It was only a matter of time. Shortly after Half-Life: Alyx's release, modders were already tinkering with ways to play Alyx without VR. Now there's a mod that will actually let you complete the game entirely with a regular display, though it sounds like a slightly finicky experience. This likely won't be the end of the road for VR-less Alyx, but it's certainly a milestone.
You can find the mod called Driver over on GitHub. The setup process looks a bit daunting with so many controls to remap to your keyboard and mouse, but there are some pretty detailed instructions to get you through it if you're dead set on getting your mits on some headcrabs. There's also a setup video to walk you through.
From the gifs on the mod's page, you can see pretty quickly how removing VR from the equation really drags Alyx down. Instead of gesturing with your hands as you would with VR controllers, it appears that the mod will mostly lock your hands in place in front of you. Of course this likely causes some issues with sections of the game that really depend on your ability to move about, so modder "r57zone" has given walkthroughs for a few tricky sections.
It seems like stripping VR out of the experience will likely take some of the fun with it. Graham describes a section in his Half-Life: Alyx review that I just can't imagine being quite as tense or effective without free control over Alyx's hands.
"Picture: me, the hungry contractor, crawling around fixing wires, only to accidentally knock a glass bottle off a shelf. It smashes, and the big brute comes charging towards me like a foreman with a clipboard. I have to put my trembling hand over my mouth to avoid breathing spores, and run off to hide in the corner of the room. It is the most frightened I’ve ever been while playing a game, and yet the absurdity of my real-world actions made it in some ways delightful, too. I was laughing at myself, even in the midst of panic."
Valve's Robin Walker told Polygon before launch that he was fine with folks trying to remove VR from Alyx, though he was pretty confident that it would validate Valve's choice to make it a VR-only experience. "It will be a very crisp way of seeing all the stuff we got for the move into VR. If people play [a modded version on a standard display] and say this is is just as good, that will teach me a lot. I will realise I’m wrong, and we didn’t get as much as we thought, and I love to know whenever I’m wrong."
So far, I doubt Walker is wrong. Alyx seems entirely designed around tactile exploration. As modders continue messing about, perhaps they'll make some strides towards keyboard-controlled Alyx that rival the original.
If you're determined to have a go at City 17 sans headset, this is your chance. Find Driver on GitHub and make sure to read the instructions carefully, aye?
Ta, PC Gamer.