PlayStation VR2 is going to be big. Its predecessor was already the biggest mainstream headset on the market before Oculus Quest 2 came along, offering a clunky yet affordable way to jump into a new reality with a healthy collection of games to choose from.
Blood & Truth, Farpoint, Moss, Beat Saber, and Wipeout are all certified bangers, offering experiences that work incredibly well despite the underpowered console required in bringing them to life. Sony would be silly not to build upon that momentum with its successor, even more so with Meta raising the price of its standalone device several years after its debut.
The field is wide open, and with the knowledge that PlayStation VR2 will come outfitted with inside-out tracking, enhanced motion controllers, and several other improvements, only one game comes to mind that can truly sell its brilliance to a massive console audience – Half-Life: Alyx, a modern masterpiece that I still think about almost every day.
Valve changed everything with Half-Life: Alyx, producing what many see as the first true blockbuster VR has ever seen. It wasn’t hamstrung by technical limitations or had to pull back its initial ambitions to fit within the realm of virtual reality, it was designed from the ground-up and sought to push the series forward as a consequence. It was brave, unexpected, and filled with so many brilliant ideas that most games could only dream of.
Taking place before the events of Half-Life 2, we play as a younger version of Alyx Vance tasked with saving her father and investigating a Combine threat that will inevitably bring her face to face with threats that will change the fabric of this universe forever. I won’t spoil the narrative because it’s fantastic and worth seeing for yourself, but never has a game in this medium pulled me in so effectively, all but making me forget I had a hulking lump of plastic slapped across my face.
The opening is a perfect distillation of its flawless world building. You aren’t given overbearing tutorials or asked to complete simplistic tasks in order to learn its controls and how to move about the world. Everything feels intuitive, whether you’re picking up random objects scattered across the environment or using marker pens to draw crude doodles on nearby windows. It’s flawless, and newcomers can lose hours in the opening levels alone toying with random contraptions and coming to terms with exactly how dense this iteration of City 17 really is. Your hands are visible in the game itself, and become a natural extension of your body as they reach out to satisfy the curiosity that comes with existing in a new world.
You’re slowly introduced to larger and more complicated environments, a voiced protagonist, and several supporting characters offering a level of agency that reinforces how important the coming narrative is going to be. Every piece of dialogue matters, whether it concerns throwaway jokes, keen observations, or small moments of exposition that reference events to come hardcore fans will very much be aware of. Rhys Darby’s turn as Russell is masterful, while Deathloop’s Ozioma Akagha offers the heroine a level of depth she’s never had before.
Once you’re given the Gravity Gloves, interactivity comes alive like never before. Objects in the environment can be pulled into your hands with a flick of the wrist. A firefight might see Alyx stuck behind a chunky concrete pillar, ammo running low as a horde of soldiers advance towards her position. Suddenly you glance up at the ceiling and see a stray magazine lingering in the rafters. By making use of the game’s physics you can pull it downward, reload, and unleash hell.
You can cause distractions and solve puzzles too. Alyx takes the groundbreaking physics systems first introduced with Half-Life 2 and breaks similar boundaries in a whole new medium. I had always said that if the series was ever to make a comeback outside the elusive third entry it needed to be in VR, but I never expected Valve to actually waltz out and pull it off, let alone produce a masterpiece. To this day, there is nothing quite like it.
That’s why Sony would be missing out on a potential system seller if it hasn’t already started having conversations with Valve about bringing Alyx to its new platform. Make it a flagship launch title alongside Horizon: Call of the Mountain, which also seems to offer a surprising amount of versatile freedom to games that are often maligned for being linear. I still don’t believe that virtual reality is the future, but it’s capable of so much, and I’d love to see its brightest sparks reach a bigger audience if possible. That all starts with Half-Life: Alyx.