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The Real Reason Half-Life: Alyx Is Missing The Crowbar

After more than a decade, the Half-Life series has finally returned in the form of Half-Life: Alyx. The new VR game from Valve Software follows Half-Life 2 supporting character Alyx Vance in her own side adventure and it's currently receiving rave reviews from critics and fans alike

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However, longtime fans of the series may be missing an iconic piece of weaponry from the games. While the first two Half-Life games handed beleaguered scientist Gordon Freeman a hefty crowbar to bash in some alien skulls, the tool was conspicuously absent from the new VR title. However, this wasn't from lack of effort or the developers not feeling beholden to the previous installments of the series. 

In an interview with Kotaku, game designer Robin Walker explained that the team behind Alyx had actually worked quite hard to figure out how to incorporate the crowbar into the game. Doing so opened up a whole new set of unforeseen problems and ended up actually setting the project back quite a bit.

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As Walker says, "We lost, like, a year and a half of our lives trying to get a crowbar in VR." No, seriously.

Walker does sound a bit bummed as he explains all of the features that were cut when the crowbar was ditched from the game. Apparently there were different implementations for it that made perfect sense for a VR Half-Life title. Walker explained that the melee combat never felt quite right when the game was being designed, but there were some pretty cool ideas for puzzle-solving with it.

"There were puzzles where you had to slip it between bars and hook something and pull it over to you," Walker explained. "It could function as an extra remote hand, which was cool. But it had lots of problems."

While these concepts sound interesting, it makes sense why they were binned. Apparently, the biggest problem with the crowbar didn't have to do with a lack of uses for the tool. Instead, the more realistic physics of Half-Life: Alyx combined with the logistics of a VR game to basically make the crowbar into an obstacle on its own. To put it simply, the crowbar was a massive problem whenever it wasn't being used.

According to Walker, "The lack of force feedback meant that players would often hold their crowbar out of their sight, because that's what you do when you're holding a real crowbar ... But then they'd hook it on stuff. They'd be walking along, and then they'd hook it on a door ... We tried various things like the end of the crowbar turns it physics off, or stops colliding [with objects] when it's off screen. In real life, you would feel your arm getting tugged as you hooked the curve of the crowbar on something, but we have no feedback like that in VR."

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At the end of the day, one of the biggest reasons they decided to do away with the crowbar was to further set the game apart from the previous Half-Life games. Players simply couldn't get their heads around the idea of another character being armed with a crowbar and starring in a Half-Life game. When play-testing the game with outside players, the team consistently found that people thought they were playing as Gordon, even though they were told that Alyx was the lead character.

Walker said of the frustrating play-tests, "It didn't matter how much we told them, like, literally at the start of the game, that they aren't Gordon." Apparently the crowbar was just too distinct.

Not wanting the lead character to somehow get lost in the shuffle, the team finally decided to ditch the crowbar and return to Alyx's more technological roots. It ended up working in the game's favor. As Walker explained, "Alyx has her multi-tool and pistol in Half-Life 2, and I think they spoke more to her character as a hacker and tinkerer, which were some of the types of gameplay we were trying to do in the game as well."

In other words, it seems like the game ended up turning out for the best. At the very least, it's the game that Walker and company intended. Still, if you were wondering why there's no crowbar in Half-Life: Alyx, now you have your answer.

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There may be hope yet for you crowbar-faithfuls, though. Walker seems pretty positive that someone will eventually mod Alyx to be be played without a VR headset. While they're at it, maybe they could find a way for the crowbar to be a little less intrusive in the environment?

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