It's been less than a week since Valve's seminal Half-Life series made its long overdue return in the form of the VR-exclusive Half-Life: Alyx, and, already, the race is on to get it running on a standard screen using mouse and keyboard. A fully playable version might still be a long way off, but footage has emerged offering a first taste of Alyx running outside of VR.
Valve News Network creator Tyler McVicker initially demoed the rudimentary VR-free version of Alyx, restricted to the most basic of interactions, during a data-mining livestream earlier this week. As McVicker explains in a new video, he was making use of a pre-release build of the game, mistakenly made accessible through Steam, that still included tools enabling Valve's developers to test Alyx without strapping on a headset.
However, even with these tools, says McVicker, Alyx without VR is still an incredibly limited affair. The traditional "use" key simply doesn't work as you might expect, and with no way to gain direct control of Alyx's hands, even some of the most basic interactions aren't possible.
In order to make the experience even adequately playable, reckons McVickers, modders would either need to create a control scheme that binds specific hands motions to different keys in order to properly interact with the world, or remove them altogether, abstracting all individual actions to key presses - not that he believes the end result would be enjoyable, based on his experience with the pre-release build.
"Non-VR mods are going to exist," says McVickers, "[but] they're not going to be very fun, the game wasn't designed to be played like Half-Life 2".
That's a perspective shared by Valve itself, of course; speaking to VGC earlier this week, Half-Life: Alyx's designer and programmer Robin Walker said, "What I'm confident will happen is that when people get that butchered version, and they'll have lost all the things that we'll have got from moving to VR, they will then understand very clearly why we made that choice."
"There's a part of me that's eager for people to be able to have that experience," Walker continued, "and realise, 'Oh, now I get it. Now I see everything we lost in that transition back to non-VR and I understand why they did it.'"
A VR-less version of Half-Life: Alyx might still be some way off, for better or worse, but those with the proper equipment to experience the game as Valve intended are in for a real treat, as Eurogamer's Christian Donlan explained in his Recommended review.