Half-Life: Alyx VR Analysis — How The Game Plays On Every Major VR Headset

VR headsets aren’t all created equally. We at GameSpot have tested out the newly released Half-Life: Alyx on the four biggest VR headsets: Valve Index, HTC Vive Pro, Oculus Rift, and Oculus Quest.

From a top view, it’s no surprise that the Index is the ideal platform to play Alyx on, considering they’re both made by Valve. But it’s also the most expensive and currently in short supply. The Vive is the next best opinion; it’s designed for steam VR, which makes setup with Alyx easy, and you can swap out the subpar Vive controllers with the Index’s to take advantage of the finger tracking.

While you may lose some of the more advanced features playing on an Oculus, you’re still going to have a good time with Alyx. The only headset we have trouble fully recommending is the Oculus Quest, as the Oculus Link software is still in beta and can have connection issues. But if you already own a Quest and are willing to put up its shortcomings, it’s still completely possible to play Alyx on it.

Below we break down the pros and cons of each headset based on the experiences of five people on staff, each with different VR setups. You can also watch the video version above. If you want to know what we thought of the game, check out our Half-Life: Alyx review. If you don’t own a VR headset and are interested in picking one up thanks to Alyx, check out our in-depth breakdown on the best VR headsets as well as where to get the best VR headset deals.

Valve Index — Michael Higham, Associate Editor

I played the entirety of Half-Life: Alyx on the Valve Index for review, and everything worked perfectly fine. But that speaks more to having the proper space and physical set up for the base station sensors and room for your own actions. The Index headset is arguably the best, most sophisticated HMD so far with a max refresh rate of 144Hz and a 130-degree FOV (the highest of mainstream VR gaming headsets), and its resolution is on par with the high-end Vive Pro. Of course, you need the proper rig to get the most out of, and my setup with a Core i7-7700K and Nvidia RTX 2080 was on point. However, the HMD isn’t necessarily the reason why you’d want to play Half-Life: Alyx on the Index, it’s the controllers.

The Index controllers are the closest a pair of VR controllers come to imitating the feel of having virtual hands. That’s because their padded straps comfortably hug your hands, allowing you to loosen your grip entirely and still have the controllers in place. Now, the reason why this matters for Half-Life: Alyx is because the game always accounts for your in-game hands, giving them more agency and a higher level of interactivity than most VR games. Objects, doors, and some mechanisms react to your hand motions without having to “grip” them, simulating the actions of actually moving these things in real life. You’ll be catching items and throwing grenades a lot in the game as well, and it just feels so right to perform these actions when you can just let go altogether and open your hands in these moments.

The Index controllers also have pressure-sensitive sensors on the grip for each finger, so when it comes to grabbing things in-game, you simply close your hand as if you’re really grabbing stuff. (All other VR controllers have a second set of triggers for your middle fingers that typically work to grasp objects.) Even something as small as the Xen grenades, which react to how tightly you grip and activate when squeezing them, showcase the importance of pressure-based interactivity. And it’s nice to give the middle finger to a dead Combine soldier and have the controllers recognize the gesture in true form.

Of course, the Valve Index might be the most expensive (and seemingly hardest to find) VR gaming set up right now. It’s not necessary to go with the Index if you just want to experience Half-Life: Alyx, but I do believe it’s the best option. | Twitter: @michaelphigham

HTC Vive Pro — Jean-Luc Seipke, Video Producer

The HTC Vive seems like the next logical headset of choice as it was co-created by Valve and shares the same ecosystem as the Index. I used the Vive Pro, the best version of the Vive, and the second-best headset on the market in terms of display. My PC uses an RTX 2070 with 16GB of RAM and an i7-6700k CPU, and Alyx looks and runs excellent. I did run into some issues where the game started to drop frames and hitch while streaming, but that is the only technical hiccup I’ve had, and the rest of the time has been smooth.

Like with the Index, you have the option for both sit down and room-scale. The extra freedom to walk around an environment can add a lot to your experience, and I highly recommend it if you have the space for it. Being able to duck and jump physically is surprisingly fun and helps make the game even more immersive. Just have someone around to watch over you; otherwise, you might hit your hand as I did.

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