Half-Life: Alyx is a brilliant game. A remarkable return to form for the long-dormant Valve flagship. But there was something crucial missing from the prequel's launch. That's right - I'm talking about those tiny yellow speech bubbles wot let Valve employees whisper sweet development secrets into your ears. Today, those audio tracks return to Valve's VR shooter, not as those iconic yellow bubbles, but as floating, fourth-wall-breaking headsets.
To paraphrase the most famous of Valve's commentary tracks: after eight months in development, I hope it will have been worth the wait.
Valve's audio tracks have always been lovely little treats. Littering the levels of games like Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2 and Portal, these developer commentary bubbles provide fascinating insights - covering everything from the Heavy's silhouette and the flow of payload maps to the sounds of Left 4 Dead's menagerie of monsters.
Today's update adds over three hours of developer commentary to Half-Life: Alyx, scattered across 147 points-of-interest throughout the game's campaign. Sadly, the spinning orange speech bubbles are gone, replaced by little headsets to pick up and pop on your very-real head that'll tune you in on insights from the devs. Your gloves will tell you who's speaking - and if you get tired of hearing about, say, particle effects, all you have to do is toss off the virtual headset.
Now, Valve had intended to get commentary out at launch. But, as will be all-too-familiar by now, our old pal Covid-19 got in the way, and while the game still shipped intact in March, features like Workshop support and audio commentary were postponed until after launch. At least it's given us the cosy image of folks creating commentary from pillowforts in their home offices, mind.
"Like much of the world, we are all working from home," Valve wrote in a press release, "which means that rather than using our comfortable high-quality recording studio at the office, we have been recording our commentary voice-overs in closets and blanket forts around greater Seattle."
Audio Commentary can be accessed by starting a new game in commentary mode, with various localisation options available. If you like your behind-the-scenes dives VR-free, mind, there's always Half-Life: Alyx - Final Hours. Released earlier this summer, the Goeff Keighley-fronted package even lets you craft your own bespoke alien screams. Fair enough.