You can play Half-Life: Alyx without VR glasses using a handy new mod
But is VR vital for the proper Alyx experience?
Right from the start, modders tried to make Valve's virtual reality shooter Half-Life: Alyx work without needing VR glasses. Now another such mod has reached the point of Alyx being fully playable from start to finish on a regular monitor with keyboard and mouse. This new mod looks more polished than some others, and claims it's the "easiest to use and most flexible" of the lot. I'm not too interested in a VRless Alyx but I'm sure it's welcome news to some.
The Half-Life Alyx NoVR mod has been in "early access" for a few weeks and, following Sunday's update, now offers the whole game playable from start to finish without donning even a singular cybermonocle. Keyboard, mouse, and monitor is all you need. Oh, and a PC. The mod is still a work-in-progress with bugs and missing features, and the devs plan to work on those across the year.
You can download Half-Life Alyx NoVR from ModDB. Then simply unzip the files to your game folder, fiddle with Alyx's Steam launch options, and away you go. It's on GitHub too.
Several other mods have previously made Alyx playable without VR goggles. Going by what some players have said, this one is perhaps a pretty good implementation? Though the goggmod which most interested me was one released in March 2020, one week after Alyx's launch—and right as covid-19 was ramping up. At the time, that mod's creator explained:
"I made this mod for myself so that I could play and experience Half-Life Alyx before my death (If Corona Virus happens to me), and for those of you that fear that they might not live long enough to be able to buy a VR headset and play the game."
And that little time capsule of a story illustrates why I always read mod readme files.
Valve had always expected people to mod the VR out of Alyx, but had also expected people to find the game lacking without cramming your real muscles beneath Alyx's virtual skin.
"I'm fine with it, for the sake of the other members of the team I don't want to say I encourage you to do it, but it's going to happen," Valve's Robin Walker told Polygon back when Alyx launched. "I think people will then hopefully have an even greater understanding of why we decided to build the product in VR than they do now."
I haven't played Alyx in VR and never will because cybergoggs don't work with my eyes, but I'm not too interested in playing with mouse and keyboard on my monitor. From what I've seen watching others play and reading words like our Half-Life: Alyx review, the whole body experience does seem an important part of the game. Lots of ducking down, rummaging, clasping your hand to your mouth to avoid inhaling spores, fiddling, shooting from behind cover, and tugging, not to mention the sheer expressive joy of hands. Valve designed Alyx with the presence of that physical experience as a substantial source of satisfaction, which leaves an unintended void if you pull the game out of virtual reality and treat it like any other first-person shooter. Ah, maybe I'll give it a curious poke if Alyx goes cheap in a sale.
Speaking of slamming old and new technologies together, friends of Freeman might want to check out the mod adding raytracing to the original Half-Life. Unlike many raytracing mods for vintage video games, I think that one works because it also makes the game look old and messy in new ways to create its own distinct look, rather than just caking shiny new lighting on top. Oh, and do check out our recent interview with Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw.