Half-Life 2 VR is better than the original – preview

Half-Life 2 VR is better than the original – preview

Half-Life 2 VR ports the 2004 gaming milestone to virtual reality. How does Gordon Freeman’s adventure play in VR?

It’s 2017, and I’ve owned an HTC Vive for a few months now. I’m a VR enthusiast and read online: Half-Life 2, one of the best shooters of all time, is being ported to virtual reality. Good news for VR fans who desperately need quality games for their headsets. Hopefully it will arrive quickly.

Five years later, I’m standing in my room on the hottest day of the year so far and launch Half-Life 2 VR on my Valve Index.

In between are years in which the mod project was on hold, just as if the G-Man put it in stasis. The official story: in the time after the VR announcement and Valve’s approval, key developers unexpectedly jumped ship. In 2021, new developers around team leader Wormslayer pick up the project.

Work on the VR port has progressed rapidly since then and a closed beta test is underway. Half-Life 2 VR is scheduled for release in Early Access on Steam later this year, around the original’s 18th birthday in November.

Thanks to the mod team, I now had the opportunity to play Half-Life 2 VR. How is Gordon Freeman in VR?

Half-Life 2 and Alyx

Since 2017, something unexpected has happened in the Half-Life universe: There was a new Half-Life, it wasn’t Half-Life 3, and it was VR-exclusive. Valve’s Half-Life: Alyx is a masterpiece, but plays completely differently than Half-Life 2 in many ways: less shooting, hardly any platforming, no vehicles, no crowbar, and slightly less physics puzzles.

All of these things would have the potential to trigger motion sickness or break immersion in VR. Valve played it safe.

So when I start Half-Life 2 VR, I wonder how well the old title is suited for VR. But then I’m standing in front of the G-Man, and shortly after that I’m sitting on the train. The drone blinds me and above me Wallace Breen is spreading Combine propaganda on a huge screen, the dimension of which I only now realize.

On my normal monitor, I’m running to the next checkpoint. In VR, I explore the train station and the adjacent rooms for minutes and spot details I never noticed.

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The Combine oppression seems significantly more threatening than I remember. The escape through the apartments is exciting, the one over the rooftops dizzying. The reunion with Barney, Alyx, Dr. Kleiner and his headcrab feels much more like a social gathering than a dull cutscene to run through.

VR as a quality multiplier

The crowbar-wielding and shooting feels good, thanks in part to the Alyx-inspired reloading mechanics and two-handed weapons. Compared to Alyx, the extensive selection of weapons stands out, which adds variety to the numerous shootouts.

The first time I reach my physical limits is during the boat ride: After ten minutes, I notice that I’m starting to feel sick. But Wormslayer and his team have some solutions: I can set a vignette, and the boat can also be driven in a third-person view. After the boat ride, I play catch with Dog and the Gravity Gun longer than I ever would have on screen. And Ravenholm is scary.

There are still some bugs, which will be fixed in the beta and subsequent early access phase. But Half-Life 2 VR already plays excellently.

The team around Wormslayer has created an exemplary VR port that shows that VR is a quality multiplier. Half-Life 2 is already a fantastic game on the monitor. But in VR, I notice details that I never noticed before.

The world is more believable, the characters more vivid, the gunfights more exciting. This is also due to Valve’s level and game design, which provides such a good basis for VR gameplay that you sometimes have the impression that the game was always developed with VR in mind.

In short, Half-Life 2 is a better game in VR and will easily make it into our top VR games. Thanks to the Half-Life 2 VR mod team for this great port.