Now that Half-Life: Alyx is out, it's putting up impressive numbers for a VR game in terms of the number of concurrent users on Steam. On its release date, Alyx peaked at over 42,000 players and became the only VR title to crack the top 25 games played on Steam that day. Still, at the time of writing, over 100,000 people are watching Half-Life: Alyx streams on Twitch. Streams and Let's Plays will be the first way many folks will experience Valve's latest.
Valve actually implemented a number of features specifically intended for gameplay capture and streams, such as spectator head motion smoothing and a viewer-only HUD, that help make watching Half-Life: Alyx a more enjoyable experience. That said, just as there are a myriad of individual comfort preferences inside of VR, watching someone play VR for long stretches of time can also present its own challenges.
Furthermore, there's always the question of whether you want to watch a chatty personality on stream, a chill player who chimes in from time to time, or a no-commentary run. For folks who either want to watch a bit more Half-Life: Alyx than the brief gameplay videos Valve has released or who want to see the whole game start-to-finish, we've rounded up a few different options for you.
Danny O'Dwyer of Noclip
Danny O'Dwyer, formerly of GameSpot and founder of the crowdfunded game documentary channel Noclip, says Half-Life is his favorite series of all time. Naturally, after creating a feature-length documentary for the original Half-Life's 20 year anniversary, he was going to be on top of covering Half-Life: Alyx. You can watch Danny's spoiler-free video review, but he's also going to be uploading a chapter-by-chapter walkthrough of the game over the coming days.
It's important to note that Danny is playing with the "blink" teleport locomotion option on and spectator motion smoothing off. Inside VR, the brief fade-in and fade-out of the teleport proves to be the most comfortable option for a lot of people, but it might actually be more disorienting while watching someone play the game, especially during sections with lots of traversal and combat. This will absolutely be a matter of personal comfort, and your preferences in terms of video might differ from the option you'd feel best with while playing.
Ben Plays VR
At his YouTube channel, Ben also has full Let's Plays of Half-Life 2 and both of its sequel episodes, recorded in anticipation of Alyx's release. He's also a newcomer to the series, so if you're just getting on board with Half-Life, he may be a good option for catching up with more than just Half-Life: Alyx. For his Half-Life 2 playthrough, he actually used a fanmade VR mod for the game. That can look a little silly—really, it nicely illustrates the differences between Alyx's intentional VR design and the results of just putting VR mechanics in a pre-existing shooter—but it's certainly a novel way to watch Half-Life 2 if you've played it before.
Ben plays using a continuous locomotion option, meaning his movement is largely controlled with a thumbstick or small steps in his room-scale VR space. Depending on who's playing and how frenetic their movements are, that may be the most comparable option to watching regular FPS gameplay. Ben also plays with Half-Life: Alyx's in-world floating subtitles enabled for dialogue.
Cas and Chary VR
If you're really feeling the self-isolation blues and want to watch people enjoying Half-Life: Alyx together, then Cas and Chary are probably your best bet. For their shared VR channel, Cas already played through the entire game and uploaded a video review, but in their Let's Play series she'll be interacting with the stream chat while Chary goes through Alyx for her first time.
Like Ben Plays VR, Chary's playing with subtitles and continuous locomotion enabled, but she's also got a heart rate monitor on. It'll definitely be entertaining to see if it peaks during Half-Life: Alyx's scarier chapters.
For folks who don't want any commentary whatsoever, Harry101UK has you covered. He's uploading a full playthrough of Half-Life: Alyx with nary a whisper of chatter, but even within the first few minutes he's playing around with physics objects and such, so it's not a completely sterile experience.
Harry101UK's footage is also being captured with an Oculus Rift S as opposed to a Valve Index. The biggest difference you'll notice here is in how the controllers and hands work: Valve's proprietary controllers track each finger individually and are pressure-sensitive, while Oculus' controllers (used for both the Rift and the cheaper Quest) only track the positions of your thumb and index finger individually. Finger tracking is more of a "nice to have" feature in Half-Life: Alyx and is not at all essential to gameplay, unless you can't imagine going through the game without the ability to make rude hand gestures at everything you see.
On the other end of the spectrum, if high-energy YouTube gaming personalities are your speed, Jacksepticeye (now the voice behind Sega's Irish the Hedgehog) is probably your best bet for Half-Life: Alyx gameplay. He starts off his first video in the series with a full-speed rush of excitement and yells about pretty much all the things he sees and does. So far, he's also the most committed to play-acting and physical comedy of any YouTuber uploading their Half-Life: Alyx footage, so even if you're put off by his big reactions at first, you might enjoy his style of picking up and playing with absolutely everything in the long run.
One drawback of Jacksepticeye's videos is that a lot of the screen is taken up by his camera feed—but who knows, that may be more fun if he gets overzealous and accidentally smacks one of the at least four lamps in his play space.
Bonus: Watch Giant Bomb's Jeff Gerstmann and His Rat Buddy
It doesn't seem likely that Jeff will stream an entire playthrough of Half-Life: Alyx, but given that the site's entire crew is streaming from home these days, we might see more gameplay from Jeff's less-than-ideal home VR set-up in the coming days. In the gameplay he's streamed so far, Jeff's playing with an Oculus Quest via the Link functionality while seated. He also spends the first chunk of his stream carrying around a dead rat, just because.
Jeff's video is informative if you're interested in how Half-Life: Alyx handles left-handed play—surprise, just like in life, a lot of interactions are a bit less convenient if you're a lefty—and seated play, which might take a bit of doing to get dialed in with your real-life chair and the toggle crouch option. Let's be honest, though: once Jeff picks up that rat, you just want to see how long he can bring it with him. It's like Half-Life 2: Episode Two's garden gnome achievement... only a lot more gross.
For more on Half-Life: Alyx be sure to read our review, check out the first part of our interview with developers Chris Remo and Erik Wolpaw, and take a look at our spoiler-lite guide to some great easter eggs and Half-Life callbacks. If you're not ready for Half-Life: Alyx just yet, Wolpaw also recommended some things to read, play, and watch before diving into the experience.