A team of modders has figured out a way to bypass the need for a VR headset to play Half-Life: Alyx, Valve’s PC VR-exclusive game (via PC Gamer). The early access mod, created by GB_2 Development Team, lets you play through the entirety of the enthralling Half-Life 2 prequel with a mouse and keyboard, the input method that many of the franchise’s fans prefer.
You still need a copy of the game on Steam, as well as a relatively powerful gaming desktop or laptop to run it on. But it’s great news for anyone who either can’t stomach VR, can’t play in VR for accessibility reasons, or who simply can’t justify buying a pricey VR headset to play the game on.
I think it’s important to recognize how cool this is before critiquing it. It’s both polished enough to try and easy to install (it’s an easy drag-and-drop file affair). However, given the game’s made-for-VR controls and its tactile, hand-based interactivity, it’s not the one-to-one translation you might be hoping for — and it probably will never be. Yes, that means that the game’s fabulous liquid shaders are still most convincing in VR.
Valve’s Robin Walker predicted in 2020 that a mod that turns Half-Life: Alyx into a “standard” non-VR version of the game would show up eventually, but that it’d mostly serve to “[...] clearly demonstrate to people why we did this in VR.”
He’s still right, in a sense. Some core components of the VR game, like using Alyx’s gravity gloves to pick up or interact with objects with the satisfying flick of a wrist, as well as the game’s sense of scale and atmosphere, are lost. In the mod’s current state, you won’t be able to get 9 of the game’s 42 Steam achievements, which mostly rely on interacting with objects in the world with your hands.
But still, it’s not bad as you might be dreading. After getting past a flickering main menu (and starting a new game; it won’t work with in-progress saves), the movement and shooting controls work well, and it’s great to see this game’s lush graphics on screens that aren’t an inch away from my eyes. If you only care about seeing the story beats of Half-Life: Alyx, this could be a good way to play (side note: kudos if you managed to remain spoiler-free about the game’s killer, controversial ending).
The mod team is working to implement more tweaks to the interface, the game’s animations, and more to make it feel more like a standard PC FPS, and less like a game tied heavily to its VR roots. Before installing the mod on your PC, the developers suggest reading through its FAQ, which details the controls, the essential launch commands to use in Steam, and provides some troubleshooting.
Let us know in the comments if you plan to give this a shot.