Many years after the cliffhanger finale of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, the brilliant Half-Life series got a sequel called Half-Life: Alyx to universal acclaim. But, the biggest hurdle for many Half-Life fans was that the game was exclusive to VR. Not only did they need a good gaming PC to run the game, but also a piece of tech that’s still considered niche and expensive.
So, is it possible to play and complete Half-Life: Alyx without VR? Yes, it is, thanks to modders. This article will show you all the tools you need to make it work and how to set up the non-VR version of the game.
What You’ll Need
Obviously, for this to work at all, you need to get a copy of Half-Life: Alyx. The game is exclusive to the Steam PC platform, so you’ll first need to create a Steam account and purchase the game there. Half-Life: Alyx is a bit pricey, costing $68.99, but it’s often on sale during Steam’s many sales.
The system requirements for this game aren’t very taxing, at least for playing on the lowest settings. To properly run Half-Life: Alyx without VR, you’ll need at least an Intel Core i5-7500 or AMD Ryzen 5 1600 CPU, 12 gigs of RAM, and a GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card. Of course, your gaming rig needs to be significantly more powerful for the highest graphic settings and smoothest frame rate. Steam doesn’t list any specifics for the recommended GPU, but any recent GeForce RTX card from Nvidia should suffice.
Lastly, you’ll need some tools to make the game run outside of VR. We’ll go into more detail about that in the next section.
Different Half-Life: Alyx No-VR Mods
You’ve checked your hardware, downloaded Steam, and bought Half-Life: Alyx. Now what? Well, it’s time to modify your game and trick Steam into thinking you’ve actually started the game via VR headset.
For that, you’ll need to download a mod for the game and some extra drivers. Not all of them are fully functional yet, so we’ll quickly go over all the HL: Alyx mods that are currently floating around before we explain the process of setting everything up.
R57zone’s Half-Life: Alyx Non-VR Mod
The first mod that allowed players to complete the whole game without putting on their VR headsets came from a prolific modder called r57zone. He was already famous for his tools that emulated various unusual controllers on PC, but it’s definitely the Alyx mod that put him on the map.
What’s interesting about this mod is that it’s actually a driver for your PC. With it, your keyboard and mouse will simulate VR controllers. The developer describes the experience as akin to Penumbra games. You’ll also be able to play a few other VR games on a screen, though the results may vary.
SoMNst’s Mod (WIP)
First unveiled in April 2020, this mod lets you play Half-Life: Alyx without VR and works surprisingly well. It’s designed to convert the game into the classic Half-Life experience, not to fool the SteamVR app into thinking you’ve got a VR headset hooked up. The movement is smooth, the aiming precise, and the mod even supports some of the gimmicks from the VR version.
Unfortunately, it’s still incomplete, and you’ll need to subscribe to SoMNst’s Patreon to access the files. As we’re looking for a freeware solution, we’ll be skipping over this mod right now, but do check out the developer’s YouTube channel for some amazing proof-of-concept footage.
UnrealAcademy’s FakeVR Mod
Finally, there’s a non-VR Half-Life: Alyx mod by UnrealAcademy. In this mod, you can combine free locomotion and teleportation-based movement, just like in the VR version of the game. It’s also available on NexusMods with a streamlined setup process. However, this mod is not without its issues, like making you use your whole keyboard for debugging various features such as height adjustment and using no clip instead of proper movement. Worth trying but not ideal, especially since some of the features are locked if you don’t donate to the author’s Patreon.
Running the Pre-release Build
Believe it or not, Valve itself has created a non-VR version of the game. During development, the creators of the game needed to test Half-Life: Alyx without a headset, so they used a set of commands to make it all happen. Using a certain tool, you too can download and play this pre-release version of the game, but it only comes with weapons from Half-Life 2.
Setting up the Game
With the game installed, it’s finally time to make the magic happen. We will show you two methods – first with modding the current version of the game and then the aforementioned pre-release build. Needless to say, this is all experimental and can cause crashes and weird bugs, so keep backups of all files handy.
The Non-VR Mod
This method involves running the Alyx no VR mod from r57zone. You can find all the necessary files on GitHub to run this mod, along with guides and notes on specific issues that are still present. It’s best to bookmark this page as you’ll be referencing it a lot during your Alyx playthrough.
In the Steam store, search for the SteamVR app and download it. Then, unpack the mod into this folder: “Steam\Steamapps\Common\SteamVR\Drivers.” Once the archive is unzipped, you’ll need to modify a file located at “Drivers\hlalyx\Resources\Settings\Default.vrsettings.” Change “renderWidth” and “renderHeight” to your monitor’s resolution or lower if you want better performance. In the same file, change the values of both “ZoomWidth’ and “ZoomHeight” to 0.8 to reduce the letterboxing effect.
Before we launch Half-Life: Alyx outside VR, we need to calibrate SteamVR. Start the application and open Room Settings. Choose Small Room, Calibration, and then 170 cm. Finally, open the game’s properties on Steam and add this to the launch options (without quotation marks): “+ vr_gg_gesture_pull 0.”
Now you can run the game. Switch to the Headset window and set the game’s options to your liking – we recommend enabling “sliding” for movement and turning off click rotation.
The Pre-Release Build
For this method, you’ll need to download a tool called Steam DepotDownloader. Using this tool, access the depot for Half-Life: Alyx using its appID: 134870. You want the oldest files available.
The next and final step is to run the game using these parameters: -nocrashdialog -retail -allowdebug -vconport 29000 -vcon -dev -720. That’s really all there is to it.
Downsides of Running Half-Life: Alyx Without VR
None of the solutions for playing the game outside of VR are ideal. These are all unofficial modifications, so bugs and glitches are to be expected. Additionally, these mods usually work by employing specific console commands inherent to the Source 2 engine. Those commands tamper with how the game’s supposed to work. For example, they might enable clipping through the world geometry or cause glitches within the physics engine.
It’s also worth remembering that the game was meant to be played in VR. Half-Life: Alyx on keyboard and mouse can not replicate the depth of the VR control scheme or provide the same level of immersion. One of the reasons we will always recommend Half-Life: Alyx as the best VR experience is the interaction with the world. By removing that layer, you end up removing the game’s tactility and losing all those amazing interactions only possible in VR.
Half-Life: Alyx might be the pinnacle of VR, but it’s also one of the most controversial games. Fans were hungry for something, anything Half-Life, and even with the global availability of cheap hardware like the newest Oculus Quest headset, not everyone was keen on playing this game in VR. The methods we explained today will never beat playing the game the way it was designed, but they at least offer a way to experience the next chapter of this fantastic saga.
Can VR games be played without VR?
You can play some VR games without owning a VR headset. Using the same driver for running HL Alyx without VR, it’s possible to play several other games without strapping on a headset. There isn’t a complete list of games, but DOOM VFR and Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot have been confirmed to work.
Can you play Half-Life: Alyx with a mouse?
Yes, but only using the unofficial driver that converts the game into a flat-screen experience.
Can you play Half-Life: Alyx without a PC?
Yes, it is possible to run Half-Life: Alyx and other PC VR games without turning on your computer. There are services for cloud gaming that support VR headsets, but the technology is still new and laggy, so you might not have the best experience.
What do you need to run Half-Life: Alyx?
Alyx requires a gaming PC, Steam account, and a VR headset. If you want to experience Half-Life: Alyx without VR, you’ll need an unofficial mod that converts the game into a standard FPS with keyboard and mouse controls.