What Could Half-Life: Alyx Mean for VR?

April 21, 2020 by  
Filed under News

It’s been more than 12 years since the last official entry in the Half-Life series, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, was released. With Half-Life: Alyx reaching to what appears to be near-universal acclaim, speculation is high as to what this could mean for the return of the series. Perhaps even more important than this, however, is what effect Alyx could have on the overall VR market. While it might be too early to make any concrete predictions, there are some precedents here that might map future changes, and that’s what we want to look at today.

VR’s Killer App

The first generation of commercial VR, arguably started by Nintendo’s Virtual Boy back in 1995, was a critical and commercial failure. Clearly a case of reach exceeding grasp, this early monochrome system was awful in almost every way, yet the underlying appeal would never vanish from the back of public consciousness. It might have taken another 20 years, but eventually, the promises of this early system could finally begin to be realised.

With the launch of the Oculus Rift, we entered the age of VR proper, but not all went as smoothly as fans and developers had hoped. Motion sickness, processor limitations, and eye-strain were all still unfortunately common, and these are issues which persist to this day, albeit in a way that is rapidly being addressed.

VR was and is promising, but it needed a system-seller, and this is where Half-Life: Alyx comes in. Half-Life is one of the most successful and prestigious series of all time, with the main two entries being nothing short of revelations in terms of narrative structure, AI, and physics-based gameplay.

Alyx, on the other hand, looks to take what every VR does well, and raise the bar to an unprecedented new level. What early VR promised, Alyx fulfils, and doing so could easily be the biggest system-shifter the VR platform has ever seen.

Raising Influences

Among traditional video games, it is a truism that many are reticent to take risks. However, it is just as true that once a game or an aspect of a game becomes popular, many will move to ape it. This happened famously with MOBA games, battlegrounds games, GTA and Arkham like games, and many, many more. Odds are, with Alyx’s success, we could see this for VR too.

It is quite likely that smaller and more progressive subsets of entertainment, like the online casino industry, might be among the first to fully create new games for VR during a coming craze. This is because, unlike with traditional gaming, online casinos are always looking to evolve. Aiding further is the fact that casinos rely on smaller games like slots, blackjack, roulette and craps. Smaller games are easier to translate and can be done so in a shorter timeframe, making their evolution a simple choice.

Tying into this is the reason that AAA developers have, so far, mostly engaged with VR on an expansionary basis. That is to say that, rather than fully committing to a unique VR entry in a series, developers have tended to simply release existing games with VR modifications. If Alyx is a smash hit, this pattern even for the biggest AAA studious could change.

Should Alyx continue on its current route, it could be the start of something big. More sales for VR units will make a healthier market. In turn, a healthier market and more sales will encourage developers and publishers to extend beyond the basic VR implementation they most commonly turn to currently. Eventually, at least we hope, this could create a feedback loop which might be the jumpstart mainstream VR needs. At the very least, we’ve received one incredible game, and the odds of getting Half-Life 3 seem better than they’ve been in years.