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 overall—Half-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
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.
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
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.
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.