Half-Life: Alyx is so close I've started rearranging furniture in my house so I'll have more space to play it. I don't need to wait any longer if I want to visit a couple of the game's environments with my headset, however. Last night, Valve released two areas from HL: Alyx for use in SteamVR Home - that's the staging area you appear inside when you first load SteamVR, before you choose what game you're going to play. I've had a wander around a City 17 backalley, gazed up at the unfinished Citadel, and am more ready for the game than ever.
The first of the environments is set in City 17, as seen above. You start off in an alleyway, and then can move through a corridor to a children's swing park. Those fleshy Combine gunships fly overhead, you can hear the distant stomps of a Strider, and there are cables, posters and other alien detritus scattered around. It's visually rich in a way most VR games are not, and I particularly love the soft lighting and the low clouds.
SteamVR Home environments are mostly decorative, designed to either load quickly so you can select a game from a menu, or as hang-out spaces for gathering pals inside before you go play. As a result, they're a lot less interactive than the environments likely will be in Half-Life: Alyx proper. For one, you don't have fancy gloves for grabbing things from afar, though there are a few physics objects to pick up and throw around. And as per every SteamVR Home environment, you can spawn your own items and furniture and save them in place for the next time you return.
Then there's the second environment...
This is Russel's lab. Russel is the character introduced in Half-Life: Alyx's first trailer, who gives Alyx those physics gloves (and a supposedly unloaded gun). He's voiced by Rhys Darby, and it seems like he'll spend much of the game talking to you over an earpiece.
He's not in his lab - SteamVR Home doesn't have characters - but there's lots to poke around at. There's a button to open a secret doorway to where he works. There's a fridge stuffed with powdered food and what appears to be a vac-packed headcrab labelled "DO NOT EAT". There are old TVs and CRT monitors everywhere, some showing faint Black Mesa logos. And in the back, there's the contraption from which you'll presumably take the magic gloves in the game itself:
I don't think I'd want to make either of these environments my permanent SteamVR Home - neither has a particularly chill vibe, given the signs of military occupation and dereliction. They are a tiny taste of what Half-Life: Alyx promises to deliver, however: the chance to fully inhabit Half-Life's stunning environment design. Scale has always been one of the things VR is best at, and I'm desperate to crane my neck upwards at the Citadel some more.
For those who have a Valve Index, you can grab these environments now via the Steam Workshop: the City 17 alleyway and Russell's lab, and you'll need this Half-Life: Alyx asset pack as well. Once downloaded, you can then load them up from SteamVR Home by pressing B on your controller, going to 'Environments', and they'll appear in the menu. If you have a headset other than the Valve Index, you'll need to find a friend who owns one and join a room they're hosting via SteamVR Home.