'Half-Life': Meet the New Alyx Vance

Ozioma Akagha - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of DPN Talent
Ozioma Akagha has taken over the iconic role for Valve's upcoming VR game, the latest entry in the sci-fi shooter series in more than a decade.

Among the marquee franchises in gaming, Valve's Half-Life series stands apart for its ability to whip up intense fan fervor. Last week's unveiling of Half-Life: Alyx, an upcoming VR title that is the first entry in the series in more than a decade, was met with a zealous reception as Valve apostles worldwide celebrated the return of the franchise, albeit not as the much-wished-for (and endlessly memed) Half-Life 3.

While Half-Life: Alyx features a number of familiar faces and locales, the title role of Alyx Vance (a staunch leader in the human resistance effort against antagonists the Combine, a hostile alien empire, first introduced in 2004's Half-Life 2) has swapped out star Merle Dandridge for newcomer Ozioma Akagha.

"I got some very vague sides (audition scripts)," Akagha tells The Hollywood Reporter of her audition process for the game. The star didn't know she had booked a role in a new Half-Life game until she "walked into the studio." 

"They were like, 'Oh, guess what? It's Half-Life,'" she says with a laugh. 

Though she hadn't played the games herself before booking the role, Akagha says she had heard of the game series through her brothers, who are "big gamers, for sure," she adds. "The magnitude of what it was didn't set on me until like two weeks ago," she says. "Which is good. I think if I knew, I wouldn't have been able to do the project. There’s so much pressure and preconceived notions that I think I'd be so in my head."

Akagha admits she is a bit nervous about how her performance will be received. "I'd be a whole liar if I said I wasn't," she says. "The creator in me is always nervous about how people will receive a performance. I hope I did it justice and that the fans enjoy it."

Akagha has worked in games before, voicing roles in 2016's Mirror's Edge: Catalyst and 2017's Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, but she is primarily known for her work in television, having recently starred as Tamar on Marvel's Runaways and booked turns on series such as CBS' Superior Donuts.

Akagha did not speak with Dandridge about the role of Alyx, saying she "leaned heavily on the writing and the world that these characters live in" to form her own "interpretation of what this character is and who she is, as well." The actress says the response she's received since her role was revealed has been nothing but supportive. "Half-Life fans are the warmest people," she says. 

It's been a bit of a whirlwind few months for Akagha, as recording on the upcoming project only began back in September. "With a game like this, recording it too early had us concerned about it leaking," says Sean Vanaman, developer at Valve. Recording is not completely wrapped, but given that the game is set to launch in March, Vanaman says the team is "pretty far down the line" in development.

"Being able to get Ozi back in the booth because the [Alyx's] voice is unedited and coming out of [the player's] head is just a huge advantage for us," he says of the process.

Half-Life: Alyx is set before the events of Half-Life 2, where Alyx was first introduced to audiences. Akagha says fans can expect a "lot of twists and turns and excitement" from the new story. "The past video game stuff I've done all felt like I was doing a video game," she says. "This process has been completely different. It felt like scene work. The writing is so great. That's what I'm most excited for people to experience, the attention to detail and the emotional investment is going to be huge."

"It's a Half-Life game, but there are some different challenges because you're playing Alyx and not Gordon (the series' main protagonist)," says Vanaman. "Gordon doesn't speak. You tell the story differently with a character that can speak."

Vanaman says that fans can still "expect the same sort of narrative impact that hopefully they received in other Half-Life games."

"If we don't deliver on that," he says, "that would be unfortunate."