We have some good news for Half-Life fans today, but that news somewhat comes with a disappointing footnote.
They Half-Life Alyx NoVR project started roughly three years ago. This was a mod that allowed you to play Half-Life Alyx using only a mouse and keyboard, and without putting on a headset. The developers describe the experience as ‘a very interesting and unusual gameplay (sometimes similar to Penumbra).’
Valve has shown their usual tolerance for mods, as Steam Achievements are still enabled if you play the game this way. So Valve is well aware that this mod exists. While one would want to commend Valve for not touching it, one might argue why Valve doesn’t just make it playable without VR themselves? But we’ll talk more about that later.
Today the devs tweeted this out:
“Our biggest update yet is out now!
The campaign can now be completed from start to finish! Gravity Gloves are working, combine fabricators can be used to upgrade your weapons & much more!
Check the reply for the link that has all the details in an article and a download link!”
If you are so interested, you can download the update here.
So, you’re probably wondering, what’s the catch? I can play it without VR, I can buy it for cheap, what could possibly go wrong?
As this reddit announcing the news points out, playing the game this way actually makes it an inferior experience. That’s because games that were made around VR, do take advantage of the unique aspects of VR, so that gamers can experience something that isn’t possible in non-VR games. There would genuinely be no point to pushing for a VR game that would potentially make less money and also be less famous than non-VR games, if the game didn’t use VR.
There are various comments on the game, such as how it makes it too easy without VR. We will focus on PyroKnight’s comments here:
“Proper ground-up VR games makes so many gameplay considerations for VR that they don’t translate over into non-VR in any satisfying way.
Some pertinent examples for HL:Alyx:
- Reloading where you have to physically go through the motions is a skill based activity and takes time, hitting the R key does not
- Fewer smarter enemies work well in VR, out of VR these pose no threat as you dink their heads with mouse-input precision
- Digging through shelves for ammo and whatnot is surprisingly engaging in VR, out of VR all the key items would just be obfuscated behind hard to interact with objects
- Decoupling aim from where you’re looking allows for some neat tactics including shooting/throwing around corners
- A majority of puzzles in this games are designed around having dual 6 degree of freedom inputs (your hands, that can move in any which way)
- The gravity gloves are made to be satisfying to use in VR, the gravity gun is what makes more sense for fun out of VR
- The game is designed around the limitations of the human body (how quick you turn/crouch/etc) and all of that goes out the window when you can do mouse flicks and press c for instant crouching
- And much more
Playing the game modded to non-VR will get rid of so many nuanced decisions made by the devs to yield maximum satisfaction in VR that it’ll become a shadow of itself. It’s a fun technical exercise of course but you’d be stripping away so much of what makes this game great in its moment to moment gameplay that it very much remains a technical exercise unless you make some pretty drastic changes to all aspects of the gameplay (and some aspects of the level geometry).
Edit: More succinctly, the game gets praise primarily for its moment-to-moment gameplay, which is all designed for VR. There’s some fun story/banter in there that frames the gameplay, but a strawberry shortcake without the cake or the cream is just a bowl of strawberries; still tasty, but a letdown for those expecting a strawberry shortcake.”
While there is something to be said for this mod as an accessibility aid, overall Half-Life Alyx NoVR may not be the godsend that gamers who didn’t want to buy or use VR were hoping.
Steam would have to remake, not port, Half-Life Alyx outside of VR so that it would be an enjoyable experience. And if Valve did something like that, it would definitely be taken as a hint that VR isn’t quite going to make it. For now, we expect Valve to show they still have hopes for the technology by leaving Half-Life Alyx alone.