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The latest Half-Life: Alyx patch, Update 1.2, brings a handful of adjustments and fixes, as well as improved support for left-handed players.
When you start a new game in Half-Life: Alyx, the game asks you to select your ‘Weapon Hand’ which becomes the hand to which weapons are attached. At launch, the implementation of the ‘Weapon Hand’ selection meant that if you picked the right hand then you’d wield your weapon with that hand and your movement controls would be on the left hand (as expected), but if you picked the left hand, the weapon would go in your left hand and the movement controls would go on your right hand.
This is odd compared to how most modern VR games handle locomotion, which is to always put the movement controls on the left hand and the rotation controls in the right hand, regardless of which hand the player wants to hold their gun with.
Valve apparently got the message that tying the movement and rotation controls together with weapon-handedness made things feel off for left-handed players, and the latest version of Half-Life: Alyx, Update 1.2, now makes these options independent from one another.
The update also added an option to display subtitles only on the spectator view, which will be helpful for streamers and local spectators who can’t hear the sound in the headset. Additionally, Valve changed the Height Adjust accessibility options to be clearer and improved the default Height Adjust button binding for some controllers.
The update also brought performance and UI adjustments, and a handful of crash fixes. See the Update 1.2 patch notes for full details.
With this update Valve also published a Half-Life: Alyx Performance Tips page to help players tune their computers and the game for the smoothest performance; it’s worth going over if you’ve been having performance issues with the game .
The Vive Cosmos had a shaky start, but HTC has made a lot of improvements to its latest VR headset. And those updates (which I’ll cover soon) may make you want to pick one up to play games like Half-Life: Alyx. This is especially true if you already own the original Vive. To encourage those VR enthusiasts to upgrade, HTC plans to sell a standalone version of the Cosmos head-mounted display. The company is also beginning sales of the External Tracking Faceplate, which enables the Cosmos to work with the Vive’s lighthouse trackers.
The Vive Cosmos headset begins shipping in April for $549. This saves you $150 over the $700 Vive Cosmos bundle that comes with the controllers. You can then also have the option of purchasing the External Tracking Faceplate for $199. That add-on enables your base stations to track the Cosmos because it otherwise uses its built-in inside-out tracking cameras. The faceplate begins shipping in Q2.
It may all seem confusing if you’re just getting into VR. But the best option if you’re starting from zero (and already have a powerful PC) is to still get a bundled system. This could mean the $700 Cosmos bundle. Or you could get the $899 option that comes with Vive Cosmos Elite, the base stations, and controllers.
But today’s announcement from HTC is about catering to the VR early adopters. Those customers have already made investments in VR hardware, and now they want to pick and choose where they upgrade. The standalone Cosmos and External Faceplate Tracker enables that choice.
Facebook signed a deal to buy several years of the entire output of a key AR microLED display supplier Apple looked at acquiring, The Information reports.
Mark Zuckerberg’s company spends “billions” of dollars researching augmented and virtual reality technology. It has publicly stated its goal of releasing lightweight AR glasses this decade, with the eventual goal of replacing the smartphone as the primary computing device for regular people.
Reports indicate that both companies plan to first ship glasses in 2023. This could lead to fierce competition between the two giants throughout this decade. Microsoft is focusing first on the enterprise market and Google appears to be taking things slow after early efforts in “smart” eyewear failed to take off.
MicroLED: The Future of Displays
Almost all electronic displays today are either LCD (including its many variants) or OLED. LCD pixels provide color, while a separate backlight provides light and, overall, this approach limits contrast. OLED pixels are self-emissive, enabling true blacks and infinite contrast.
Just to be clear here, “miniLED”, “QLED”, and similar names are just marketing terms for variants of LCD, improving backlight technology and adding shutters for better contrast.
MicroLED is a relatively new display technology. It’s self-emissive like OLED, but should be orders of magnitude brighter than OLED, as well as significantly more power efficient. This makes them uniquely suitable for consumer AR glasses, which need to be usable even on sunny days yet powered by a small and light battery.
While all major electronics companies (including Samsung, Sony, and Apple) are actively researching microLED, no company has yet figured out how to affordably mass manufacture it for a consumer product.
Plessey Semiconductors Ltd
Plessey is a UK-based firm manufacturing microLED displays intended for AR headsets and HUDs (heads-up-displays). It was founded in 2010 to build high powered lighting, but in 2017 made a complete pivot to the microLED market.
So what makes Plessey special? Why has Facebook signed this deal, and why was Apple interested in acquisition?
The firm focused specifically on microdisplays, rather than competing for smartphone or TV sized panels.
In May 2019, the firm achieved the world’s first 1080p monolithic microdisplay with individually addressable microLEDs. Monolithic means the display is made on a single wafer.
The company claims that this monolithic approach enables displays to be manufactured faster and cheaper than trying to bond individual microLEDs to a substrate, which is the alternative approach.
At Display Week 2019, the firm showed a demonstration display to the world. Despite being just 0.7″ diagonal, it has a resolution of 1920×1080 and is capable of hundreds of thousands or even millions of nits- several orders of magnitude brighter than current AR headsets. The firm claims it can make microLEDs small enough for a 4K display of the same size.
Don’t get too excited just yet, however. Plessey’s display so far is monochrome, showing only blue- the native color of microLEDs. To display red or green, phosphors or “quantum dot conversion materials” have to be used, which currently have very low efficiency.
A Key Supplier?
According to the report, Plessey is “one of the few makers” of microLED displays suitable for AR glasses.
In March 2019, the company figured out how to manufacture native green microLEDs. In December, it cracked native red too.
Developing a native full color (RGB) microdisplay is on Plessey’s 2020 roadmap. If it can achieve this and figure out how to manufacture it at scale before other competitors, it could be a significant boost for Facebook’s AR plans with this deal.
Unless Apple can find a suitable alternative, Facebook might be able to launch viable consumer glasses earlier or cheaper.
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With the help of Oculus, YouTube sensation The Slo Mo Guys has launched an eight-part mini-series on Oculus Quest via Oculus TV. The mini-series brings the channel’s signature high-speed footage into the 3D realm.
In the latest example of Oculus’ unfortunately segmented ecosystem, Oculus has brought a new Slo Mo Guys mini-series to its mobile headsets (Quest, Go, and Gear VR) via Oculus TV, an app which unfortunately isn’t available on the company’s Rift headsets.
The footage is shot as 180° 3D video with segments captured at 1,000 frames per second for that sweet slow-motion action. The eight-part mini-series covers classic slow motion fodder like fire breathing, katana slicing, and colored powder bombs, as well as some lesser seen stuff like rubber bands around a watermelon.
Below all of the episodes on Oculus TV are linked which allows you to use the ‘Save to VR’ button to bookmark the episodes to watch later on your mobile Oculus headset:
It’s a bummer that this content isn’t available more widely across Oculus’ ecosystem simply because the Oculus TV app isn’t available on Rift, but this is one part of a systemic division between the company’s mobile and PC headsets.
We’ve seen Oculus repeatedly struggle to unite its headsets into a cohesive ecosystem by not offering consistent apps and functionality across all of its headsets. Similarly, we’ve seen how Quill Theater has brought curated VR artwork, animations, and stories to Quest but not to Rift. Same for Oculus Venues, which lets Oculus’ mobile headsets watch live events with friends. And not to mention the way that Oculus is rapidly pushing experimental features like hand-tracking to Quest while its PC headset remains mostly static.
COVID-19 is leading a number of VR development studios to work from home in order to protect workers, their families, and communities from the spread of the disease. While the switch to new working conditions and schedules might affect productivity in the ongoing development of VR projects, we’ve also heard from sources that the quality assurance testing processes for companies like Sony and Facebook may be affected as well.
That could mean delays for upcoming VR games on some platforms.
We reached out to Sony and Facebook about potential delays to VR software projects releasing this year on PlayStation and Oculus Quest, respectively. We’ll update this post if we hear back from Sony, while Facebook responded with a comment saying that they are “working with” their Quality Assurance testing company Keywords Studios and others “to transition to a work from home model for testing.” The transition “may impact the ship date of some titles,” a Facebook company spokesperson wrote in an email to UploadVR.
“We are working with Keywords and others to ensure that they are meeting their local government health guidance—we have been working with them to transition to a work from home model for testing. This transition may impact the ship date of some titles. We’re working closely with Keywords and our developers to keep projects moving, but the health and safety of our partners is the first priority,” the statement from Facebook reads.
With new game consoles planned for 2020 from Microsoft and Sony and the leak of a new development kit for a Facebook VR headset — amid dramatic workplace changes and cascading effects related to COVID-19 — both security and tensions are high at many companies. Facebook partnered with Keywords Studios and its associated studios to test products approved for release on the Oculus Store. A post from Canadian labor news and analysis website Rankandfile.ca over the weekend alleged workers at Keywords “are pressured to work on-site through the COVID-19 pandemic.” I sent emails to Keywords seeking comment and will update this post if we hear back.
Quality assurance is somewhat specialized work with extremely strict guidelines placed on workers to not disclose the intellectual property of partners. Please reach out to[email protected] with any information related to the safety of workers ensuring the quality of VR products.
The production of headsets like Valve Index and Oculus Quest were impacted in recent weeks as the entire circuit of large-scale in-person technology conferences was cancelled or postponed. Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and other major tech companies transitioned to work from home for their workers.
The Daily Roundup is our comprehensive coverage of the VR industry wrapped up into one daily email, delivered directly to your inbox.
After years of quiet development, Half-Life: Alyx is finally here. With hype on all sides—as Valve’s first full-fledged VR game and the first Half-Life game in more than a decade—does it deliver? Read on to find out in our full Half-Life: Alyx review.
Half-Life: Alyx Details:
While VR game design is very different from flat-screen game design, Valve has done an excellent job in Half-Life: Alyx of keeping the essence of what makes a Half-Life game. Though the pace is slower and more thoughtful, those who have played the prior titles will feel themselves thrust into the Half-Life universe more deeply than ever before.
Gameplay in Half-Life: Alyx is split between exploration, puzzle solving, and combat. Combat is less of a run-and-gun affair than the prior games, and while you’ll be confronted with fewer enemies, individual enemies are more threatening and combat takes on a decidedly more personal tone.
Although the game is effectively linear, there’s so much visual and interactive detail in the environment around you that Half-Life: Alyx still fosters a sense of exploration. As you explore you’ll want to keep your eyes out for the game’s scarce resources like ammo, health, grenades, and especially ‘Resin’ (small chunks of material used for upgrading weapons). Where other VR titles sometimes make resource collection feel tedious, the thoughtful placement (and even occasional mini-puzzles) make finding resources in Half-Life: Alyx feel truly rewarding.
This is aided in a huge way by the Gravity Gloves, which let you grab objects from a distance rather than needing to walk within arm’s reach of each thing you want to pick up. To use the Gravity Gloves, you’ll need to first ‘tether’ an object and then do a ‘pulling’ gesture to initiate a force pull. When you do, the object launches in a satisfying arc right toward your hand to be caught.
This might seem like a subtle tweak to existing ‘force pull’ mechanics in other VR games, but in practice it’s engaging, fun, and almost makes you feel like you have a telekinetic superpower. The targeting system and initiation gesture also work together to greatly minimize the number of accidental force pulls compared to what I’ve seen in many other VR games. The system is so successful that I expect to see this approach to force pull used in many future VR titles.
One of the things you’ll often be collecting thanks to your Gravity Glove powers is Resin for upgrading your guns. Resin is not in ample supply, so diligent explorers who manage to find most of it along their way will be able to upgrade their weapons sooner than others. Upgrades feel meaningful and can only be done at upgrade stations which are occasionally found throughout the game.
While the weapons in Half-Life: Alyx are satisfying in both their interactions and firing, unfortunately there’s not many to speak of. Instead of picking up guns wherever, you’ll only get access to three weapons throughout the game which are bound to you. There’s the pistol, shotgun, and a Combine pulse rifle. Worse, as you upgrade the Pistol and pulse rifle, they overlap (instead of diverge) in their combat roles, making them less unique over time.
I was disappointed to not see a wider variety of Half-Life’s unique weapons represented in the game, especially when there are opportunities abound for VR-specific interactions. In particular, I often found myself wanting a precision long-range option in Half-Life: Alyx. The iconic Half-Life crossbow would have been an awesome fit, not only for its interactive affordances (loading and heating the rebar bolt) but also for the experience of pinning enemies to walls (and being able to see that up close in VR). With Valve planning to release a full range of modding tools, I hope that the modding community will be able to help out with this in time.
The tight weapon set seems partly the result of Valve’s choice to largely avoid linked two-handed interactions. While operating your weapons does require two hands, there’s no weapons in the game that are held with both hands, and very few moments in the game involve two-handed interactions.
The game’s small arsenal also impacts it in other ways. While in Half-Life 2 it felt like a reward to discover the rarer ammo for the game’s unique guns (like rebar for the crossbow or orbs for the pulse rifle’s secondary fire), with less gun types there’s fewer things for Alyx to reward players with for their exploration. Resin is always a welcomed find, but it can be a bit of a let down to spot a hidden supply box and smash it open only to find a single pistol magazine or a health syringe inside.
Combat pacing starts quite slowly with headcrab zombies as the main threat in the first third of the game. It’s clear that Valve wanted to give players ample time to learn how to move, use their Gravity Gloves, and operate their weapons before introducing them to more dynamic enemies. Even so, the headcrab zombies can feel like a threat in close quarters, and Valve has no qualms about putting your combat training to the test by making sure you can reload in the dark…
Later in the game you’ll face off against Combine soldiers which are distinctly more threatening. Even on Normal difficulty, combat is relatively unforgiving, and a single soldier won’t hesitate to take you down if you aren’t careful. You’ll absolutely want to find some cover and keep your head down when the bullets start flying your way.
Like weapons, enemy variety is minimal. Combine soldiers come roughly in three types of difficulty and don’t present particularly unique threats. Especially in the later stages of the game when your guns have seen some upgrades, killing Combine soldiers amounts to aiming your laser sight at their head and holding the trigger until they die. Getting up close and personal with the shotgun is riskier, but far more satisfying.
Though sporadic, there’s a few interesting standout enemies that add some intrigue, including a unique enemy that’s part of a masterful sequence that’s simply unmatched in execution elsewhere in VR. I don’t want to spoil this for you, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed my time with ‘Jeff’.
For me, Alyx’s larger puzzles felt like classic Half-Life fare and struck a good balance of challenge without tedium; I never felt completely stumped, but the game still managed to make me feel clever after figuring out the solution.
If you get stuck on the bigger puzzles, stepping back and assessing the situation is usually enough for a clue to reveal itself. Even the smaller ‘hacking’ puzzles—which open things like doors, supply bins, or upgrade stations—manage to stay interesting thanks to gently increasing complexity.
Though I wished the game offered a greater variety of weapons and enemies, the limited roster is part of a broader trend in Half-Life: Alyx which is all about keeping gameplay streamlined and fun. While the game doesn’t offer much in the way of mechanical innovation, what is there is polished to a sheen. Valve has managed to craft Alyx in way which avoids much of the clunk seen in many other VR titles, and I felt compelled to keep pushing forward throughout the 12 hours it took me to beat the campaign.
From the first moment you find yourself standing in the menu screen, it’s clear that there’s a certain gravity to Half-Life: Alyx that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else in VR; this is what it feels like to step into the struggle for City 17.
With heaps of environmental and interactive detail, Valve has crafted an incredibly immersive world. Aside from nearly every small object in the game being physically interactive, there’s just so much to look at. Collectively, Half-Life: Alyx is the most detailed VR game I’ve ever played. With consistently great art direction and impressively crisp anti-aliasing, the game’s visuals are top-notch.
While Alyx impresses with interactive details like turnable sink faucets, flippable light-switches which actually turn on lights, and liftable toilet seats, there are a few immersion misses.
For one, there’s essentially no melee in the game at all. This is a bit jarring when many of the game’s enemies want to get right up into your face, and especially after Boneworks (2019) showed how useful it is just to be able to stagger enemies by shoving them back with your hands when they get too close.
Another immersion issue I found is that equipping weapons is done with a gesture menu and, once equipped, the weapons stick to your pre-selected ‘weapon hand’ whether you are ‘gripping’ the weapon or not. This means that weapons can’t be passed between your hands, thrown, or anything else, making them feel decidedly less like part of the game’s otherwise quite physical world. And when you’re done fighting and want both your hands free to interact with the world, you need to use a button to ‘equip’ your hand; a decidedly non-immersive action.
While this design choice does cut out much of the VR clunk that can come from a fiddly holster system, Alyx feels a bit behind the times in this department after seeing smooth and compelling holster mechanics from the likes of Blood & Turth (2019) and Stormland (2019); the latter’s ‘magnetic holster’ system—which automatically re-attaches weapons to your holster if dropped—would have been a perfect thematic fit with the Gravity Gloves.
Much of Alyx’s rich immersion comes from its incredibly detailed world, including occasional side-paths that sometimes reveal optional scenes which reward your curiosity and flesh out the game world.
With hands that don’t clip through the environment and so many interactive objects scattered about, there’s a sense of solidity to the world which helps drive consistent immersion. At one point I was rummaging through a filing cabinet looking for resources; after pulling open the bottom-most drawer, I stood up and just about went to kick it shut with my foot… before remembering that the game isn’t actually tracking my feet.
While Half-Life: Alyx’s story is engaging enough to justify the ongoing action, not all that much really happens beyond what’s necessary to keep you moving toward your goal. That’s not to say that Alyx isn’t consequential to the plot of Half-Life overall, though the way that it intersects with the plot of the other games in the franchise feels sudden, significant, and a bit clumsy. Avoiding spoilers; I’m not quite sure what the reaction of most players will be, but I think there’s likely to be a lot of discussion around this post-launch.
Half-Life: Alyx supports teleportation, dashing, continuous locomotion, and a range of other comfort options like snap turn adjustments, ‘real’ ladder climbing, and whether or not you want barnacles to be able to actually lift you off the ground. Throughout my time playing Half-Life: Alyx I felt that the game did a great job of maintaining comfort.
Valve clearly spent time thinking about how Half-Life: Alyx should work with each of the VR controllers out there. While there’s some minor ways in which they don’t follow established input patterns that VR vets would be familiar with, they did a great job overall and no matter which controller you use, the game feels equally playable.
Alyx feels like it was first and foremost designed for standing play in room-scale playspaces with teleportation or dashing. Continuous locomotion works well, though the game doesn’t feature a real ‘jump’, and instead uses a ‘mantle’ (which sort of slides you up onto objects) or a teleport jump when you need to cross a gap. Sometimes the game asks you to teleport jump across large gaps that don’t look entirely jumpable at first glance, making for the occasional moment of confusion before you realize where to go.
Those with tight playspaces will likely feel cramped at times, as many of the game’s mechanics seem to want you to reach and lean quite a bit, especially the ‘power’ puzzles where you use Alyx’s multi-tool to scan for power lines in the walls.
For the same reason (reaching and leaning), seated play doesn’t feel great, though it fares a bit better with continuous locomotion rather than teleportation. Granted, there’s an option in the game to allow you to adjust your height from seated up to a standing position or down to a crouching position. At the time of playing I wasn’t able to get these options to work correctly, though if I did I think I would have preferred to use the option to play most of the game at standing height (even while playing seated) considering how many of the game’s environmental interactions take place at shoulder-height. I’ve reached out to Valve for more guidance on the height adjustment controls.
I found one oddity with ladders—though I had the ‘real ladder climbing’ option enabled, the vast majority of ladders would automatically teleport me to the top or bottom if I misplaced my grab on a single rung. I found this more annoying than uncomfortable, as I had already indicated to the game that wanted to climb the ladders on my own.
If you are especially claustrophobic or unable to handle immersive horror, Half-Life: Alyx could definitely be a challenge. Some of the scarrier sections of the game will plonk you down you in the dark with a flashlight as your only source of light, constraining the limited field of view of your headset even more.
Reviewing Half-Life: Alyx has been a stressful endeavor. Part of that is the usual rigors of critiquing a game (trying to beat it before a deadline). But this VR experience is landing at a time when a pandemic is taking hold over the world. So, you know, I may already be a bit on edge. Bundle that with how playing VR can be uncomfortable and Alyx’s more survival-horror take on the franchise, and I often wished that I didn’t have to play this game at this particular moment in history.
This doesn’t mean that Half-Life: Alyx, which is available now for PC VR, is a bad game. It’s far from it. The expert Valve triple-A craftsmanship of old is back. Technically, this is the most impressive VR game I’ve ever played (thanks in part to the Valve Index I was playing it on). It’s an incredibly immersive experience.
It’s just one I didn’t really want to be immersed in right now.
What you’ll like
Alyx has some of the most impressive VR wizardry I’ve ever seen. A lot of it is tied to your gravity gloves, which are both your virtual hands and user interface. You can also use these to pull items toward you. You just aim a hand in the objects general direction and flick your wrist to whip it toward you … and then you have to catch it. It makes something mundane, like picking up ammo off the ground, fun and interactive.
Gunfights are also exhilarating in VR. I was actually ducking and peeking behind cover, sometimes even dropping onto my knees (thank god I played in a carpeted room). This gives fights a kind of tension you can’t feel in a normal first-person experience. Small things also stand out, like medical stimpacks that you have to literally shoot into your chest or thigh and the grenades that you have to squeeze in your hand to activate.
Above: No gravity gun, but you do have gravity gloves.
Modding your weapons
You have just a few guns in Half-Life: Alyx, but you can improve all of them with special stations throughout the game. For example, you can add a laser sight to your pistol, extra ammo storage for your assault rifle, or even a grenade launcher for your shotgun.
These upgrades cost resin, which are scattered around the game. And I do mean that they are scattered. You’ll be turning over buckets, looking into the rafters, and opening drawers trying to find as much resin as possible. It’s a great incentive to have you exploring every corner and nook of every room.
Using your brain
Puzzles are a big focus in Alyx. Sometimes you’re hacking into electronics by connecting nodes in a holographic display (which you can rotate with one hand). Others are based on your environment, like figuring out how to get power to an lift and then dislodge it from a a giant pipe stuck in its supports.
One sequence involves a nasty monster that will kill you as soon as it comes into contact with you. On the bright side, it’s blind. However, it can hear just fine. You can do things like throw bottles to distract it. The game has a lot of fun with this part, and it’s easily the highlight of the whole experience. Sometimes you’ll open a door and knock over a glass, only giving you a second to reach out and grab it before it crashes to the ground. You can even cover your mouth by moving your real hands up to your face.
Going back to Half-Life
Half-Life 2 is one of my favorite games ever, so it’s great to finally be playing a new game in this series. Even small things, like seeing a headcrab again or hearing that iconic Half-Life healing sound effect, get me excited. And since it’s been so many years since the last Half-Life game, 2007’s Half-Life 2: Episode Two, the graphics and character animations have seen some big upgrades
Looking toward the future
I won’t spoil anything, but I was worried that Half-Life: Alyx being a prequel would mean that we wouldn’t see the series’ story move forward. This isn’t the case.
What you won’t like
Playing this game right now
I almost feel bad holding this against the game, but now is a rough time to play something that immerses you into an intense, 10-hour long experience in a postapocalyptic world filled with monsters and lots of other things that want to kill you.
Compared to Half-Life 2, Alyx leans more into the survival-horror genre. Enemies hit harder, ammo is scarce, and health is limited. It’s not as fast or action-based as Half-Life 2. Now, this makes a lot of sense for the VR transition. Atmosphere is a big part of VR, and leaning more into horror elements is one way to create a more visceral experience.
But it can become mentally exhausting. I would play in sessions between one or two hours long, and I’d be straight up fatigued after them. Now, I suppose that means that the game is doing its job. But considering how stressed out I already am about being in shelter-in-place and practicing social distancing, I have to say that I’m envious of my friends who were spending all of their time catching virtual fish and paying off digital home loans.
And while the situation in the real world is obviously out of Valve’s control, the game isn’t doing itself any favors with levels that drag (there’s a part where you’re stuck in the same hotel for what felt like hours) and a limited color palette. And despite the length of the game, you often feel like you’re going through the same environments: dilapidated buildings, creepy underground areas, and abandoned streets.
Above: It’s a bleak, bleak world.
Half-Life: Alyx is often so immersive and impressive that it can be frustrating when the VR has its inevitable hiccups. One of my biggest problems involved the stickiness of grabbing and holding onto items. My hands would latch onto objects I wasn’t trying to grab, or I’d have a hard time getting my virtual fingers to let go of a door knob.
Then there’s the classic VR locomotion problem. You do have options to move around the game world in a normal manner, but these make me sick and disoriented almost immediately. Instead, I have to opt for the default traversal, which has you using short-range teleportation. It doesn’t make me nearly as queasy, but it isn’t all that immersive. This is a classic VR problem, and despite Alyx’s many amazing technical achievements, it doesn’t find the solution to this conundrum.
Half-Life: Alyx is one of the most immersive and impressive VR games out there. If you’re a fan of VR or of the Half-Life series, it’s an easy recommendation. But if you don’t want to play something this stressful at this particular moment, I wouldn’t blame you. This game makes Half-Life 2 look like a fun jot through Disneyland. Alyx ups the scares and the pressure with its focus on survival-horror.
That certainly makes Half-Life: Alyx the most intense entry in the franchise yet. But it isn’t as fun as Half-Life 2. That game had you feeling like a god, while Alyx will have you feeling like prey. Now, some of this comes down to personal preference. I’ve never been a big horror guy. But even with that aside, Alyx doesn’t quite have the variety or charm of Half-Life 2 or other Valve masterpieces like Portal 2.
But judged on its merits as a VR game, it excels. If you’re looking for something to wow you with what the technology can do, this will get that job done.
Half-Life: Alyx is out now for PC VR devices. Valve gave us a code for the game and a Valve Index headset for this review.
After two rejections from Facebook and procuring nearly 80,000 downloads for Oculus Quest anyway, the developers of Time Crisis-inspired Crisis VRigade are seeking community support as they launch a co-op mode.
The new pay-as-you-want Itchio store page for the free SideQuest game coincides with the launch of a cooperative mode. You and a couple partners can take on Crisis VRigade’s three challenging levels together. The developers say it includes full co-op across all platforms, so players on PSVR (once the co-op update is approved by Sony) or PC VR could partner up with a player on Quest.
Check out gameplay from the first level in co-op mode below. I played on my Oculus Quest in California with our writer Harry Baker on his Quest in Australia. Taking cover together behind walls, police vehicles, desks and more, we found it to be one of the best things we’ve played from SideQuest and a true joy in co-op. We used Quest’s party chat to communicate but barely spoke because of the intense gameplay. We also moved so much we ended up drawing our Guardian walls to the absolute maximum of available space in our homes.
This week I also interviewed in our virtual studio Spain-based Sumalab developer Diego Martín about the rejections from Facebook, how it affected them, and how community support via the Itchio page for the title could affect their plans going forward. Right now, they’re planning a sequel that’ll take the work they’ve done with the first Crisis VRigade and build on it with a focus on Steam and PSVR first. That said, how much support they see from the VR community to their Itchio page for the original game on SideQuest could affect their plans for the sequel.
If you’re in social isolation due to the Coronavirus, then, Sumalab just released a pretty entertaining way to take out some bad guys with friends on all popular VR headsets, and it side-stepped approval from Facebook in the process. PC VR players can find it on Steam here.
You can download Crisis VRigade on SideQuest for free here and, if you’re unfamiliar with the process, we also have instructions for sideloading content onto Oculus Quest.
This story originally appeared on Uploadvr.com. Copyright 2020
Hope you’re staying safe indoors! We’ve got our weekly news roundup to help you catch up with any headlines you might’ve missed.
Fortunately, it’s a pretty busy week so we might be able to take your mind off of things. First up, there’s the official reveal of the PS5 specs, long speculated, now known to the world. Sony announced the specs in a very long and complicated stream earlier this week. There it also snuck in the news that PS5 won’t be able to play every PS4 game at launch. What does this mean for PSVR support? Sony hasn’t yet said, but we’ll hopefully find out soon.
Next, Facebook essentially held GDC all by itself this week with big updates on Quest. The standalone headset is getting a brand new user-interface and, more importantly, a heck of a lot of brand new games too. Beat Saber updates, Phantom: Covert Ops dates and Echo VR alphas, we’ve got the lot.
Finally, rounding out the VR trinity, we’ve got an update on Half-Life: Alyx. You can pre-load the game ready for release on Monday… right now! Yes, now. What are you waiting for? It unlocks at 10am on the 23rd, which is when we’ll have our full review too!
We’re also going over your comments for the week, talking about how coronavirus might impact the VR arcade industry. Oh, and we’re giving you a chance to win BoxVR, the perfect game for keeping fit at home.
GIVEAWAY: Win A Free Copy Of BoxVR on Oculus Quest!
Here are other top stories that didn’t make it into the VRecap this week:
Facebook Leaks Codename For ‘Del Mar’ Standalone Headset With ‘Jedi Controller’
Someone Climbed Half-Life: Alyx’s Citadel In SteamVR Home
Oculus Quest To Get ‘Prototype’ OpenXR Support Later This Month
When Does Our Half-Life: Alyx Review Embargo Lift?
B-Team Is Coming To Oculus Quest Later This Month
Okay, that’s you sorted for the week. We’ll see you in seven days. Why not check out some other headlines in the meantime?
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Looking for an Oculus Rift S? You may be disappointed to hear that the $400 PC VR headset is now officially sold out globally. We have a few alternatives you might consider though.
Rift S stocks persevered up until just last week in the only remaining regions where you could order direct from Oculus, which included Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Taiwan.
Now every supported country is out of stock, leaving only a few Oculus Quests in some last holdout regions. You may still be able to find Rift S at independent retailers, but with social distancing coming into effect, you’re probably not the only person out there looking for a distraction from reality; because of disruptions in the supply chain due to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), there’s little indication when stock for either headset will be replenished.
Come March 23rd, Valve’s continuation of the Half-Life series is set to launch on all SteamVR-compatible headsets, breaking a 13-year gap between Half-Life 2: Episode 2 (2007) and the upcoming HL2 prequel Half-Life: Alyx. At $400, Rift S represents one of the best price-performance ratios out there, which may explain why the last remaining stock was snapped up. Check out our Rift S review here for more.
If you’re wondering how to play HLA when it launches, you could of course pay the a markup through independent sellers on eBay and Amazon, but you might consider a few other SteamVR-compatible headsets currently available too.
HTC Vive Comos & Cosmos Elite
HTC Vive Cosmos is a pricey alternative at $700, and while HTC’s faceplate modularity scheme aims to appeal to a wider audience, it’s difficult to recommend the base headset due to its finicky inside-out tracking and power-hungry motion controllers. Here’s our review for Vive Cosmos if you’re on the fence.
The premium-priced Cosmos Elite, which was recently released, does the job of eliminating all tracking weirdness with its included SteamVR faceplate and 1.0 base stations, but it does so at a hefty $900 price tag which puts it just under HTC Vive Pro in pricing. That $900 is admittedly offset somewhat by a free code for Half-Life: Alyx in the box though.
HTC Vive Pro & Valve Index
Yes, Vive Pro is still available too, even though HTC is phasing it out soon along with the standalone Vive Focus. Vive Pro is more expensive as an all-in package at $1,200, but it’s undeniably a solid headset. Both Cosmos Elite and Vive Pro use the 2016-era Vive wands though, which could conceivably be swapped out for Valve Index controllers at a later date for $200. Check out our review of Vive Pro here.
There’s also Valve Index—clearly the best-in-class specs wise—although it’s not only $1,000 for the full kit, the lead time for shipping is currently at eight weeks.
Pimax VR & More
Pimax has a load of different headsets; they seem to change their large FOV headset lineup every six months, further adding to the confusion. The Pimax 5K XR is however included in a pretty enticing bundle that included everything you need to get into VR for $1,100, which includes a pair of Index controllers, two SteamVR 2.0 base stations, and a code for Half-Life: Alyx too.
Unfortunately the entry-level Pimax Artisan, which retails for $450 for the headset alone is currently out of stock.
Remember, if you have an Oculus Quest and a VR-ready PC, you could conceivably buy an Oculus Link USB cable and play.
And finally, one of the cheapest ways of playing Half-Life: Alyx is invariably getting a used Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or Windows Mixed Reality headset. Just make sure to sanitize it thoroughly. Please.
Did we miss anything? Let us known in the comments below!