Rift S vs Index – What’s The Best Headset For Half-Life: Alyx?

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True to Valve’s word, Half-Life: Alyx, out now on SteamVR, runs just fine on practically any PC VR headset.

But, as Valve made clear when it revealed Alyx late last year, the Index version of the game comes with some small extras that change certain elements a little. These are too minute to be considered game-changers, but do go some way to enhancing immersion.

So, how does playing Half-Life: Alyx on Oculus Rift S stack up to the Index experience?

The first thing to say is that I originally played all of Alyx with a Rift S because, well, I didn’t have an Index yet. Valve sent one over for testing, which arrived after my first runthrough. I’ve now played the entire game again exclusively on Index. I played on Normal difficulty on Rift S and Hard difficulty on Index.

Index’s initial benefits are the same as they are with any other SteamVR game. The headset is more comfortable than a Rift S, its resolution is slightly better, the built-in audio solution is much better and you can get a wider field of view out of the headset than the Rift S, should you so choose. For a game as high fidelity as Alyx, which is arguably VR’s best-looking game to date, this is a big advantage. The world of City 17 is clearer and easier to appreciate inside the Index, and the game’s top-notch audio design flourishes there.

Of course, Index also comes with a pair of controllers that are technically more advanced than the Rift S’s Touch controllers. Index features finger tracking, reading when your fingers are gripping the controller handle and when your hand is open. When it is open, the controller sticks to your palm with a strap. Touch has a more basic form of finger-tracking that can tell when your index finger is on the trigger and your thumb is raised, but your other three fingers are tied to the same detection sensor, you can’t move them individually.

On Index, this results in more intuitive grabbing of items and, yes, you can flip off a headcrab when it makes you jump. In terms of exclusive benefits, it’s ever-so-slight. You probably already knew that you can crush a can by squeezing your controller when holding it. It’s cool, but it has absolutely no effect on the gameplay itself. You can also activate Xen grenades — organic explosive green things — by doing the same. And, well, that’s pretty much it.

But it also just results in a smoother overall game experience. I found gripping the holographic orbs that house Alyx’s puzzles much easier with the Index controllers as opposed to Touch’s buttons. Also gripping your gun with two hands on the Index’s curved controllers feels much more natural than with the Rift S controllers, which bump into each other.

That said, it’s well-known that Index finger tracking can be spotty in places. Playing through the game again, I encountered some frustrating scenarios where a grenade didn’t leave my hand when I attempted to throw it and Alyx would make weird hand signs when my palm was either full open or closed. This didn’t happen often, mind you.

So, yes, playing Half-Life: Alyx on Valve Index is definitely the best way to see the game, but not by much. In fact, with Rift S at $399 and Index at $999 and with Rift S’s inside-out tracking, I would honestly advise picking up the Oculus option if you’re looking for a great way to get into Alyx quickly. Of course, both the Index and Rift S are out of stock at the moment, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. While you wait, why not check out our full review of the game?

Also, we played the game on Oculus Quest as well in both Virtual Desktop and Oculus Link modes and have a rundown of that experience as well.

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