Half-Life: Alyx review roundup: A new standard for VR gaming

half-life alyx
(Image credit: Valve)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Half-Life: Alyx won a "highly recommended" honor for best PC game in the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.

After thirteen long years, we finally have a new installment in the Half-Life franchise. (It’s not Half-Life 3, but let’s leave that aside for the moment; it’s a step in the right direction.) This prequel story follows supporting character Alyx Vance as she tries to survive in the brutal, fascist City 17, some time before a certain crowbar-wielding physicist comes to star trouble.

Unfortunately, VR games make me incredibly ill, and I can’t play the title myself. But we've rounded up what other critics thought — and what they thought, apparently, is that Half-Life: Alyx is the VR game we’ve all collectively been waiting for. It’s a meaty, satisfying experience, with intense gameplay, a worthwhile story and a unique perspective on one of gaming’s most beloved FPS series.

If you have a VR device and any affinity at all for Half-Life, you’ll want to pick up Half-Life Alyx — at least according to almost every game review site out there.


Rachel Weber at GamesRadar+ had almost nothing but nice things to say in her 4.5/5 star review of Half-Life: Alyx. The only major con listed in her review is “VR headset hair” (and yes, that can be a real problem, as I’ve learned firsthand). Among other things, she adored the game’s story, its gunplay and its variety of enemies, particularly one hard-to-avoid monster called Jeff.

“More than anything, the game is a love letter to Half-Life,” she wrote, “and there's a real danger the ending will melt the brain of any hardcore fans into just a pile of happy goo.”


Very few games score a perfect 10 at IGN, but Half-Life: Alyx did. Dan Stapleton reviewed the game, and loved almost everything about it: the combat, the environmental puzzles, the look and feel of City 17, the characterization of Alyx, the supporting cast, even just the way that Alyx moves through the world. Some of the firefights could get tiresome, he observed, but beyond that, this seems to be the exact kind of game that VR tech exists to facilitate.

“Valve has set a new bar for VR in interactivity, detail, and level design, showing what can happen when a world-class developer goes all-in on the new frontier of technology,” wrote Stapleton.


(Image credit: Valve)

Nathan Grayson reviewed Half-Life: Alyx for Kotaku, and while he didn’t think the game was perfect, certain aspects of the game pulled him in and wouldn’t let go. Simply seeing a headcrab jump at him in full VR was terrifying in a way that the non-VR Half-Life games never quite captured. He also appreciated how realistic the shooting controls felt — even if they were imprecise, and many of the combat sections dragged on too long. Still, Half-Life: Alyx has the potential to be a template for action-heavy VR games going forward.

“Half-Life: Alyx,” he wrote, “is a game of quiet revolutions that make it more than the sum of its parts, of pioneering ideas that we someday may not be able to imagine VR games without.”

PC Gamer

Half-Life: Alyx was a treat for PC Gamer’s reviewer Christopher Livingston. He awarded the game 92 out of 100 points in his review, claiming that he was “completely enthralled and unwilling to stop playing.” That’s high praise, considering how cumbersome VR gear can be. He loved how real City 17 feels, as well as the immersive feeling of holding a gun, flinging objects around with gravity gloves or even just turning on a radio. The story is also a treat, particularly for Half-Life fans who have been waiting 13 years for something like this.

“I didn't have much doubt Half-Life: Alyx would be a great VR experience—Valve makes its own VR headset and software, after all,” Livingston wrote. “But I was skeptical it could also be a great, proper Half-Life game, and I was thrilled to discover it really is.”


Ben Kuchera at Polygon called Half-Life: Alyx “a VR masterpiece.” The scale of the game is impressive, particularly since you get a full 13+-hour Half-Life experience. The difficulty curve ramps up organically, and each gameplay system feels logical and fully realized. The combat can get extremely difficult — sometimes too much so. But the puzzles are as logical as always, and the whole experience simply “feels” like Half-Life, he argues.

“Alyx’s dialogue, and her evolving, apparently doomed mission, significantly expands the lore of Half-Life by answering some questions, asking new ones, and dropping huge surprises just when you think you have things figured out,” Kuchera wrote.

Bottom line

(Image credit: Valve)

Some of the combat in Half-Life: Alyx seems difficult, and some of the puzzles seem either obtuse or too easy — but then again, that’s been true of every Half-Life game. The story, gameplay and scope of Half-Life: Alyx all appear to deliver, and give players an experience that they simply can’t get from similar games — and that’s always been true of Half-Life games as well.

If you have a VR headset and any affinity at all for the series, Half-Life: Alyx should be your next purchase. And after that, should we be on the lookout for Half-Life 3? We’ve certainly waited long enough.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.