Virtual reality has always been a conflicting area in videogames. Some people adore the platform and relish opportunities to explore the technology, others are simply not able to utilise the technology, whether that's due to spatial concerns or because of the cost necessary to run the systems. Either way, it's not very often we come across a VR title of such high quality that we as a gaming community agree it's one of the best games of the year, but that's exactly what Valve managed when they released Half-Life: Alyx.
Set between the events of Half-Life 1 and 2, Half-Life: Alyx tasks you with survival. It puts you in the shoes of Alyx Vance, a distinguished scientist who continues to defy the invading Combine forces, performing scientific research to discover weaknesses against the powerful foes to aid humanities efforts of survival. With deep environmental interaction, world exploration, challenging combat and tasking puzzles, Half-Life: Alyx elevates the virtual reality experience and gives you more opportunities than ever to become immersed in a digital world.
This is precisely why Valve's continuation of the Half-Life series in VR form generated so much buzz. This game doesn't look to reflect the Half-Life experience we all knew from the mainline games, it's an entirely separate entity built to play in a unique style. Where the original Half-Life titles are often regarded as some of the greatest examples of what a videogame could be, Alyx instead looked to redefine the expectations of VR, by instead focussing on immersion first and foremost.
Virtual Reality games often misses certain marks. In VR, we aren't always looking for a more active, physical version of the PC and console games we play, we are looking for something new entirely. The world has to feel deeper and more interactive than ever before and Alyx looked to achieve that by focusing equally on the little things as on the bigger areas. Interested in grabbing that healing syringe at the back of the shelf in the corner of the room? In Half-Life: Alyx, you can simply move everything out of the way to pick it up. Fancy doodling on a window with a permanent marker? Nothing is stopping you, find a pen and have at it.
These simple additions take a good title and make it great, as the digital world quickly becomes as immersive and interactive as reality. Valve looked to elevate this further with a tight and reactive control system that gave you the accuracy and ability to engage in the most basic actions with ease. It might sound like I'm stating what should be obvious, but how many times have you played a VR game and felt as though you have little to no freedom except for moving down a predetermined path. In Half-Life: Alyx, the exploration and interactivity of its world is just as important as its gripping storyline, which even with a lot of the developers from the original two games leaving Valve years ago: Alyx still feels like it was made by a series of veterans who have years of Half-Life experience under their belts.
The humorous memeing of a Half-Life 3 announcement has lasted up until this point, and will continue down the line as dedicated fans hope to see the beloved storyline progress. But, Half-Life: Alyx proves that Valve, who has been a little relaxed in the game development factor, remains an industry titan. In Alyx, the studio has proved once again that they are narrative wizards with impeccable environmental design, and while a lot of people will probably never get the chance to try this striking title due to the limitations of virtual reality in modern gaming: Half-Life: Alyx is simply just too outstanding to not credit on our rundown of the best games of 2020.