Shacknews Best Graphics of 2020 - Half-Life: Alyx

From bottles of booze to hallways that feel lived in to the bottoms of crates, Half-Life: Alyx is a visual treat, and exhibits the best graphics of 2020.

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How often do you root through boxes or crates and flip them over to scrutinize their undersides in real life? My answer: Never. How often do I do those things in Half-Life: Alyx? Far more than I should.

Valve's return to the Half-Life universe checks all the boxes fans expect from installments of the franchise: A dirty dystopia, weapons with heft, environmental storytelling, and scalable tech. All of that coalesces to present a world that feels lived in, and that you live in. Hallways are adorned with paintings, photographs, debris, and all sorts of objects to tinker with--and without feeling recycled.

Half-Life: Alyx.
Half-Life: Alyx.

Grab a box, turn it around, and note its unique textures. Pick up a bottle and shake it to note the way the liquid inside sloshes around. That's a testament to Half-Life: Alyx's physics, sure, but as any fan of Half-Life 2 will tell you, physics goes hand-in-hand with visuals to inject (literal and figurative) virtual worlds with verisimilitude.

I don't even feel encouraged to poke my eyes into every nook and cranny. I just want to. The visuals make exploring feel natural, especially when hunting for ammo and resin with which to upgrade my weapons. It feels like a real place, and while I'd never want to live in City 17, I always enjoy visiting.


Check out the other winners from The Shacknews Awards 2020 in our Year of the Games: 2020 article.

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at davidlcraddock.com and @davidlcraddock.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    December 28, 2020 11:00 AM

    David Craddock posted a new article, Shacknews Best Graphics of 2020 - Half-Life: Alyx

    • reply
      December 28, 2020 11:30 AM

      This post makes me worry that Alyx is not gonna get best game and this is a consolidation prize?

      • G D mercury ultra mega
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        December 28, 2020 11:31 AM

        HADES

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        December 28, 2020 11:56 AM

        These were all deliberations that occurred before the GOTY 2020 vote. You shouldn’t draw any conclusions either way.

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      December 28, 2020 11:31 AM

      [deleted]

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      December 28, 2020 11:38 AM

      [deleted]

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        December 28, 2020 11:58 AM

        So the same percentage able to play Cyberpunk as intended. Cool.

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          December 28, 2020 3:58 PM

          3080 is cheaper than the quality VR setups. And there’s a reason it’s a lot harder to find a 3080 than a top of the line VR system.

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            December 28, 2020 4:04 PM

            I got VR set up on my 1070 with an Odyssey+ for $350 and this was a couple of years ago. Also VR sets were selling out right before Alyx came out so it was definitely driving up interest. More and more shackers are getting VR. 3080s are todays new hotness, eventually their sales will start to die down.

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              December 28, 2020 4:22 PM

              Something tells me the 30XX series cards will rapidly outsell the number of VR headsets ever sold.

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            December 28, 2020 5:22 PM

            my odyssey+ is amazing for this game and was less than $200

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            December 28, 2020 7:43 PM

            No it isn't

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            December 29, 2020 4:07 AM

            Odyssey is $200-250 and let me play Alyx everything on high perfectly with an old 1080ti

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          December 28, 2020 4:02 PM

          daaaaaaaamn, David. guess christmas is officially over.

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          December 30, 2020 7:58 PM

          This isn't remotely close to being accurate.

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        December 28, 2020 1:16 PM

        oh you

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        December 28, 2020 2:25 PM

        What difference does it make how many people are able to play it?

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      December 28, 2020 11:59 AM

      i will play this someday when im rich

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        December 28, 2020 4:30 PM

        you should get rich, it's worth it to play alyx

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      December 28, 2020 2:27 PM

      I doubt I'll ever play this until VR gaming is more affordable

      • rms legacy 10 years mercury super mega
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        December 28, 2020 4:29 PM

        Ok then. I will power through this game on 120Hz ultra settings before the newyear just out of pure harkonnen spite.

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        December 28, 2020 4:33 PM

        Just buy a 200 dollar Quest 2? I bet that's less than you paid for your last monitor.

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          December 28, 2020 9:37 PM

          I'm playing it on my 2080 and Question 2. It's great!

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            December 28, 2020 9:37 PM

            Quest 2. I make that typo all the time :(

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        December 28, 2020 4:42 PM

        that's the tragedy of vr.

        one day it'll just come with your phone. the camera, accelerometers, high-dps screen, it's all there except the processor.

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        December 28, 2020 7:49 PM

        [deleted]

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        December 28, 2020 9:08 PM

        I can swing the cash but VR makes me sick and I desperately want to enjoy it. I’m bummed because I think this will kill the tech (at least for me.) I am more hyped for AR these days.

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      December 28, 2020 3:47 PM

      I bought the vive when it came out. It’s been collecting dust. VR got hyped into oblivion and silly awards like this doesn’t help. Sure, strap on your crazy expensive vr headset to experience the “best graphics of 2020” in all its screen door glory. Get tired of punching the air after 2hrs and go play a game you can relax with. Or maybe you just don’t feel like rearranging everything to make that VR space again. I sometimes hate on ray tracing too but at least nothing fundamental like motion sickness/physics is standing in its way. Might as well have given this award to Cyberpunk.

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        December 28, 2020 4:02 PM

        Cyberpunk missed the cutoff

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          December 28, 2020 5:02 PM

          Nope, it didn’t. It was nominated and didn’t win as it scales extremely poorly.

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            December 28, 2020 5:16 PM

            My bad!

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            December 28, 2020 5:32 PM

            Well, the ancient source 2 engine certainly scales well.

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              December 28, 2020 6:30 PM

              They do a lot with techniques that have been around for a very long time.

              The humans aren't realistic by any means, they're halfway between "real" and a Pixar cartoon. It is stylistically consistent and they look great, that's all that matters.

              The massive indirect lighting that gives environments a realistic overcast look is all baked in while indirect specular lighting I assume uses local cubemaps. It looks like baked lighting on static objects and some real-time on objects you can manipulate. I assume its a lot of the same techniques that were used in The Last Of Us Part 2.

              With both games I assume a LOT of time went into baking everything into the maps once things were locked down. The large indirect lighting effect in both games looks expensive as hell from a computational standpoint, but on the plus side you can either run on lower-end hardware (a PS4 slim in the case of TLOU2) or maintain the extremely high framerates necessary for VR

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                December 28, 2020 9:57 PM

                Given Cyberpunk has dynamic TOD they're not using baked lighting and would be using dynamic probes. Differentiating the lighting model based on static and dynamic geometry is a little bit archaic at this point, most things would use a unified model. Especially with PBR where even the diffuse contribution is somewhat view dependent.

                At the very least "baked" lighting would mean precomputed probes and everything would still use a unified lighting model. But once you have dynamic TOD you need to be able to recalculate the probe data regardless.

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                  December 29, 2020 4:00 AM

                  To be clear, I'm talking about Half Life Alyx, not Cyberpunk

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              December 28, 2020 7:49 PM

              [deleted]

      • rms legacy 10 years mercury super mega
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        December 28, 2020 4:32 PM

        Hay man. Try Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice VR. Its a seated controller game, so nothing new to learn or extra space to set up. The vive, with its inky oled blacks is perfect to go through this game with, as I did. Do it for Shacknews!

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          December 29, 2020 12:27 AM

          I'm working my way through it now and I'm blown away at how good it looks sometimes.

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        December 28, 2020 5:40 PM

        Very little screen door effect in the latest headsets. The Vive is like 4 years old now.

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          December 28, 2020 6:18 PM

          The Index is a huge upgrade over the Vive but its still present. Curious to try out the H2 Reverb at some point

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            December 28, 2020 8:38 PM

            Reverb G2 has no screen door that I can detect. The screen is incredible. I'm having a great time with it.

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              December 28, 2020 9:29 PM

              Nice. What's cool is you wouldn't even need to run it at native res, just do an 80% renderscale and you're still way ahead of anything else since you've gotten rid of screendoor effect and the end result wouldn't be blurry either

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                December 29, 2020 4:14 AM

                I do that in IL-2 to stay at a silky 90fps when swatting Spitfires! Works great.

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        December 28, 2020 6:14 PM

        The fact that your vive has been collecting dust has nothing to do with this award.

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        December 29, 2020 4:13 AM

        VR is a mainstay for flight and racing simulators - it works and brings a lot to that spectrum. I agree that it's not primetime for mainstream yet.

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      December 28, 2020 6:09 PM

      This is my GOTY.

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      December 28, 2020 9:49 PM

      I wanna play it!!!!!!

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        December 28, 2020 9:55 PM

        You should. Best game in a long time, very groundbreaking.

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          December 28, 2020 9:56 PM

          I'll get a VR set one day. Even though I moved into a smaller space, I actually have more room around my desk for it

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