In a new video from Tested, a popular YouTube channel, Tested Editor Norman Chan and Co-Founder Will Smith traveled to the Valve office in Washington state to play Half-Life: Alyx on 8 different headsets.
The tech experts, known as Norm and Will to their audience, played around three hours of the game on the Valve Index on their first day, and then tested Oculus Rift S, Quest, HTC Vive, Vive Cosmos, Samsung Odyssey+, Rift CV1, and Pimax 5K.
We’ve summed up everything we learned about Half-Life: Alyx from the video – both from Tested‘s hardware examination and what we could see from the footage of the game playing in the background. We of course highly recommend watching the video, embedded below, but we wanted to provide a summary for folks with less time available.
Some mechanics, plot details and UI elements are not finalized
Norm said that he couldn’t talk about plot details and mechanics of the game because Valve is still actively working on some of these elements. He also couldn’t talk too in-depth about elements like performance, control schemes and the user interface, as they’re yet to be finalized as well. That being said, we got a few extra tidbits of things like control schemes, which you can see below.
Norm said that the campaign is around 15 hours, depending on how you play the game.
Quality over Quantity
Norm and Will were both impressed with the quality and detail of the game as a whole.
“The amount of quality of art in this game is astounding,” said Will. “You can interact with so much stuff, you can force pull it over to you … and the sound is spectacular. It’s dynamic sound all around – you hear things above and below. And the levels are vertical and expansive. I’ve been thrilled so far.”
“Undoubtedly the game is high production value,” said Norm. “It’s a rich world that they’ve put a lot of resources into.”
Teleport and smooth locomotion are both available as movement options in the game, and Norm tried both. However, most of the footage in the video itself is using teleport movement.
When Will asked Norm how the smooth locomotion system handled vertical movements, like vaulting onto or over objects like a table, Norm responded that he thinks that is “something that they are figuring out right now.”
As we already knew, in Half-Life: Alyx you play as the titular character Alyx Vance in a story set before the events of Half-Life 2. In the tested video, Norm confirmed that, despite playing as her, you will hear Alyx talk to other characters and NPCs in the game through voice acting. This marks a shift away from previous Valve games, which often feature mute characters such as Chell in the Portal series or Gordon Freeman in previous Half-Life games.
The video includes some information regarding the game’s control scheme. As expected, pushing the left stick forward allows you to select an area to teleport to, or enables lateral traversal when using smooth locomotion. Quick turn is bound to the right stick. Weapon selection is on the trackpad for controllers with those, such as the Index controllers, but is bound to a right stick click/press on controllers without touchpads. Will noted that this often led to him accidentally quick turning when trying to change weapons on those systems.
The game uses a manual reload that you complete by reaching over your shoulder, in order to grab a magazine or more ammo. You then manually load this into your gun by sliding out your empty magazine and loading the new magazine with your non-shooting hand.
Overall, Norm and Will reported that the over the shoulder actions worked well even on inside-out tracking systems, found in headsets such as the Rift S.
Gravity Gloves Gameplay
We got our first proper look at some gameplay with the gravity gloves. The gloves will allow you to force-pull objects to your body from afar, which becomes a handy in-game explanation for not requiring people being close to objects in order to use them.
Pulling objects close with the gloves allows you to grab items and throw them back into the environment, both at items and to solve puzzles it seems. Both Norm and Will were very satisfied with how the throwing and grabbing mechanics felt, even without Index controllers.
Pressing the button for switching weapons will bring up a small selection of weapons on a right-aligned head-up display, as pictured above, allowing you to quickly switch between guns and other available weapons.
Sights and No Auto-Aim
The game does not use auto-aim. The guns are all hitscan weapons and have sights that you’ll have to use in order to aim and shoot effectively.
If you look at the footage on any of the computer monitors in the background of the Tested video, it appears that the flatscreen render of the game has a different display for information like health and ammo in similar manner to non-VR, traditional PC games. This may mean someone streaming Half-Life: Alyx, or a spectator watching someone else play the game in the same room, should be able to see this information in a flatscreen-friendly manner.
Whether this will be present in the final build, of course, is uncertain.
At the end of their testing, Norm and Will came to the conclusion that the game was “awesome on everything.” They had fun playing the game on every headset, and reported that it looked great and worked well on every one of them overall. Some headsets do have their own disadvantages, however, which you can read about specifically below.
Oculus Touch Controllers Work Well
While testing the Oculus Rift S, Norm and Will reported that the Touch controllers worked well. We should note here, though, our own reporting confirms some optional interactions in the game only work with the Valve Index controllers.
They also noted that throwing objects and the interactions that require you to reach behind your back all worked fine, despite the inside-out tracking system.
While there was a bit of noticeable compression and latency, Norm and Will were impressed overall with the game running on a Quest through Oculus Link. They did note that there was some dithering in dark areas and noticeable compression with smoke effects and haze, but were impressed with the image quality overall.
Norm and Will reported that the game looked reasonably good on the original Vive, despite being a much older system that is no longer for sale as a new kit. However, the bulky tracking hardware on the end of the controller did get in the way and bump into each other when reloading. The lack of a convenient grip button also meant the trigger is used for both grabbing and throwing/releasing objects.
HTC Vive Cosmos
Norm and Will found the tracking on Vive Cosmos was the least reliable out of all the headsets they tested, especially when bringing your hands closer to the headset. Norm said that overall, he felt he lost a lot of hand presence on the Cosmos. In their words, the game was playable but they had to change the way they approached the encounters on the Cosmos.
Oculus Rift CV1
Norm and Will also played Alyx using the Rift CV1 with just two sensors, while sitting. They were pleasantly surprised with the results, noting how good the game looked despite being on a lower resolution display. The tracking rings also didn’t get in the way of any of the in-game interactions, unlike with the original HTC Vive.
Windows MR – Samsung Odyssey+
While the game was playable on the Odyssey+ (which is perhaps one of the least expensive headsets to buy for Alyx if you already have a gaming PC), they found similar problems to the HTC Vive, with the large tracking rings of the controllers getting in the way of completing many of the interactions, such as reloading.
What headset you planning to play Half-Life: Alyx on? Let us know your thoughts on Tested’s findings in the comments below.