If there was any question, it has now been answered—Half-Life: Alyx has cemented its “universal acclaim”, becoming both the best and most rated VR-only game on Steam, less than a year after release, after recently passing Beat Saber’s record review count.

While it quickly became not just the best rated VR game on Steam—let alone one of the best rated games on Steam overallHalf-Life: Alyx had a large hill to climb to approach the number of Steam reviews of the indie VR blockbuster, Beat Saber, which has been available since the middle of 2018.

Beating Beat Saber

Image courtesy Valve

There is, of course, a massive difference in scope between the games. One originated from a tiny and relatively unknown indie team, while the other is made by one of the world’s most renowned game studios.

But Beat Saber’s low cost and simple-but-addictive gameplay has made it a breakout success in the VR space. Not to mention the studio was acquired by Facebook and now enjoys its major marketing muscle. There was no guarantee that even a much grander (but potentially less broadly appealing) game like Alyx would be able to catch up to Beat Saber’s momentum.

Alas, Alyx recently surpassed Beat Saber’s review count on Steam—currently 48,000 to 44,500—likely thanks to a surge of reviews in late November, right around Thanksgiving.

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Although Alyx has been given away for free with the purchase of Valve Index hardware, the substantial cost (ranging from $280 to $1,000) may have nullified that advantage. And it’s impressive that the game not only surpassed Beat Saber’s count of reviews on Steam, it did so while maintaining the best rating of any VR-only game—and in just nine months from its release.

After Alyx crushed the record for any VR-only game on Steam with a peak of 43,000 concurrent players on launch day, these days, Beat Saber sees at around twice as many concurrent daily users. Though with Alyx being a linear single-player game not designed for high replayability (whereas Beat Saber is designed for precisely that), it’s impressive that Alyx even comes close.

While coarse ownership estimates on Steam are roughly the same for both games (between 1M and 5M), Beat Saber has surely sold many more copies than Alyx thanks to its wide-ranging availability on every major VR platform, whereas Alyx is only available on PC via Steam. The review count, perhaps, points more directly to the experiential significance of players than it does to sales figures.

A Killer App

Image courtesy Valve

If Valve’s goal was to create a killer-app for PC VR, they seem to have succeeded. It might be far from taking VR mainstream, but it has set records at seemingly every turn, and not just in the VR sphere.

The launch of Alyx also saw a major surge in VR usage on Steam, adding some 700,000 users—an increase of nearly 50%. While we expected that surge to peter out quickly, many months later the gain remains.

Among all Steam games (not just VR), Alyx sits as the 20th best rated title. SteamDB and Steam250, which use different models for comparing ‘best rated’ Steam games, place Alyx as the 6th and 16th best rated game on Steam, respectively. All three charts agree that Alyx is the best-rated Half-Life game overall, and one of the best rated Valve games ever.

Metacritic, which aggregates critical reviews, ranks Alyx as the best rated PC game released in 2020 and the 20th best rated PC game of all time.

At launch, Alyx’s Twitch viewership surpassed much-watched titles like Fortnite, League of Legends, and Warzone, with some 300,000 concurrent viewers.

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Beyond the numbers and rankings, it’s clear that Alyx’s reach and acclaim have made it the exemplar for AAA VR content, with enthusiasts regularly comparing it to new and old releases alike. Now the VR world is left to wonder when it will see the next game of Alyx’s quality. With big bets on games like Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond not panning out for Oculus Studios—and nobody else presently willing to put up the cash—it may well be up to Valve to deliver the next milestone in AAA VR development. Luckily there’s signs that this work may already be under way.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • NooYawker

    Alyx is hands down the best VR game out there period. But for replayability I like to just into Saints and Sinners and just run around killing zombies. Some will say Bone Works but I just don’t seem to enjoy that game, and the whole.. you’re inside a game so that’s why it looks like shit thing doesn’t work for me.

    • Gonzax

      MoH Above and Beyond is just as good and Saints and Sinners is not too far behind, same as Lone Echo and Asgard’s Wrath.

      Alyx is a masterpiece, though, it’s great from start to finish. If combat was as good as in MoH it would be incredible.

      • Pablo C

        Someone told me the same a while ago, so I ended buying Asgard. What a lie. Its quality, design and mechanics are by far lower than Alyx´s. When comparing them, they look like games from different generations. The guy that told me that also said the same about SaS and LE. I´d really want to believe that, but I doubt it.

        • Gonzax

          Well, I wouldn’t call it a lie, just different taste. I’d take Alyx over Asgard, mostly because of the story but the latter was also great and still one of the best out there; it took me around 50 hours to finish and I had an amazing time with it.

          • Pablo C

            It´s not only about taste. Alyx is just a better game overall. As a full game. Even not considering VR, it perfectly competes with, say, HL2. Asgard could just never compete with say, Skyrim. It´s not a fully good game, it just have some good gaming aspects, similarly to most VR games, except for Alyx.

    • But Alyx has infinite replayability with the ongoing custom mod maps being released, some of which are full-blown multiple-hour campaigns (ie Lost Case and Resident Alyx) that also come surprisingly close to the quality/fun as the main campaign itself

  • Lhorkan

    I still haven’t finished it. >_> Really should make some time for that.

  • Matthew Lake

    It’ll be interesting to see the jump in users in January because of Quest 2. :)

  • Pablo C

    I have played 3 times the campaign (at 3 difficultties) and I´m planning to play it again in a couple of months. It´s our old HL2 behaviour all over again (and finally). You know when a game is great when you want to play the campaign again and again, despite having other games to use your rather scarce time.

  • Pablo C

    Open question (no trolling): How long will we wait for another game this great.

    My bet is 2 years.

  • 3872Orcs

    I just hope they’ve begun the development of the next entry into the series. Half Life Alyx felt very much like a safe introduction for beginners (though a very good one!). What I want next is for them to expand the gameplay and be more daring with the medium and push the limits! It’s Virtual fucking reality for goodness sake! We should be able to do everything we want in VR. I want the full Gordon Freeman experience! But for that to happen I think we need to accept a bit of jank in how we interact and move about the world. There’s no way around that with the current VR tech.

  • blue5peed

    Metacritic, which aggregates critical reviews, ranks Alyx as the best rated PC game released in 2020 and the 20th best rated PC game of all time.

    And somehow not even nominated for a VGA. Not that anyone cares really we all know they are BS but I think it would have raised some eyebrows for VR if it did win game of the year. Its apparent that who ever voted didn’t even play it.

    • Bob

      They were nominated for best VR game and best direction.

  • Andrew Jakobs

    Hope they will actually add official support after they fixed all the bugs..

  • Great analysis: it is interesting how just this single game has increased VR adoption and it is also interesting how Facebook notwithstanding the huge money it is investing is not able to reach the same quality level of Alyx

    • I guess it’s because Facebook isn’t doing VR for the sake of VR. Facebook is doing VR in order to be able to more efficiently manipulate people. From Facebook’s perspective, VR games are just a means to an end: Making more people use their hardware. For Valve, VR is an end in itself – and VR games are the means to that end. In the end, for Valve, it’s about high quality entertainment in the most advanced medium for entertainment. And that currently happens to be VR.

      I also find it quite interesting that so many people still keep on repeating “Facebook is doing more than anyone else for VR” (I haven’t seen it here – but in so many other places) – when the conversion to VR that Half-Life: Alyx caused clearly speaks another language.

      For the time being, I believe that Valve and Sony are the two driving forces in VR. Facebook is really more like a problem for VR because it associates VR with all the bad stuff that Facebook represents. I’m not sure about Sony at the moment: The recent statements by Jim Ryan certainly didn’t help. But we’ll see. 2021, 2022 … maybe 2023. Sony has been involved in VR longer than any other of the current players, so I wouldn’t blame them for playing the long game.

  • Totius

    I liked very much Alyx, like I liked a lot Asgards, Lone Echo and the incredibly underrated Wilson’s Heart. Nevertheless.. for me, and it is just my opinion, the best VR game is out there is the VR Mod of GTA V.. The depth of that world.. nothing in the actual VR market gets even remotely close. It is simply impossible for the limited number of VR users to justify 5/10 years of work and the respective BIGGG money required. As a consequence, my hopes to see something incredible, that would bring a lot of people in VR, would be a GTAV (or even better RDR2) port in VR. Even a “light port” would be infinitely better than any current VR game (the same would apply with a decent port of Cyberpunk). These are the killer apps which I believe would complete the revolution of gaming.. we need that almost every single gamer posses a VR headset if we want to one day to see a huge AAA game created for VR

    • Adam Broadhurst

      I tried GTAV VR but unfortunately my stomach isnt strong enough.
      I do however imagine its a great game in VR,it is after all one one the highest rated games of all time,add VR to the mix and you have a bonafide AAA VR game.
      The production values,design skill,graphics,development time and gameplay are far in excess of any VR game ever created,with only Alyx coming close.
      The same applies with Alien Isolation and RE7 which are also easily 2 of the best VR games ever made(even though they were designed as 2D games.

    • AJ_74

      The problem with that isn’t the size of the VR market; It’s motion-based controls. Motion-based controls are the reason the VR market is still tiny after nearly 6 years. They have proven time and time and time again to have very limited long-term appeal to the mass-market (Wii, Kinect, Move… and on and on), and where VR is concerned they take what should be a relatively trivial task (porting AAA games to VR) and add an incredible amount of complexity and require a large amount of additional time and money. And what the hell is “Virtual” about crouching and flailing your arms about?

      Motion/Tracked controllers do have their place, but they should be taking a backseat to traditional gamepad controls. Your imagination always has and always will do most of the work, and control-schemes that give the most onscreen output with the least physical input will always dominate the market.

      I mean, guys, c’mon… it’s almost 2021 and Skyrim VR still costs $60. Why? (Hint: They’re still trying to recoup the dev costs necessitated by the control scheme, in a market limited by the control scheme).

      Microsoft? Amazon? Is anyone out there paying attention?

      • Totius

        I am not sure I understand what you said.. Are you saying that if the VR industry would just let gamers to play with a traditional joypad, then it would be easier to make VR ports of true AAA games, and consequently we would have more AAA ports? I would not disagree with that.. better a not so great port than nothing. That would also be sufficient to bring massive amount of people to VR

        • AJ_74

          The only part you seem to be missing is the part where your opinion that a AAA game ported to VR without motion-based controls is a “not so great port” makes you part of the problem. No offense meant there, I’m just saying that’s the problem. Most gamers, myself included, don’t want to play a game like Cyberpunk 2077 standing up, crouching, arms raised, punching the air, etc, for 2-3 hours at a stint. I don’t want to sweat while i play actual video games (fitness games, sure). However, I do very badly want to play it in VR.

          The vast majority of active VR gamers want to play this way, but they are a vast minority of the overall gaming market. That’s why the VR market is so small. It’s comprised almost exclusively by the gamers that want to play with motion-based controls. That’s why Valve is not going to make another Half-Life for VR after Alyx. That’s why we’re not going to get to play Cyberpunk 2077 in VR unless it’s via a VorpX hack.

      • The two things having the most significant impact for presence and immersion in VR (aside of the HMD, of course) are being able to use your hands to interact with the world, and using your body to move around in the world (at least for smaller distances). There’s a small niche in VR of games that work with gamepads. An excellent example is Astro Bot Rescue Mission, an okay example is Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. But those are the rare exceptions and while it was an awesome VR experience, I wouldn’t even call Hellblade a VR game because it lacks almost everything that makes VR interesting for games.

        It’s really funny that you would post about gamepads for VR under an article about the game that converted by far most people to VR – because it was designed from the ground up for VR, and of course lets you properly use your body and hands. A cheap gamepad port will never be able to do that.

        How many people started using VR because of Astro Bot Rescue Mission? How many people started using VR because of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice? Not enough for anyone to talk about it. That’s the difference. That’s what you seem to miss.

        It’s been years since I’ve heard people compare “using your hands in VR” with Wii and Kinect. Yes, it is the same technology in principle – but it’s an entirely different experience: One is, you control things behind a screen with your body (which is obviously weird), the other is, you use your hands inside a virtual world (which is just natural). And the experience is the only thing that matters.

        For you to not see the monumental difference makes me wonder if you have even ever played a game like Half-Life: Alyx.

        Thinking that gamepads are the best way to control VR games was a very strange idea even back in 2016 (probably one of the dumbest things that Oculus came up with – and it failing so miserably back then should be a strong enough argument to prove your perspective wrong) … in 2020, it just makes me wonder if I’m replying to a comment that is many years old, and not just two days.

        • You’re just wrong, it has nothing to do with the motion controllers. The reason why VR was not adopted as fast as people were expecting is because people have *no idea* what VR is even like. It’s completely about “perceived value” – and people don’t know how good VR is right now as only 1% have probably ever tried modern 6DoF headsets.

          There is also the price that comes into it, but I don’t even think that was the problem as much as people thinking it was something similar to a 3DTV (which it’s not).

          But now look at the interest in Quest: https://imgur.com/ndC1hot

          VR has been growing exponentially for years, the growth is always deceptively slow to start off with as it’s small numbers. Consider PSVR sold 6 million in 4 years… Now look at Quest: more interest in the past few months than the entire history of PSVR.

          But VR is taking off now and we’re on the knee of the exponential curve.

  • Adam Broadhurst

    Vorpx is junk.

    • Not for this game. Look youtube

    • Cless

      Usually Vorpx is as good as the person trying to configurating it ;)

      • Christer Söderlund

        Well said.

  • Jonathan Winters III

    And absolutely nobody is surprised.

    • Christer Söderlund

      That pricing of MOH is laughable though. I mean c’mon it is obvious the game is not even close to HL: Alyx levels. Still they want 59.99€. That is just ridiculous.

      • Pablo C

        It litterally tells how much Passion should be valued.

  • Pablo C

    Vorpx is great to play these games on a giant 3D screen, but it does not cut it for a decent enough VR experience. Of course, people played NMS in Vorpx earlier as well, they said it was great, but after NMS came out with actual VR support, they understood they were just fooling around. Vorpx is a great entusiastic platform, but sadly it cannot be compared with actual VR gaming. VR FPS must include hands.