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Five Games to Prepare You for Half Life: Alyx

Play these titles before jumping into Valve's first Half Life game in over a decade.

by Brandon Adams

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Can you believe it’s been thirteen years since we’ve last had a new Half Life game? Valve’s silence surrounding the franchise these intervening years slowly made any mention of Half Life 3 into a punchline, and up until last year it was considered safe to assume the venerable first-person shooter series was dead and buried. While Half Life: Alyx may not be the game we’ve all been clamoring for (and it being a VR-only title has certainly chaffed a few folks raw), it’s at least proof Half Life may still have a pulse.

Still, thirteen years? If your rose-tinted glasses are covered in a thick layer of dust you’re not alone. That, or maybe you’re just now jumping on the Half Life bandwagon and wondering what all the hype is about, considering Half Life 2 is old enough now to earn a driver’s license in the States. No matter your circumstances Half Life has been out of the limelight for some time. With the weekend ahead of us now is the best time to catch up with the franchise, and to establish your VR legs if you haven’t already (nothing derails a good VR experience like motion sickness).

These five games should get you up to speed, and ready to step into the shoes of Alyx Vance as she fights against the oppressive rule of the Combine in City 17.

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The Lab

This title comes free from Valve themselves, and it is by far the best title to play if you are brand new to VR. It’s a series of small tech demos tailor-made for novices, and the default teleportation used for movement will help those sensitive to motion sickness acclimate.

You’ll interact with the solar system, shoot arrows in the wave-based Longbow mini-game, repair a robot, and more in little vignettes designed to introduce gamers to the wonderful world of virtual reality. Did I mention it’s free? Like Half Life: Alyx the game is on Steam, but so long as Oculus owners remember to enable Unknown Sources in the Oculus app’s settings they’ll be good to go (something they’ll need to do regardless to play Half Life: Alyx).

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The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners

“Wait, you’re recommending a Walking Dead survival game?” Yes, dear reader, I am. Valve has promised Half Life: Alyx will set a new standard for immersion in VR, and that could prove a problem for those new to the medium.  The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners is an excellent game in its own right, but it manages to find a fine middle ground between deep interactability and ease of access. It also offers standard movement if you feel like you’ve gotten your stomach in order (though it features plenty of camera settings to assist those who are still uncomfortable).

Saints and Sinners does a fantastic job of making you feel like a natural part of the world without overwhelming your brain. You’ll use the barrel of a shotgun to cautiously poke open a door, grab zombies by the skull to forcefully stab them in the head, and clang about the environment with some impressive physicality. The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners will help you better adjust to VR, and prepare for the sort of full-length experience Half Life: Alyx aims to provide. It is the best title to play if you want to adapt to the rules of VR with minimal fuss.

Besides, unlike Asgard’s Wrath (also a superb VR game), you can practice your marksmanship in The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners – a necessary skill for Half Life: Alyx (it is a shooter, after all).

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Boneworks

What if you want to go deeper down the VR rabbit hole? You’ve sampled some other games, and you’re confident you have a solid grasp of this whole “interactive” shtick. Then allow me to introduce you to Boneworks, arguably the most intense VR experience on the market. You’ll duck and dive behind cover, swing from banisters like they’re monkey bars, and chuck antagonistic robots onto the skulls of your enemies as you lay down a line of lead with dual-akimbo SMGs.

Boneworks features the deepest physics system found in any VR title to date, and considering Half Life: Alyx’s pedigree, it’s the best game to play once you feel confident in VR. The fact it’s heavily influenced by the Half Life franchise means the experience will translate well to Half Life: Alyx, though I doubt Alyx will be moving about with as much abandon.

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Black Mesa

This fan remake of the original Half Life may not be a VR title, but it’s “essential viewing” for those who don’t know a headcrab from a barnacle. This remake has updated the aging 1998 original to be more in-line with the sequel, Half Life 2 – meaning better weapon feedback, level design, and more.

While I love the original Half Life dearly, Black Mesa is by far the best way to experience the Black Mesa Incident if you haven’t already. I gave it high marks in my review for good reason: if you want to learn more about what led to the world being in such a sorry state in Half Life: Alyx you need to play Black Mesa.

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Half Life 2

Let’s not play coy: we all knew I would end this article with the most seminal title in the Half Life franchise. While Black Mesa/Half Life is crucial from a story standpoint, Half Life 2 is the game Half Life: Alyx draws the most inspiration from. Alyx is a prequel to Half Life 2, so you don’t necessarily need to play it to fully understand what is happening in Half Life: Alyx.

However, Half Life 2 set a new standard in first-person storytelling, and its use of physics was groundbreaking at the time. From the Combine soldiers, City 17, and the ominous Citadel looming over it all this is the game all potential Half Life: Alyx fans need to play above all others. It’ll teach you the logic of the world, and best prepare you for what Valve has in store.

That, and it’s one of the greatest games ever made. Do yourself a favor, and play Half Life 2.

- This article was updated on:March 19th, 2020

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