Video Transcript Below:
It’s Half Life Life 3. It’s one of the best VR games I’ve played in a very long time. It’s a full, complete product with good length and tons of new things to see at all times. A little too difficult at first, but it balances out eventually and makes for a fantastic experience that just made me want to replay it again with New Game Plus after finishing it. If you enjoyed games like Half Life Alyx and Vertigo 1, then Vertigo 2 will be an excellent game that you simply cannot miss. I don’t think you can own a VR headset and not have this game in your library.
I played Vertigo 2 immediately after beating the first game, which was made back in 2016. It’s 2023 now, which means I’m getting slapped around with about 7 years of progress in VR mechanics and game development time from one day to the other, and MAN does that time show. Vertigo 2 really does feel like Vertigo 1 fully coming into its own. It fully embraces its identity and goes further than it did before. In my review of Vertigo 1, I mention how it’s a little too similar to the Valve games that it’s inspired by, and that it can find a more unique identity in branching out a bit more. In Vertigo 2, that’s exactly what happens, and I’m super happy to see it all work so well.
Let’s go ahead and break down why this game is so great and how it’s basically Half Life 3, without it actually being Half Life 3.
First off, the most obvious thing you’ll notice is that the graphics look way better than before. Now granted, the previous game didn’t look terrible by any means, but the facelift this game got is obvious to see and appreciated. Seeing such a wide variety of characters from people, robots, aliens and inter dimensional beings that exist in different planes of reality was really enjoyable with the improved graphics. All the environments that you find yourself in are also really cool looking and full of variety. There’s never a moment where I could say that I felt bored or tired of certain environments, because the game very quickly moves from one scenario to the other before that thought ever entered my head.
The story took me to all of these wild places, but ironically, the story is the last thing I was thinking about. At it’s core, the story is just as simple as it was before. You’re a normal person that got teleported to this strange dimension. You almost succeed at escaping in the previous game, but you fail and now have try it again. The previous game was 4 hours long, but now we have a solid 10 hours of trying to get back home while simultaneously having to deal with all of these forces that either need your help or want to use you for some ulterior motive. Whether it’s two sides of a robot war, or Brian trying to further his research, or interdimensional entities that want a super powerful object for themselves.
For a game where you’re mainly just quietly shooting your way through many levels with minimal dialogue, there’s a lot that’s going on around you, which might be a good or bad thing, depending on who you ask. In my personal opinion, it’s fine how it is. The game generally just let’s you go as soon as it starts, while occasionally giving you some story bits so you don’t forget what’s going on. You just move forward until characters call you and tell you why any of this matters.
There are a few cutscenes here and there, which are played in a flat screen while in a dark void. I personally don’t mind this, since it allows for cinematography and cool camera angles to happen during these events. If every single thing had to be fully immersive and in real time, then I think it would be much more difficult to do these cutscenes. And even if you’re someone that doesn’t like seeing these, then fear not, because there’s only a tiny amount of them throughout the game. And even when playing, there’s a ton of moments where the atmosphere is just right where certain set pieces feel very movie-like and the immersion is at its peak. Environmental details like blood splatter and bullet damage on the walls look really great and add to that atmosphere as well.
So, what do you do in this game when the story’s not happening? Well, if you’ve played any Half-Life game, you already know what’s up. You’re basically running around shooting everything that moves, while also exploring for secrets, upgrades and new weapons to play around with. The guns in this game are very different from the previous installment. Most of them are still very cartoony and colorful and all of them have something unique about them that will make you want to use all of them. Another reason for why you’ll end up using everything is due to how it handles ammo. Technically, ammo is infinite, but every new magazine you load up has to go through a cooldown before you can reload again. Most of the time you won’t notice this, but when you’re in a tight situation and you’re quickly using up all of your ammo, you might find yourself in a situation where you have to wait on the cooldown to end, so you switch to a different weapon in the meantime.
This is a really important thing to think about when in battle, because most enemies have weak points. You can still just shoot blindly if you want, but there are certain weapons that are better at exploiting weaknesses than others, so it creates a small bit of strategy when thinking about what weapon to pull out for certain enemies. It gets even better when you realize that there’s a bunch of secret weapons that you can find if you explore enough. I’m obviously not going to spoil any of them, but man, it’s super worth it to go look for them.
This leads me into briefly talking about the difficulty for the game, which is kind of mixed. During the first hour or so of the campaign, I had a really hard time. There’s a bunch of enemies that seem to take forever to die, which makes it worse when these enemies come at you in groups and in small rooms where you can’t move that well. It also doesn’t help when there’s a ton of enemies throughout the game that don’t have a strategy at all. Even if they have guns, sometimes they’ll just run towards you and hit you, which makes trying to shoot them back super awkward and finnicky, adding to the frustration. You don’t have a lot of weapons or experience at this point. For someone that was barely learning how to play to get destroyed so thoroughly early on left a very bad impression at the start.
I’m not kidding, I was getting angry at the game and starting to think that the first game was way better than this. I was already writing the review in my head over how disappointed I was at the punishing difficulty, the cringey dialogue, the comedy that still doesn’t do it for me, and having to struggle so much managing my health because the game no longer has regenerating health. If you have less than 50% life, it will regenerate back to 50, but beyond that, you need to heal yourself with items or healing stations. This is fine by itself, but when combining this with the checkpoints and auto-saving, it got a little frustrating.
More than a few times, I found myself in a checkpoint where I only had a tiny amount of life left, so I kept dying with only a couple hits and respawning with no health again, so I had to be super careful that nothing even sneezed at me until I found healing. Maybe I just had a lot of bad luck during those opening parts, so everything ended up coalescing into a very irritating time for a game I truly was looking forward to playing. But eventually I powered through it, advanced the game, and slowly, everything started clicking with me a lot, and I mean A LOT better. Things started to change. The game became more and more fun as I went along. And after a certain point, I just couldn’t stop.
The guns feel great and reloading is not as annoying as I thought it would be. The sound of firing them is also really satisfying, alongside all the other sound effects and music that accompanies the experience that does a great job at creating a good atmosphere throughout the whole experience. You can also explore and find briefcases with gun upgrades you can get, all of which are super useful and don’t feel like just a tiny upgrade. On the other hand you can challenge yourself by not upgrading any of the guns at all and getting an achievement for it. There’s a ton of these upgrades hidden throughout the game, so a second playthrough with New Game+ is encouraged in order to find the ones you missed the first time around. Not only that, but you can make different choices in the game that will affect what weapons you get and even unlock different endings.
I complained a lot about the ending of the first game, and it seems that the creator agreed, because the entire last quarter of this game is wonderful. I’m not going to spoil anything, but I will say that it’s way better than what we got in Vertigo 1 and it’s well worth seeing, regardless of what choices you make. The bosses in particular are also really fun to get through, even though all of them were super easy. The whole thing is just so well designed and doesn’t spell things out for you at all. Some basic things at the start of course, but everything else is quiet and speaks for itself by just showing you things without explaining them.
Another thing that really elevates Vertigo 2 is a similar thing that I said about Vertigo 1. I complimented the previous game for not holding back in what the creators wanted to make for a VR game. Other developers tend to slow things down or make experiences that are less intense so that people don’t feel overwhelmed or intimidated. In Vertigo 2, that’s not a factor. Here, you do anything you would in a normal game. You run, get shot at, fall down tall heights, get jumpscared, get launched into the air, fight in a warzone, getting into gunfights on a boat and a whole bunch of other stuff that sounds like it will make you wanna vomit, but I never once felt that for any of the 10 hours I played. The game never once feels like it’s not committing fully to the VR experience and not holding anything back. This by itself puts Vertigo 2 on a whole other level in comparison to other VR games that aren’t brave enough to do this.
The entire game as a whole feels so cohesive and ahead of the game from everything else that I fully believe that this is about as close as we will ever get to playing Half Life 3. Just think about it. The design philosophy is there, the sci-fi, the weapons, the action, all the creepy parts you can find, the fact that the game is VR-exclusive, which shows off new technology and new ways to play games, just like how Half Life 2 showed off its physics engine. I mean for god’s sakes, the guy that made Vertigo 2 is a Valve employee. You can’t get any closer than that. This dude literally just made Half-Life 3 without actually calling it Half Life 3, and it’s amazing. But simultaneously, it’s unique enough to be its own thing, and that’s also great.
Ok, I’ve praised the game a lot, but there are some complaints I wanted to point out. I couldn’t come up with a good transition for this, so I’m just going to read them out as I wrote them in my notes:
- The sense of humor is still just as cringe as before, and it’s even worse now because there’s way more voice acting. It feels like it’s trying to hard to be Portal 2 when most other scenes are played straight. I didn’t find most of it funny at all and I thought the game was more interesting when it tried to take things a bit more seriously.
- Just like the first game, SteamVR crashed a bunch of times during loading screens. I don’t know if that’s SteamVR’s fault or the game itself. Either way, it happened a bunch of times and it was annoying.
- Melee weapons like the Communist hammer and sickle is very powerful, but also super wobbly and awkward to use. Similar to the baton from the first game, there’s no impact to swinging it around at all. It feels weak, despite it one shotting most things.
- The 3D model animations look super awkward and weird, especially with Brian. Most characters look fine, but him specifically looks like he’s on strings and puppeted around by someone off screen.
- I played the game sitting down, but the height was all weird. I was always too tall to walk past anything, and crouching placed me way too low to grab stuff. I couldn’t find any sweet spot or middle ground to where I could reach out to things comfortably. I was always either too tall or too short. Not a big deal, but the irritation would build up over time.
Ok, those are all the complaints I had. When I go back and re-read them, I don’t think most of these are a big deal. They feel like tiny issues in comparison to the bigger picture, which delivers an excellent experience that makes me want to replay the whole thing again immediately after beating it. And I don’t think the fun will stop there, because just like the previous game, Vertigo 2 will soon get a level editor, where people will take all the improvements that Vertigo 2 brings, and then be able to create and upload their own levels for everyone to play. I’m excited for that, but I’m also planning to do a New Game+ playthrough where I’ll go look for all the secrets and all the upgrades. It’s super rare for me to want to fully complete a game after beating it, especially not VR games, but Vertigo 2 is just so good that I want to experience it again.
As I mentioned before, it’s a little tough at the start, but once you overcome that hurdle, you’ll be fine for the rest of it. If you’re a fan of VR games and you’re looking for a game that feels complete, cohesive, creative and new, then you can’t go wrong with Vertigo 2. It really is that great and a pleasant surprise for this year.