Why Did it Have to be Jeff? Half-Life Alyx
When I think of seminal horror games, my mind always strays to Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Fatal Frame. However, I always need to remember Half-Life, which in retrospect, is a mistake. The opening portion of Half-Life after the reactor incident is a horrifying experience. I was trapped in the facility, with strange monsters all around with nothing but a crowbar to defend myself. Mixing that with the excellent environment and sound design, Half-Life is a fantastic game. But just as with any Resident Evil, heads into the action over horror camp too quickly. By the time you are facing the soldiers, the game has completely shifted focus. Not to say this is a bad thing; Half-Life really is a masterpiece. I just wish it held onto its horror beginning a little longer.
Then we got Half-life 2, which is more of a rising rebellion storyline, so much more focus on the action until we get about halfway through and enter Ravenholme. This terrifying little village is covered in head crabs and zombies. With Valve really pushing the environmental storytelling, it’s a truly upsetting and creepy section of the game. But once again, we are pulled out quickly.
So when Half-Life Alyx came out, I expected the usual action but one section of scares. And briefly, after the opening section getting the gloves and getting a pistol, you are let go into a quarantine zone. Thinking in general Half-Life affair, okay, this is the horror section. And you would also think it is leaning that way because there are a lot of dark hallways filled with zombies and headcrabs. It’s effective, especially in VR. The level of immersion in Half-Life Alyx is intense. Having headcrabs jump toward your face, there is something that just brings up these visceral reactions as they jump towards you. Not to mention being able to hear the creeping headcrab zombies lurking around in the dark, Half-Life Alyx is just a different experience.
Valve has always been excellent at its environmental storytelling and atmosphere. But after going through the chapter, I thought I was clear. VR horror hits differently because, unlike in regular gaming, there is no escape if things get too creepy. Not only are you in control of the horror by controlling your character, but with the levels of sound design, atmosphere, and really moving around freely in the world, it makes you feel like you are living in this world instead of just experiencing it through someone else’s eyes.
What I didn’t realize my first time through was that what I thought was supposed to be the more horror-centric sections of the game would not even come close to the levels of horror Alyx delivers later in a chapter simply called “Jeff”.
Jeff is the pinnacle of what Alyx has to offer. The level of immersion in this survival horror section is genuinely admirable. Jeff is a Combine hazmat suit worker who was infected by the Xen spores. This causes his face to split open, resembling a venue flu trap, rendering Jeff blind. This caused Jeff to use his hearing for hunting down his prey. Because of his infection due to the spores also enhanced Jeff’s strength and rendered him resistant to traditional damage.
Pitting us against this monster was such a great idea. Just on the brink of feeling like a badass, we get tossed into a situation where we need to change tactics completely. We have to remain silent and sneak around. It takes Half-Life Alyx and flips the genre script. We ultimately have to use Jeff’s senses against him leading him to a trash compactor to destroy him. But chapter seven is an excellent flex by Valve, showing its horror hand. But there is something about sneaking around using the environment to trick Jeff by throwing objects and having to sneak around him. There were points while I was playing where I had to hold my breath. I’ve said this before, but there is something about the immersion of VR that makes you feel like you are actually in the world when that world has you sneaking around a super mutated monster who will kill you if he hears you is terrifying.
Even though Jeff is the big takeaway from Alyx, the whole game is an excellent turn for Half-Life. It elevates it to a new echelon of horror for the series. With a tease at the end of Half-Life Alyx that the universe will continue, I hope they explore more of the VR side of things because Valve really put out one of the best VR games. Not to mention a fantastic horror game, who knows if they committed to something entirely horror, it would probably be amazing!