, for example, have to use your handy multi-tool to trace and reroute wiring, or spin a globe around as you try to navigate a light to another light. There’s a few different kinds of puzzle and Valve dishes them out at a nice, steady pace, though I will admit that I let out a sigh on occasion when face with one particular type of puzzle involving moving balls of light around.

I’ve also got to give a shout out to some spectacular moments like stumbling around in the dark using a tiny wrist-mounted flash light, or a sequence dedicated to Jeff which is just bloody amazing. Trust me, you’ll learn who Jeff is and why his level might just go down as one of the best in recent memory. But truthfully many of the best moments came from just playing around, like when I caught a jumping head crab in a bucket, or when I realized I could summon a grenade off of a Combine soldier mid-fight. Half-Life: Alyx isn’t a crazy sandbox or anything, but there’s still room to just mess around.

The performance can occasionally be a tad patchy, too. Running on my GTX 1080Ti, Ryzen 1600 and 16GB of RAM I found myself dropping the settings to medium. Even then, there was some noticeably stuttering here or there, especially in the larger open areas toward the end of the campaign. And throughout it all my computer sounded like it was trying to become the next Chernobyl.

And I also run into one major problem where the game would get stuck trying to load a level in one of the later chapters. Selecting an earlier quick save and playing past that point solved the issue, though.

This isn’t the game we’ve all been waiting for. It isn’t Half-Life 3. And for those who just wanted any new Half-Life it may be frustrating that their patience hasn’t been rewarded with a brand-new game for the masses, instead it’s a VR game that loads of Half-Life fans won’t be able to play, perhaps for years to come. After all, virtual reality is not cheap and only a small percentage of gamers currently have the privilege of owning a VR headset. That tiny percentage is utterly dwarfed by the amount of fans who have been frothing at the mouth for years for a new Half-Life game.

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So why is it only in VR? Having played it, I can confidently tell you that it could work as a regular FPS, and indeed a mod already exists that lets you do just that. And it would be…er, okay. The story and characters and setting would all still be fantastic, but the gameplay would be standard first-person fare – hardly exciting. But like the Gravity Gun in Half-Life 2 it’s VR that makes Alyx special. Valve themselves said that they see Half-Life as a series that was always about pushing the limits of what technology can do, and with VR they really have done that.

With that saidm, Half-Life: Alyx is not the big new revolution in VR. It doesn’t push the boundry of VR in the sense of trying radical new concepts, and that’s fine. We have other games that are trying out completely new things, and they are amazing, but the thing we’ve all been waiting for is for VR to get a proper, honest video game. We’ve come close with stuff like Asgard’s Wrath, Boneworks and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, but Half-Life: Alyx feels like the first true God of War or Halo – a big-budget blockbuster that’s polished until it gleams. You probably shouldn’t buy into VR just for Half-Life: Alyx in the same way you probably shouldn’t purchase a Playstation just for God of War. But you should definitely buy into VR for Half-Life: Alyx and then for the many other amazing experiences that exist, and for all the ones yet to come. It’s simply the best VR game out there, and has raised the bar of what we know to be possible.