After a tease earlier this week, Valve has revealed more details and a new trailer for the first new Half-Life content in over a decade. The “full-length” Half Life: Alyx will hit Steam in March 2020, Valve says, with support for “all PC-based VR headsets.” Pre-orders are already available for $59.99, though the game will be free if you own a Valve Index headset.
The game, which Valve says is “set between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2,” has been “designed from the ground up for Virtual Reality” (i.e. you can stop hoping for a 2D monitor release). “Everyone at Valve is excited to be returning to the world of Half-Life,” Valve founder Gabe Newell said in a statement. “VR has energized us.”
“We’ve invested a lot of ourselves in the technology,” Newell’s statement continues. “But we’re also game developers at heart, and to be devoting ourselves to a VR game this ambitious is just as exciting. For that to come in the form of Half-Life feels like the culmination of a lot of things we care a lot about: truly great games, cutting edge technology, and open platforms. We can’t wait for people to experience this.”
Series fans have been waiting over 13 years now since the original announcement of Half-Life 3: Episode 3 was first promised. And while many credited members of the original Half-Life 2 team are still at Valve, the intervening period has seen the departure of writers Marc Laidlaw and Chet Faliszek and animator Doug Wood. In recent months, though, the company has re-hired writers Erik Wolpaw and Jay Pinkerton, who had previously departed the company.
What we’ve seen and what we’ve heard
Today’s video trailer shows that next year’s Alyx-ization of Half-Life is equal parts abstract and concrete. The VR perspective from today’s trailer doesn’t include any floating body parts or feet; the only part of your virtual self you’ll see, at least in today’s trailer, is your hands, covered in a pair of gloves. Yet we also hear Alyx’s voice, which indicates that this game’s protagonist won’t be nearly as silent as Freeman in his own mainline adventures.
Today’s announcement includes video footage that confirms a data-leak examination by Valve News Network earlier this year: a new manipulation system dubbed the Gravity Gloves. And boy do these things look cool. Need to grab or pick something up? Point at whatever that object is (whether it’s close or far away) with an open hand until it glows orange, then close your hand and flick your wrist toward yourself to fling the item in your direction. At this point, you get a moment to physically “catch” the object in question. Point, clench, flick, catch.
These gloves appear to solve one of the trickier issues of VR gaming, where a virtual item (a weapon, some ammo) requires real-world actions, like bending over or reaching awkwardly, to manipulate with your hands. How exactly they work in the course of gameplay remains to be seen: will players use the Gravity Gloves to snatch things out of enemies’ hands? To catch and return live grenades? High-tech juggling, maybe? And what happens when you try to flick a distant object, but it’s blocked by a gate or some other obstacle?
Today’s trailer also confirms bits and pieces of the exciting HLA details I’ve previously heard about from multiple sources. For instance, the trailer includes teases of the game’s approach to VR-exclusive puzzles, particularly those that require moving hands around a three-dimensional space. Some of these puzzles will require scanning and finding clues hidden inside of the virtual world’s walls (and moving or knocking down anything hindering your ability to see or touch said walls). Other puzzles will require arranging what look like constellations or grids of stars around a 3D space in order to match certain patterns.
And then there’s the matter of familiar Half-Life creatures coming to life for the first time in over 12 years, which means they’re that much more detailed and gruesome as rendered in the Source 2 engine. That’s not entirely good news, as I’m not sure that I’m ready for a VR game where I will have to literally swat realistic-looking headcrabs as they leap at my face. But I’m excited by the possibilities.
[Update: The Steam page for the game goes into a bit more detail about the story:
The Combine’s control of the planet since the Black Mesa incident has only strengthened as they corral the remaining population in cities. Among them are some of Earth’s greatest scientists: you and your father, Dr. Eli Vance.
As founders of a fledgling resistance, you’ve continued your clandestine scientific activity—performing critical research, and building invaluable tools for the few humans brave enough to defy the Combine.
Every day, you learn more about your enemy, and every day you work toward finding a weakness.
A page on Half-Life.com adds even more details:
The loss of the Seven-Hour War is still fresh. In the shadow of a rising Combine fortress known as the Citadel, residents of City 17 learn to live under the rule of their invaders. But among this scattered population are two of Earth’s most resourceful scientists: Dr. Eli Vance and his daughter Alyx, the founders of a fledgling resistance.
You and your father were relocated to City 17. In the years since, you’ve continued your clandestine scientific activity—performing critical research, and building invaluable tools for the few humans brave enough to defy the Combine.
Half-life.com also specifies that Half-Life: Alyx can be played sitting, standing, or with “roomscale” movement. Players can use finger-tracking or trigger-based VR controllers and move around the VR environments by “teleporting” from point A to point B, “shifting” smoothly to a new position, or just walking continuously with an analog stick.
The page also highlights that players who own a Valve Index headset (or own Index controllers) by the end of 2019 will also receive the following bonuses in addition to the game itself:
- Explore environments from Half-Life: Alyx in your SteamVR Home space
- Alternate gun skins to embellish Alyx’s arsenal
- Special Half-Life: Alyx-themed content for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2
In addition to Index, Hale-Life: Alyx will be compatible with the HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality, and Oculus Rift headsets. Oculus Quest headsets will also work when connected to a PC via USB cable.
The game will also come with tools that will allow players to “build and contribute new environments for the community to enjoy” in the Source 2 engine.
The Game Awards’ Geoff Keighley has posted a 22-minute video interview with members of the Half-Life Alyx team discussing the long road to releasing a new Half-Life title. In a tweet, Keighley said the game took him over 15 hours to complete.]