Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Half-Life: Alyx (Zero Punctuation)

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I kinda feel bad for Valve. "Rejoice, ye faithful, for official Half-Life games have returned

from their long hibernation in a giant coccoon of money! Now the true believers will be rewarded

with - where the fuck is everyone?" We're all in quarantine 'cos of the global pandemic,

Valve. "Oh. Would now be a bad time to ask people to buy our thousand dollar VR headset?"

I rather suspect it would be, Valve, yes. Still, now could be the perfect time for the

VR revolution since everyone's stuck at home looking for ways to cover their eyes and ears

and go la la la not listening to current events. And much as the boringly named Valve Index

sounds more like something related to insider trading in the plumbing industry than a VR

system, I personally found that it represents great value for money, mainly because they

sent me a free one. 'Cos I'm a reviewer. So I'd better review it. How does it compare

to my old Oculus Rift? Well, the image is crisper and it doesn't take up fifteen USB

ports, it just takes up nineteen power sockets instead. That's not true. In reality it takes

up three power sockets. And isn't it a shame that I have to break character to clarify

that because some of you mouthbreathers don't understand exaggeration for comic effect and

think "hyperbowl" is what Sony's PR department eats cereal out of. Yes I know it's pronounced

"hyperbole" I couldn't think of a better joke.

The controllers are chargeable rather than battery powered, very nice, but they're less

than optimal for the larger handed gentleman. I find to press the start buttons I have to

bend my thumb joints to very uncomfortable angles like I'm trying to fold my thumbs into

extremely small Ikea flatpacks. Still, I like how the finger tracking means every game now

has Brutal Doom's flip middle fingers at the enemies feature, and the strap across the

palm design makes it possible to actually throw things in VR games without also physically

throwing the controller and seriously upsetting my dog. But let's get to the star of the show,

Half-Life Alyx. I remember saying once that Valve will probably never do another Half-Life

until it can in some way represent a technological step forward like Half-Life 1 and 2 both did,

and it really is a burden having to be right all the time. No one will play Trivial Pursuit

with me anymore. Begone ye fanmade golden calves of Slack Beta and Cunt Down The Wee-wees,

Half-Life Alyx is a continuation of the Half-Life canon intended to be the hot app that VR still

kinda needs.

Oh, how necessary to the canon can it be, Yahtzee? Surely we'll be going through the

plot knowing that nothing permanent can happen because it's a prequel set five years before

Gordon Freeman shows up and wipes everyone's bumsies. That's what I thought, but then the

ending suddenly pulled my trousers right down and started affecting the established plot.

So since I don't want to spoil it, sorry Half-Life fans, better crack open those swear jars and

start a VR fund. Or more realistically watch someone on Youtube play it. But forget about

that. Half-Life Alyx is a lovely piece of escapist fantasy set in a world with an actually

competent government, albeit one that's just a little bit too murdery, so a young Alyx

Vance of the human resistance movement must firstly pursue her captured father, resistance

leader and amazing human Maguffin Eli Vance, and secondly a potential superweapon that

could finally defeat the Combine but obviously won't. All the while chatting to a comic relief

dotty scientist character on her radio who could easily have been Dr. Kleiner from Half-Life

2 but isn't. Maybe they couldn't get the voice actor back. But they didn't get ANY voice

actors back. The dude now voicing Eli sounds as much like the previous dude as he does

Whitney fuckin' Houston.

It's odd to play a Half-Life game where the main character speaks and can tell the people

around them to stop being such prannies, but it's still unmistakably Half-Life with its

trademark monsters, linear narrative gameplay and weird emotional tone. I mean, humanity

has essentially been enslaved by the Borg who systematically subject them to gory nightmarish

body horror, but everyone's really cheerful and yukking it up with their pet headcrabs.

Yes, I know humans strive to be upbeat during a crisis, but there's this one very Resident

Evil-y chapter in Alyx where we have to sneak around an indestructible monster who's this

hideously mutated human who will tear us apart if he finds us and looks to be in immense

suffering, and then we're told that their name is Jeff and everyone talks about him

like he's the one asshole in the friend group who keeps hitting on waitresses. Oh that Jeff.

Jeff sucks. Hey, I trapped Jeff in a garbage compactor; sucks to be Jeff! Sometimes Half-Life

storytelling feels like what happens when an entire game has Asperger's Syndrome. The

nature of VR means that Alyx's journey involves a lot of picking through pokey rooms in contrast

to how Gordon Freeman spent entire chapters doing action stunts in his turbo roadster

while kissing his biceps and steering with his buttocks.

But this is why I like VR, because somehow it's just as absorbing to rummage through

a roomful of cardboard boxes looking for the perfect one to wear on your head. And that's

why if they do mod a non-VR version of Alyx it'll probably be about as much fun as playing

Pop-Up Pirate without the pirate. The VR is essential. Alyx is a refinement of the VR

action adventure in every sense. It looks great and it's taken the Boneworks model,

my previously favourite VR game, and removed all the janky and physically exhausting stuff

that are fun in their own way but don't suit an immersive story experience, 'cos it's hard

to focus on reading a book while doing star jumps. So melee combat's deemphasised, as

not everyone can comfortably swing imaginary crowbars and stuffed polecats around, not

without cracking their knuckles on their long-suffering dog again. And no two-handed guns, which in

VR tend to feel as natural to use as a fencing sword with a comically large rubber dildo

strapped to the end. Pistol, shotgun and SMG, it's the all one-handed gun show, which is

what my old boarding school used to call the period immediately following lights out. No

dual wielding either, which is a shame, although dual wielding in Boneworks was only fun until

you needed to reload, at which point you feel a bit stupid, unless you could think of a

way to toss a fresh clip into the air with your rapidly softening dick.

Also, no physics climbing, just ladders. And ladders continue to be the one thing Valve

games just cannot figure out. In this case, you sort of vaguely grab a rung and then Alyx

instantly zips to the top like she's queefing rocket exhaust. So the immersion takes a bit

of a fanny fart to the face there but otherwise Alyx is my new exemplar for VR narrative action

games, it's engaging in all the ways that count and it being an official entry for a

big franchise is a significant step for VR becoming less of a janky novelty. But will

it be what finally breaks VR into the mainstre- NO. No, this is what I as a VR enthusiast

have come to accept, listeners. Every big mainstream success in the last two decades

of video games has been about making them more casual or more social, and VR is the

antithesis to both. You can't craftily alt-tab into it when you're supposed to be working

- unless you've got pathologically unobservant supervisors - and you can't do it while hanging

out with friends unless you really want them to leave and they missed all the other hints

you dropped. So I think it will always be niche. But so fucking what? Frankly. You really

need something to have mainstream popularity to like it? That's like only liking caviare

when it's had peanut M&Ms mixed through it.

The Description of Half-Life: Alyx (Zero Punctuation)