Half-Life 2 is one of the defining games of video game history. More than a decade after its original release, we can now be IN the game, thanks to virtual reality and the Oculus Rift. In this review, we will find out if it is worth it for you to get the Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 and a pair of Razer Hydra Motion Controllers now, or if you should be patient for a couple of more months and wait for the consumer version of the Rift to arrive.
What is this?
Probably the most amazing video game experience that you can have in September of 2014. With this statement we are giving away our verdict early in this review, but well, it is just true! When our DK2 arrived, we were stoked to play Half-Life 2 for the first time in virtual reality. It was simply unbelievable to suddenly be in the game. But playing this with the Razer Hydra motion controllers in conjunction with the latest version of the HLVR mod is truly amazing. For those who have never heard about the HLVR project, it is a mod for Half-Life 2 that aims to bring the best virtual reality experience to Half-Life by optimizing the game for the latest available Oculus Rift version and the Razer Hydra motion controllers.
What is special about this?
Playing Half-Life 2 just with the Oculus Rift DK2 for the first time is already an incredible experience. The game feels like as if it had been made for VR in the first place, beaming the player right into the HEV suit. But while the original unmodded experience is already a fantastic one, what holds you back from feeling that you are really in that universe as you play is the original control scheme, with either mouse and keyboard or gamecontroller. It is just not immersive to hold your joypad with two hands when you are within virtual reality and you should actually be pointing your gun at the bad guys. And here is where the HLVR mod and the Razer Hydra motion controllers come in! It’s a match made in heaven! The Hydra motion controllers allow you to hold your weapon and move it in 3D space, which will directly be translated to what you see within the Oculus Rift DK2 headset. This is not just about being able to look around anymore, now you are really there and see how you wield your weapon and aim at your enemies. It’s spectactular!
How does it work?
To start enjoying this experience, you will need the latest version of the HLVR mod and a pair of Razer Hydra motion controllers, next to your Oculus Rift DK2. Check out the reddit page of the project for download links and instructions here: http://www.reddit.com/r/hlvr/wiki/index
Once you have installed the mod, you are good to go. You will then find Half Life 2 VR in your Steam library and the fun can begin. We recommend you to start with the training course which will teach you the motion control scheme. Overall, you can choose between 3 different control configurations. In the default configuration, you hold the two Hydra controllers in each hand. It is pretty much a standard gamepad configuration with your left hand controlling the motion and your right hand wielding your weapon. Control scheme 2 and 3 make more use of the tracking capabilities that the Hydra controllers have built in. In these control schemes you attach the left controller to your chest and your actual directional movements control the direction in which you will will face within the game. These modes do quite add to the immersion, however, since you are still attached to the base station of the Hydra controller via a cable, your freedom of movement is severely restricted.
The handling of the weapons is as intuitive as you imagine it is. You simply aim and shoot! Or in the case of the crowbar, you swing and whip it against your target. When you destroy a wooden box for the first time by actually swinging your crowbar against it, you feel an instant satisfaction that you could never have experienced by simply pressing a button. The same is true for the gun play: holding the Hydra controllers and really having to aim at your enemies as if you were there in that moment makes all the difference. And all this within a virtual reality experience is nothing short of spectactular! The HLVR team even takes it to a whole new level when it comes to reloading your weapons. Depending on what weapon you want to reload, you will actually have to use your left hand to exchange the magazine or put in new bullets. The one-to-one mapping of your actual hand movements into virtual reality is what we had hoped for all the time and the HLVR mod makes this a reality. Thank you, HLVR team, we salute you!
Oh yes! HLVR is all about total immersion into the world of Half-Life 2. As we have pointed out before, Half-Life 2 in VR is already great, but playing the HLVR mod with the Hydra motion controllers is simply stunning. Without the motion controllers, the traditional control schemes with mouse and keyboard or joypad constantly reminded you that you are only playing a game. With the HLVR mod and the Hydra motion controllers, this is over. You are IN the game and you will forget the real world around you. You are Gordon Freeman and you have to save the world! What makes the control scheme with the motion controllers even more compelling is that you suddenly really have to aim at your enemies like you would have to in real life. There is no crosshair to guide you, you have to trust your own aiming skills and the iron sights of your weapon! And believe us, you will find yourself closing one eye to use those iron sights, just like you would in real life. It feels so real, it is made so well… it’s scary sometimes! There definitely is a learning curve involved before you succeed at hitting your targets, but that makes it all feel so much more real and satisfying.
The only problem that still needs to be solved is that of movement. It is the same problem for all VR experiences so far that have the first person move, since there simply is a disconnect of you sitting in your comfy chair while your eyes tell your brain that you are actually walking, jumping or crawling. Therefore, all those VR experiences that have you sit in a cockpit or float in space will give you a better feeling of presence than a first person shooter. Unless of course, you have an omindirectional treadmill. We can’t wait to check out one of those, too!
We gave it away early in this review. Half-Life VR in conjunction with the Oculus Rift DK2 and the Razer Hydra motion controllers is the most amazing video game experience that is commercially available in this September of 2014. The whole VR experience is so convincing that you just lose yourself in the game. In one of your favourite games of all times, that is. And even though we are only dealing with the 2nd version of the development kit of the Oculus Rift and the makers of this incredible piece of technology keep on insisting that you should wait for the consumer version of it, we could not stress more how fantastic this virtual reality experience already is! Yes, the consumer version of the Rift will be better, perhaps much better than this. But if you have played HLVR with the DK2 and the Hydra motion controllers, you cannot with a straight face suggest anyone who loves videogames to wait for another year to experience this as well. This is revolutionary, a gamer’s dream becoming (virtual) reality! What excites us the most is that this is only the beginning and it will just get better and better. If we would compare the situation now with the rise of smartphones, beam yourself back to late 2006, early 2007. We knew that Apple would come out with their own take on smartphones and that the iPhone would be huge. We are probably at the same stage with VR. We know this will be another revolution. But this time around, it is as if we could simply order a prototype of the very first iPhone that is already very close to the production model. Come on, who are we kidding? Head over to the Oculus Rift page and order your DK2 now! Even if you will upgrade to the consumer version after a year, you will still own a piece of tech history that might one day be worth much more than the asking price of the 350 bucks that you have to shell out now.