Half-Life: Alyx is Valve’s return to the hugely popular Half-Life series, and although fans were initially disappointed that the VR title takes place between Half-Life and Half-Life 2 and not the events that followed, the interest in the game has been steadily building over the past few months. In fact, demand is so high that the Valve Index, the VR headset the game was designed around, is out of stock worldwide and has been for quite some time.

With that being said, here’s everything you need to play Half-Life: Alyx, from VR headset recommendations to the minimum specs required to run the game and how to get it for free.

What do I need to play Half-Life: Alyx?

To play Half-Life: Alyx, you’ll need a compatible VR headset, a beefy computer to power the experience and, of course, a copy of the game itself.

A Virtual reality headset

With Half-Life: Alyx offering a VR-only experience, it should come as no surprise that you’ll need a VR headset to play – but which should you buy? The market has matured over the past couple of years and while once upon a time there were only one or two truly great headsets, there are plenty of options for VR gamers in 2020.

As a Valve-developed game, it should come as no surprise that Half-Life: Alyx is tailored to take advantage of the Valve Index and the updated controllers that come with it. While the game is compatible with the likes of the Vive Cosmos, HTC Vive Pro, Oculus Rift S and even the Oculus Quest via Oculus Link, the game has been designed to take advantage of the Valve Index hardware and, according to the company, some features will be exclusive to those using the Index.

You can get Half-Life: Alyx for free when you purchase an HTC Vive Cosmos Elite. The game is bundled with the headset which is £899 and now available to buy. It's a digital code in the box but can't be redeemed in China, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, India, Malaysia, Singapore or Ukraine. The offer ends on 30 June.

While most exclusive features are unknown at this stage, Valve has given an example of the detailed finger tracking on offer via the Valve Index controllers and how it directly translates to finger input of Alyx’s new Gravity Gloves, improving the overall immersion. You’ll still be able to use the gravity gloves with other headsets and controllers, but the finger tracking will be limited, or in the case of some headsets, not available at all.

The issue is, at the time of writing, the Valve Index is sold out worldwide, so you’ll have to sign up for notifications on the Valve Index Steam listing and wait until stock returns. Valve has tweeted that stock is due to come back on 9 March 2020 at 5pm UTC, but with so much interest, you'd better be quick if you want to bag one.

Oh, and don’t bother buying PSVR with a mind to play Half-Life: Alyx as it’s PC only with no plans for release on Sony’s PlayStation platform.

If you're looking to play Half-Life: Alyx on a budget, the cheapest compatible VR headset you can buy right now would be the Oculus Rift S at £399 - the now-discontinued HTC Vive and Oculus Rift will also work, mind you, and might be found cheaper online, but stock is hit-and-miss right now. 

For more inspiration, we recommend taking look at our selection of the best VR headsets.

A powerful gaming PC

A powerful gaming PC is just as crucial as the virtual reality headset itself, as the game is a bit of a beast and requires some serious power to run properly.

Up until now, the minimum spec for any VR game or headset has generally stayed at the same level, requiring a fast dual-core CPU alongside an Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD Radeon RX480 or better, but according to the Steam listing, Half-Life: Alyx requires a quad-core Intel I5 chip or better, along with a GTX 1080 with 6GB VRAM, and 12GB of RAM to run properly.

Now admittedly those aren’t super demanding requirements for hardcore PC gamers that likely have the latest components, or close to it, but it’s a bit of a stretch for casual gamers. As discovered in Steam’s recent Hardware Survey, 45 percent of Steam gamers have 12GB of more or RAM, and more importantly, only 35 percent have a graphics card powerful enough to run Half-Life: Alyx.

It’s worth noting that these are the minimum specs required to run Half-Life: Alyx, and chances are you’ll need a beefier setup to get it running smoothly with high-end textures enabled. Valve is yet to release the recommended specs, but we’ll update this section once the information is available.

We’ve got a roundup of the best gaming PCs if you’re looking to upgrade ahead of the game’s release.

The game

Of course, it should go without saying that you’ll need a copy of Half-Life: Alyx to enjoy the VR adventure. It’s available to pre-order on Steam ahead of release on 23 March 2020, and it’s worth noting that all Valve Index owners will get a free copy of the game once it’s available. Every little helps, eh?