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Thread: Half Life: Alyx spoiler discussion

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered: Feb 2007
    Location: Sevastapol Station

    Half Life: Alyx spoiler discussion

    I think I'd like to talk about more than just the story points of the game, or the gameplay loop, but to pontificate a bit about what position the game holds and what it might mean going forward.

    Skip to the TL;DR if you don't want to read my loosely categorized stream of consciousness ramblings. But if you want to dig in, here are my thoughts.

    I was not excited about this, and I spent quite awhile debating whether or not I would buy Doom Eternal or Alyx, because I had just enough to buy one game. I had just finished playing Black Mesa all the way through and loved it so much I felt like it was an opportune time to revisit the whole HL universe, and I'm really glad I did.

    Composition:
    I felt that they really nailed the aesthetics of the game. The art direction was enough of the HL2 style, but updated just enough for the new tech to add the details we couldn't see in 2004 - 2007, and when you had to look at Xen it took it's queues from what you could obviously see in hindsight was probably what they had originally intended in 1998. I loved that. Also, while Russell was a bit world breaking, I think his inclusion is fine, as he embodies both the ridiculous humor of Glados/Wheatley AND the extreme camp of HL1 that wasn't present in HL2. Not everything has to be grounded in stark realism, so I found him fine even if sometimes the jokes felt really contrived or elbow nudgey.

    I really enjoyed the survival horror feel. I am quite comfortable in that setting and always seem to come back to it (replaying Alien Isolation and Dead Space a lot over the years), but it felt natural here. I had a moment were I realized the game was kinda scary and really lived in that space for much of it, but it felt natural and not out of place given the previous games.

    Gameplay loop:
    I'm amazed that using Vive controllers, I never felt that I was at some kind of disadvantage compared to some of the other systems I've tried. You can play the entire game with just the grip button, trigger, and pressing up on the thumbpad. The extra button was used now and then for arming grenades and opening the shotgun, but the shotgun reload could totally have been done using the grip button like the other 2 guns. I can see how this game could be better with the index controllers where grabbing on to things was more holistic, freeing up the buttons to do other things, but I was perfectly capable playing the game with a couple of buttons combined with the VR idiom.

    I did however find some of the gestures to be a bit weird because of the dimensions of the Vive wands (charging the shotgun was difficult as the controllers would smack into each other before Alyx's hand would "latch" on to the charging handle).

    The gravity glove mechanic was great, as it made sense in situ with pre-established lore, as well as really just being a quality of life improvement to bending over all the time to pick things up off the floor, which I find tedius in VR, especially as the floor calibration never seems to be really accurate to within 3 or 4 inches anyway. Plus it added some great puzzle pieces (how do I grab that resin without the barnacle stealing it from me, etc).

    What bothered me the most about combat was the lack of any kind of melee system. I got ganked pretty hard the first time I went after a headcrab zombie with a pipe. I was hoping there would be at least some mechanic for grappling with them and fending them off or shoving them away, would have been nice.
    I also would have loved options to put items on a belt or something. I have some firearms training, and while I got used to it, grabbing for magazines over the shoulder doesn't seem very ergonomic. I would have liked to be able to reach for a belt (and to eject partial magazines back into inventory to be automatically shuffled into the magazine pool, if the goal was real enough, but hyper realistic, I think that's a good balance between refusing to allow us to do tactical reloads and not waste ammo, vs. manually repacking magazines or something).

    I DO however love that the SMG and shotgun were one-handed. Using rifles in VR doesn't work without some sort of a prop. I don't know how those guys who play Pavlov or Onward manage to do it without a rigid body holding the 2 controllers together. It never works for me.

    The minigames were fine, but I found them to be a bit tedious after awhile. Sort of like the hacking minigame in Deus Ex: HR/MD. You just do it too much for it to remain interesting toward the end of the game. I enjoyed the multi tool, but I really started to dread using it because I found it really clunky to follow the wires through some really weird spaces, especially when the colours were hard to distinguish between my preferred chaperone colours, and I kept bumping into real world objects while I was walking around my computer room trying to follow things.

    The one puzzle I'm still confused about is the one with the vortigaunt shrine. I didn't quite figure out how you were supposed to choose which pattern was the one to use to open the gate. It felt very much like Myst was shoehorned into the game for 5 minutes, and then we never saw a puzzle like it again. I solved it accidentally.


    Story:

    I don't think there was much by way of main story points that was very compelling until you make the "discovery" that Gordon is what the Combine have trapped in the vault. Before that it was a lot of really wonderful environmental storytelling, which was great, but other than that it felt much like I had already done this (rescue Eli from Nova Prospekt anybody?). I've watched a couple of review vids on YT and I think one thing that stood out to me was some confusion about the ending (before the payoff for the bait-and-switch). Angry Joe didn't seem to get why Alyx lost her guns and suddenly was supposed to feel like a DBZ superhero other than Valve wanted you to feel like some sort of an immortal god. I think he missed the not so subtle setup for that. First: The gravity gun fritzed out and supercharged itself when it was exposed to the combine energy, so why wouldn't the Russells do the same thing? Gordon also lost all of his guns at the time too, so I thought it made sense. What I THINK they were trying to do (or at least this is how I interpreted it while I played) was that you were supposed to explicitly understand that the Combine drew their power for the vault by exploiting the Vortigaunts. That was vortigaunt energy that you were holding, and we know that they held Alyx in high regard. The ending was supposed to make you feel like a Vortigaunt, not a god.

    I expected to see the G-man at the end, but I didn't expect him to be the prisoner, I should have seen it a mile away, as it was a pretty classic bait-and-switch maneuver, but it wasn't until he started talking that I realized that HE was what the Combine were afraid of, and it all started to make sense. It's no wonder throughout the game I never had any Gman sightings. Which is a staple of these games.

    What followed I felt very emotional about. The last 6 months has been pretty good to me on a nostalgic level. I got a new Tool album after so long, Star Trek Picard started and brought me back to some stories and characters that have given me a lot of emotional payoffs I've been waiting for since the mid nineties. It's been great.

    I freaked out for a second when I saw Alyx and dead Eli on the ground, and it brought me right back to that place I was in 2007 when I saw it for the first time. BAM emotional payoff. Then when the Gman told her to kill the Combine advisor, I thought maybe it was "time to choose," and I wrestled with whether or not Alyx would choose to make the deal with the devil as it were, and I waited to see what he would do if I did nothing. Nothing happened, so either I didn't wait long enough, or they intended you to just go with it.

    The time fuckery is a new skill we didn't know Gman had to this extent, and I love the weird mobius strip paradox of Alyx being hired 5 years before Eli's death, and yet only being taken at that moment without remembering her discussion in the vault with the Gman. I just love it and I don't care if it doesn't make a ton of linear sense.

    What I wasn't prepared for at all was being right where I left off in the post-credits scene. I was a bit lost for a second because I had forgotten the unforseen consequences comment that the Gman told Alyx to share with Eli in HL2 Ep2, but I mostly understood what was going on in those short seconds. Eli's emotions combined with seeing Dog from that perspective, and then Eli handing you the crowbar. I actually had some tears in my eyes inside my headset at that moment. Not because I'm a total flake, but the emotional payoff of waiting so long for that really made me feel good, and I was ready to start crowbar-ing headcrabs. It was better than Tool, and better than Picard.

    Speculation: Was it Mossman that Alyx was eaves dropping on? Of course you're supposed to think that, as though she is either talking to an Advisor or to Breen, but given that she was talking about Gman rather than Gordon, I'm not so sure it was her, so who was she?

    The Future:
    I think I understand why Alyx was a VR title, and with Gabe giving that interview to IGN where he knows it was a divisive decision, sort of sheds light on how this all went down. Like I said, I wasn't excited at first when I heard the announcement, but this is a full blown half life game that pushed the story forward and set us up for either HL2 Ep3 or HL3. I've heard some grumblings about how its probably going to be a VR title, and how valve is going to shoot themselves in the foot by disregarding their fans that way, but I disagree. FPS games are not like they were 20, 15 or even 10 years ago. Most things not in the indie scene are clones of GTA, COD, PUBG, Minecraft, or Overwatch. Nobody really makes these types of games anymore to much critical or financial success. To do the next HL game as a 2d throwback (it IS a throwback at this point) would be underwhelming. VR is the perfect place for this type of odyssey style adventure. It's relevant in that space, where it's sort of irrelevant as a traditional FPS shooter these days.

    Thoughts?

    TL;DR

    The gameplay loop was good. 8.5-9/10, Wish there were better inventory mechanics.
    The art direction hearkened back to HL1 AND HL2 where each was appropriate, with a mix of camp and portal humor mixed in (voice acting)
    I found the ending to make logical sense, you were supposed to feel like a vortigaunt, not some sort of wizard, and it was set up well, between knowing that the vortigaunts were being used for their energy, and remembering what happened to Gordon in the citadel at the end of HL2
    The emotional payoff at the end hammered me in the face with 13 years of pining and wishing. I happy cried like a wuss.
    The next game will probably be VR or a hybrid game experience. We'll probably never see Half Life again the way it was prior to Alyx, and that actually makes perfect sense, unless you hate progress.

    Favorite Moments:

    Russell describing a club sandwich to Alyx, and her awe.
    Russell explaining why Vodka is great, after explaining that it's basically poison.
    Seeing the headcrabs in the vortigaunt kitchen visibly terrified of the vort and not being at all hostile.
    Realizing I could kill combine with the wrath of the vortigaunts and their power.
    Rushing a combine soldier with his shield up and reaching around it with the shotgun to put buckshot through his chin.
    Literally every moment after the gman starts speaking.

  2. #2
    Member
    Registered: Sep 2006
    I have just finished playing it. I'm completely blown away. I bought Index specifically for HLA and it was worth every penny. Everyone who is able to play it should absolutely do so, hands down.

    The aesthetics are fantastic and in a headset a lot of the locations genuinely look and feel photorealistic. I loved exploring the environments, looking around for items and solving puzzle. The combat was surprisingly fun and engaging - there's something special about crouching behind a brickwall and leaning around the corner to take shots at Combine soldiers by actually physically doing it. All of the Xen stuff was fantastic, lots of amazing details to be witnessed when observing those weird alien plants moving and breathing.

    And the ending, holy crap... I had high expectations for the story / revelations in this game but that was above and beyond of what I thought it would be. I don't remember the last time I was so astonished by the finale of a video game - I was standing there with goosebumps, savoring every word that Gman said. Part of it is probably the fact that this the first time in almost 13 years that we got a new piece of a puzzle for the series but still. And then just when I thought it can't get any better I saw the post-credits scene. Just wow.

    I'll be truthful: I'm very confused and torn about what I think the future of the franchise should be. Part of me wants Half-Life 3 to be a regular FPS, just bigger and better, that I can comfortably play with a mouse and keyboard. But there's so much potential here. At this point it almost feels like it would be a huge waste to abandon VR for the next game. I will admit that HL is a very good fit for VR: it's not super fast and chaotic, it's exploration based with a heavy emphasis on puzzles and immersion. Right after wrapping up my playthrough of HLA I went back to E2 for a second to check something. It was so weird seeing this world on a monitor. Felt like going backwards.

    I don't know. VR is not perfect, there are things you can't really do there, or at least you can't do them without making people sick. But I'll say this: at the very least I'm not opposed to HL3 being VR only. At best I'm supporting it.

  3. #3
    Member
    Registered: Feb 2007
    Location: Sevastapol Station
    I think if I were Gabe this is what I would do (this wont happen, but if I'm just playing with the idea... )

    I would get some guys to put out HL2: Ep3 exactly as it would have been done 10 years ago. With the new story beats coming from Alyx.

    Like... Use Source 2, but make it exactly like it would have been, same mechanics and game play loop. Tell us the story of the borealis and mossman, whatever.
    Release it for free. in conjunction with the announcement for HL3.

    Could do it at GDC or E3 or something, and all he has to do is walk out on stage after an EP3 trailer, and proceed to pull 3 crowbars out of his backpack and lodge them all in the podium, then mic-drop via a silent walk off stage, to play the HL3 trailer.

    Which would have to be a VR title, or something at least involving VR.

  4. #4
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2004
    My tongue-in-cheek prediction: There will be a Half-Life Alyx 2, but never a 3. Instead, there will be yet a different Half-Life series.

  5. #5
    Thing What Kicks
    Registered: Apr 2004
    Location: London
    I loved how the Combine goons were easier to understand this time round, and that first, distorted "Hey Alyx!" made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
    Of course, the absolute best bit of goon dialogue was "He's kicking it. Stop kicking it. He's stopped kicking it", only for you to realise said kicker was sticking the boot to a fecking STRIDER.

    I too got a little tired of some of the puzzles, but especially the ball one. That was just too over-used, and wore out its welcome a lot faster then the others. It didn't help that if I failed it, when I started the puzzle again, the ball would be in a completely different location, and I'd have to reposition before starting.

    I think also if I play it again any time soon, I may very well change the handedness to left. Towards the end, I noticed cover predominantly favoured lefties.

    I absolutely adored fighting the "Leggies", and pulling off multiple 3-shot takedowns in a row made me feel like a complete badass

    But as others have said elsewhere, the Combine are annoyingly bullet-spongey.
    I'm slightly disappointed there's nothing like a New Game Plus mode, where you could start from the beginning with all the upgrades you've already unlocked. That could really help alleviate a little of the bullet-spongeyness.

    Story-wise, I twigged it was G-Man in the box quite early, just after Jeff. But that meeting was still absolutely awesome, and G-Man's oddly stilted delivery is still really cool. The character model was extra creepy too, with the shining eyes and the call back to HL2 when he goes monochrome.

    And the Vortigaunt puzzle had me stumped for a bit too, but in the completely opposite way. I figured out the pattern really quickly (you look through the cardboard eye), but I'd stumbled blindly past the switchboard that I was meant to enter the pattern in to.

    I'm really hoping they can keep the momentum going, as playing Alyx (and Black Mesa too) has made me realise how much I'd missed the Half-Life universe. That post-credits scene is one hell of a tease. You can't show me Dog in VR then not allow me to play with him >:E

  6. #6
    Member
    Registered: Feb 2007
    Location: Sevastapol Station
    yeah, or smash something with the crowbar.

    I'm really sad about the lack of melee in Alyx, but hopefully that's just one of the things they'll get right for the next one.

    I realized my problem with the vort puzzle was that on my first time through I completely missed the cage with the cardboard in it. I thought it was a logic puzzle and I was trying to decipher the puzzle.

    You're absolutely right about the level design favoring lefties in the later firefights. I've done some 3-gun competitions and I'm slightly better than mediocre at shooting a pistol, and I found those skills really helped. But one thing that just isn't possible is the CAR style (basically John Wick-fu). The idea there is that the gun is up close in front of you and with your head tilted, a right handed person is actually occluding their right eye with their nose while they look down the sights with their left eye(both eyes open). I find this mostly impossible to do in real life, let alone in a video game. And the HMD doesn't have enough FOV to pull it off, not to mention the controllers just make it feel goofy, and it feels goofy enough with a real gun. But if it were easier to do that way then right handed would work quite well. I know some guys who are right handed and find that shooting CAR left handed they're actually better at since they're actually using their right eye.

    I think what games like this could really use would be a good pistol controller separate from the hands.. Don't know how that would work, but it would be handy to wear a belt and a holster, and actually physically switch between the two. A headset with cameras on it would help a lot, because you could do a reverse Augmented Reality thing and superimpose what the camera sees of your own body into the game world whenever you look down at yourself or something (to grab trackable peripherals from your belt or vest or something)

    VR is goofy as it is, might as well turn it up to 11.

  7. #7
    Level 10,000 achieved
    Registered: Mar 2001
    Location: Finland
    I liked the ending, although it didn't hit me emotionally like it did you, VA. Mainly because I had no recollection of that scene from HL2:Ep2, had to look it up on youtube afterwards.

    This makes me pretty hopefull we'll see another HL game soon. Surely they wouldn't repeat the mistake of ending on a cliffhanger and leave us hanging for 15 years before a follow-up? Surely... they wouldn't?

    Quote Originally Posted by Volitions Advocate View Post
    I think what games like this could really use would be a good pistol controller separate from the hands.. Don't know how that would work, but it would be handy to wear a belt and a holster, and actually physically switch between the two.
    You don't need a separate controller for that, just make is so you drop the gun by releasing your grip and let the player juggle it between either hand. TWDSS does that, holster and all! Seriously, TWDSS has very good gunplay, and I recommend you check it out.

  8. #8
    El Shagmeister
    Registered: Jul 2000
    Location: Under your fingernails.
    Played it. Finished it. Loved it. Made me dizzy a few times. Still loved it.

    <3

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