Half-Life: Alyx was released today in what feels like one of the strangest watershed moments in recent video game history.
Alyx is the first new official entry into the Half-Life narrative released in the last 13 years. For so long, we thought we’d never get a new Half-Life game. Developer Valve, after all, was making too much money with Steam to even think about bothering with such things. Now, here we are with a brand-new Half-Life adventure just sitting out there waiting for us.
The problem, though, is that Half-Life: Alyx isn’t waiting for us. At least it’s not waiting for most of us. Actually, the legacy of Half-Life: Alyx may be that of a $1500 game that many of us will never actually get the chance to play.
See, Half-Life: Alyx isn’t just a new Half-Life game. It’s a VR game. It’s the first VR entry into the main Half-Life franchise, and it’s almost certainly the most anticipated VR game ever made. Some are already saying that it may be a VR system seller.
That last part is where we run into a bit of a problem as it concerns you and your ability to actually play Half-Life: Alyx.
Let’s say that you don’t own a gaming PC capable of properly running VR. That might be somewhat unlikely considering the popularity of gaming PCs in general, but it’s not a stretch to suggest you don’t. It’s also not a stretch to suggest that you don’t own one of the VR headsets supported by Half-Life: Alyx. If that is the case, then you’ve got quite a bit of catching up to do.
It starts with that gaming PC. There are some PC builders who argue you can build a VR ready gaming PC for as low as $500. That feels optimistic (especially if you want said VR games to run smoothly), but for conversation’s sake, let’s say that you can get a pre-built gaming PC capable of somewhat respectably running VR for about $700. Actually, just for fun, let’s say it’s $600.
From there, we come to the matter of a VR headset. This is where things get even more interesting. The Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets all support Alyx. The price of these units varies somewhat based on availability, sales, and other factors, but despite an increase in market competition, you’re probably looking at about an $800 investment for a VR headset, controllers, and everything else you need to party. Again, the numbers can vary, but you’re not going to be disappointed by the VR buying process if you start it with that number in mind.
That brings us up to about $1400 to realistically play Half-Life: Alyx with a fresh start. Oh, and you’ll need a copy of the game too, we suppose. That will be an extra $60 unless you find some kind of bundle promotion. Put it all together, and you’ll see that it’s really not unrealistic to suggest that Half-Life: Alyx is, essentially, a $1500 game for the unprepared user.
That’s a problem. Half-Life: Alyx is good. Early reports indicate that it is very good and is likely the best VR title ever made. The idea that it is so good that it’s worth $1500 seems…unlikely. There’s not really any game that is so good that you can easily recommend spending $1500 to play it. It’s also reportedly about 12 hours long, which certainly doesn’t help its overall value.
Then again, that’s really less of a problem with Half-Life: Alyx and more of a problem with the entire concept of a VR system seller.
Valve was well within their rights to make Half-Life: Alyx a VR game. By all accounts, they’ve done things with the medium nobody else has. The problem is that selling people on the idea they should invest in VR to play Half-Life Alyx is really about selling them on technology that has rightfully been largely limited to trade shows and the home of enthusiasts thus far. Valve obviously knew that Half-Life: Alyx wouldn’t be enough to really sell people on the idea they should pay about $1500 to play it, but the idea that we’ve got to wait for other studios to make enough great VR games to justify finally owning a fully-fledged VR system just to play Half-Life: Alyx is undeniably frustrating.
Maybe that day will come, but if Half-Life: Alyx ends up being a gem of an ultimately failed technological experiment which millions of people never get the chance to play (and perhaps the last new Half-Life game will get for another decade) there will ultimately be some who rightfully look at it with feelings of scorn and anger.