Two weeks after the release, I finished my first playthrough of the independently-developed Half-Life 2 VR Mod.
And it’s good.
With the emergence of the Half-Life 2 VR Mod, my hopes have become a reality.
While Valve reportedly has multiple games in development right now, like Citadel, they probably aren’t likely to release them anytime soon.
Having the new mod is the best next-best thing I could have hoped for.
Without a new Half-Life VR title, the new mod brings a whole new level of immersion to Half-Life 2, not possible in the original pancake version.
It’s also easy to install.
As long as you have the base Half-Life 2 game, you are golden.
Half-Life 2 is Right for VR
The mod manages to convey feelings of being a chronological sequel and a technological prequel to Half-Life: Alyx.
What I mean is the mod makes the game feel like it could have been an actual Valve release in the early days of modern VR.
There were many moments during my playthrough where I almost felt like Half-Life 2 had always been a VR title.
The Half-Life 2 VR Mod is fully playable from start to finish, though the developer says it is a work in progress.
On the mod’s Steam discussions page, developers have been very active in answering players’ questions and working to solve issues with the game.
Since the mod’s launch, the developers have released multiple patches to fix various functionality and gameplay issues—something they say they will continue to do.
“We are excited that Half-Life 2 VR has finally seen the light of day on September 16th, 2022,” wrote developer CABAListic on the Half-Life 2 VR Mod discussions. “Please understand that this initial release is considered a public beta. It is not a finished product, but it is playable from beginning to end, and we hope you will have as much fun playing it as we had creating it.”
CABAListic says the team would have marked the VR Mod as early access, but the feature is unavailable for mods.
It had been many years since I last played Half-Life 2, and I was surprised at how much of the game I had forgotten.
Having forgotten parts, I felt like the story was almost a completely new experience, though I did remember some of it.
Throughout my playthrough, I kept telling myself, “I really don’t remember this part at all.”
VR Breathes New Life into Half-Life 2
With the implementation of VR, the Half-Life 2 experience felt new and more-real than ever.
In VR, I could actually crouch, reach out, pick up that can, and throw it in the trash, just like the Combine soldier ordered.
And the Combine soldier rejoiced quietly, to himself, without a sound.
Something that I had forgotten was the Administrator’s, or G-Man’s, appearances at certain spots during the game.
The G-Man is present at the beginning and end of Half-Life 2, but he pops up from time to time during the campaign.
But you usually have to be looking for him.
He’s like a spooky Hidden Mickey.
I spotted him in a train yard behind some railroad cars and on top of a dam following a fight with a helicopter, though he appears more times throughout the story.
I discovered that you can shoot the G-Man, and he appears to take damage, but is not actually harmed.
I managed to hit him with a couple of rounds in the train yard, leaving two red spots on his suit, but he walked off like nothing had happened.
The mysterious G-Man’s presence lends an additional layer of creepiness to the game as he stands silent and motionless before walking away.
Keen-eyed players will have spotted the G-Man lurking in Half-Life: Alyx as well.
Immersion is one of the big draws to virtual reality.
In a very-real sense, VR makes players feel like they are actually there.
When I play in VR, my experiences feel much more like actual memories than playing games on a screen.
It’s a phenomenon that is not unique to me and my experiences.
You’ll Need Strong VR Legs
Because VR is immersive, it requires some adjustment to teach your brain to process mismatched signals between what you see and feel.
When you get your VR legs, your brain understands that while the images on the screen are moving, you are actually standing or sitting still.
But even when you find your VR legs, you may occasionally have an experience that challenges you.
One thing I will stress about Half-Life 2 VR Mod is that players should have sturdy VR legs before jumping into the game.
The Half-Life 2 VR Mod will test your fortitude at some parts.
Even with my strong stomach, there was only one time when nausea really started to affect me.
One evening, I had just finished the airboat section after playing for a few hours, and I was tired.
I had been feeling the discomfort building, and I eventually reached my limit.
I removed my headset, stretched, took some deep breaths, got a snack, and watched a couple of episodes of The Partridge Family to settle my stomach.
With thousands of hours logged in my headset, my VR legs are strong, but the game tested them that night.
Still, I finished the game later and started a second playthrough without significant nausea issues.
I did experience a bit of discomfort riding along the rails in the Citadel in that little metal pod when turning, though it didn’t induce any nausea.
To reduce the chance of VR nausea, I always play with a fan pointed at me on the highest setting.
With the mod, my discomfort was usually triggered when rotating to the left or right rather than moving up or down.
The mod’s controls felt comfortable and familiar, partly mirroring the ones in Half-Life: Alyx.
In the mod, weapon selection is identical to Half-Life: Alyx, though the Half-Life 2 arsenal is a bit larger.
Also, instead of having an automatic flashlight on your wrist, like in Half-Life: Alyx, the light is on your head.
To activate the flashlight, just place your hand next to the left side of your head and pull the trigger.
In the mod, the player must stand near an object to grab it with a free hand.
In a game where virtually everyone is out to get you, you must use anything at your disposal to dispatch foes.
I especially liked using the gravity gun as it provides a way to make some creative kills.
Using the gravity gun to pick up a toilet and hurl it at a Combine soldier is pretty satisfying, and there’s a Steam achievement for doing it.
One of my favorite kills of the playthrough was when I walked onto damaged steps which fell, with me on them, to the level below.
As a zombie approached, I used the gravity gun to pick up the broken metal steps and launch them at the lumbering enemy, solving both our problems.
Out of all the objects, the large sawblades were probably my favorite items to hurl at enemies with the gravity gun.
Another memorable kill involved using a crane to drop a large metal cargo container on a Combine soldier.
When the barrel exploded after the drop, it was the icing on the cake.
After taking so many bullets from Combine soldiers, dropping that cargo container was pretty satisfying.
Heights Seem Higher in VR
If heights scare you, know that playing Half-Life 2 in VR will test your acrophobia in some spots.
I wouldn’t say that I’m afraid of heights, but I do have a healthy respect for them.
But it’s not the fall that scares me, it’s the sudden stop at the end.
Because VR is in 3D, heights can seem very real.
One particularly vertigo-inducing section is toward the end of the game when Gordon enters the Citadel.
I must admit crawling along ledges and jumping to platforms as I entered the Citadel had me tensing up just a little bit and walking carefully.
Another spot in the game that had me proceeding with caution is in the Highway 17 segment, where you have to climb across the supports underneath the bridge.
The bridge part is one that I remembered from playing the pancake version of Half-Life 2 years ago, though it felt incredibly more realistic in VR.
The Half-Life 2 VR Mod is an Easy Recommendation
I am always looking for solid VR experiences, and the Half-Life 2 VR Mod absolutely fits the bill.
With solid combat and a rich story experience in VR, the mod is in my list of games I will return to periodically for subsequent plays.
As I’ve mentioned, I started a second playthrough, which is going a lot more quickly and smoothly, having gone through it once already.
The developers have stated that VR mods for Half-Life 2’s DLC episodes are in the pipeline, but there is no timeline for those yet.
For now, the developers are continuing to polish the Half-Life 2 VR Mod, which is already pretty shiny out the gate with a few updates released.
So grab your crowbar and strap on your HMD, because you have some headcrabs to smash.