HL2VR is a mod for Half-Life 2 which adds Razer Hydra support and a bunch of other tweaks, it turns Half-Life 2 into one of the best virtual reality experiences available today. The latest version of HL2VR adds new features and is easier than ever to use.
The HL2VR mod, made by Nathan Andrews and WormSlayer, has actually been around for some time now. Previous versions of the mod relied on the Vireio Oculus Rift drivers which could be difficult to configure. Additionally, Razer Hydra support required some extra software which could also be a configuration nightmare.
The latest version, HL2VR 1.2, now available to download here, is significantly easier to configure, and brings a number of other improvements. Both of the aforementioned roadblocks to usage have been eliminated. Oculus Rift rendering for Half-Life 2 now uses Valve’s built-in implementation (the -vr launch option), and the Razer Hydra works out of the box, properly configured with no need for extra software. Clear HL2VR instructions on how to use the mod show the proper way to calibrate — once you learn how to do it, you’re golden.
Half-Life 2 Virtual Reality with the Oculus Rift and Razer Hydra
Since I started writing about virtual reality, Half-Life 2 has been at the very top of my list of games I wanted to experience in VR. I knew that the great story, characters, and atmosphere could be greatly amplified by virtual reality.
And while Valve added Oculus Rift rendering to the game, along with some basic VR control schemes for the mouse, it still wasn’t the quite the immersive experience I was looking for… after all, I still had to sit down and control the game with the keyboard and mouse. With HL2VR I now play standing and have my hands right there in the game.
The addition of Razer Hydra support adds significantly to the level of immersion. In my book, the HL2VR mod is the best way to play Half-Life 2, thanks to a number of smart additions made by the folks behind HL2VR. (Watching my own video above is making me want to play more….)
Feeling like you are holding the weapons in your own hand takes things to a whole new level. The weapons, which you normally only see part of due to a fixed perspective, can now be rotated and inspected from all angles. And they’re really cool to look at; tell me you don’t feel like a badass holding that big Revolver (see 0:58 in the video above)… and who knew that there was a battery crudely attached to the Crossbow? Being able to inspect your weapons up close is very satisfying, and aiming with your own hands is so much more immersive than using the mouse to move a cursor.
Nathan Andrews, co-author of the HL2VR mod, tells me that work had to be done on every weapon in the game to get them to function well in virtual reality.
“All of the weapon models and animations had to be significantly reworked to work properly with 6 DOF movement, the original viewmodels were optimized for a very specific on-screen perspective, so moving them all over the screen at any angle turned up a lot of interesting stuff, from missing polygons, asymmetrical guns, sideways recoil, etc. WormSlayer did a great job of fixing up the models while staying true to the original game.”
The Crossbow is particularly cool to use. Normally a button press takes you into a zoomed view through the scope. In HL2VR, you actually need to look through the scope itself to land the shot. At the moment, the scope display is a bit small and sometimes awkward to hold up to your eye, but landing a shot through it is really satisfying. I imagine more work will be done on the scope in the future.
Weapons have their ammo counts displayed on their side like a holographic projection. Health and shield readouts are on the back of your hand — just flip your wrist over like you’re looking at your watch to see them.
Having that important information as part of game world itself is a much more immersive alternative to the traditional HUD system. Mid-fight you might need to glance down at your weapon to make sure you have enough rounds left. Regaining health and shields, through wall-mounted terminals in the game, becomes a more interactive experience as you need to check the values on the back of your hand as you juice up, rather than simply moving your body within the vicinity of the terminal and holding a button.
Did I mention that the Crowbar hits when you actually swing it with your hand? Who knew smashing boxes could be so much fun.
Movement and Loading
When I tried Valve’s Oculus Rift implementation for Half-Life 2 alone, the quick movement and constant spinning around in the game made me nauseous. HL2VR makes various tweaks to movement which slow the pace of the character and have, for me, completely eliminated any nausea from the game, even after some pretty lengthy sessions.
Half-Life 2′s infamously frequent loading screens, which suddenly freeze head-tracking and cause the world to be pulled around by your gaze, were another point of contention when trying to play the game in VR. HL2VR adds a fade to black as you approach the loading screen, preventing this commonly nauseating event.
Provided you have the necessary controllers (a Hydra and an Xbox 360 controller for PC), you can use one of the Razer Hydra controllers mounted to your body for positional tracking.
Even if you don’t have the extra 360 controller, HL2VR offers a control scheme to let you play, albeit with a bit of a comprise, using a single Hydra controller (with the other mounted to you for positional tracking).
Configuration for both can be found on the HL2VR Instructions Page.
More to Come
While HL2VR turns Half-Life 2 into an incredible VR experience, Andrews tells me that he and WormSlayer are “by no means done with this thing yet….” There are still tweaks to be done and features to be added. For one, Andrews notes that getting a HEV suit rendering for the body is at the top of his list (for now it’s just floating hands).
For a game that wasn’t designed for VR, Half-Life 2 with HL2VR is one of the most complete VR experience available. If you’ve got an Oculus Rift and a Razer Hydra, you need to give this a try. Now if you’ve excuse me, I’ve got a HEV suit to step into.