The legendary Half-Life series is renowned for changing first-person shooters and PC gaming in general. The games are linked with Valve, who developed and published most of the games in the series. A few early titles were developed by Gearbox Studios and others were published by Sierra. The series is known for its immersive storytelling, revolutionary gameplay mechanics, unparalleled realism, fan-favorite characters, and the way it masterfully uses Valve’s Source engine.
If you’re looking to dig into this incredible series of games, we’ve assembled all of them in both chronological and release order to help you experience the Half-Life story as it should be played.
All Half-Life Games in Chronological Order
The one that started it all, Half-Life originally released in 1998 and introduced players to Gordon Freeman, the popular main character whose story you will follow throughout the mainline games. Freeman is a scientist tasked with navigating the Black Mesa research facility after an experiment goes wrong. Waiting for him throughout Black Mesa are interdimensional rifts and hostile mutant creatures.
Unlike other games of the era, Half-Life told the game’s story through scripted real-time events rather than cutscenes. It also uses seamless transitions between story chapters as it kept the action going. This allows players to maintain control of Freeman throughout story bits and keep trucking ahead toward the end goal.
Half-Life: Opposing Force (1999)
The first Half-Life received not one but two expansion packs. The first was 1999’s Opposing Force, which told the original game’s story through the eyes of a soldier named Adrian Shephard. The expansion doesn’t offer much in the way of gameplay advancements but simply gives players more Half-Life to play, which is never a bad thing.
Half-Life: Blue Shift (2001)
Two years later, the second expansion pack, Blue Shift, released to mixed reviews. This time, players assume the role of Black Mesa security guard Barney Calhoun, who fought to survive the alien invasion. The expansion also updates the game’s graphics. Pundits dislike the short campaign and lack of new content but said the graphical upgrades are noticeable.
Note that the game Portal, another Valve classic, takes place following the events of this game. You can also play the first Portal game to get a deeper understanding of the narrative being told.
Half-Life 2 (2004)
Just three years later, Valve released Half-Life 2, a direct sequel to the first game. The second standalone release in the series again redefined the FPS genre thanks to Valve introducing the Havok physics engine. This allows the game to simulate real-life physics and better immerse the player into the game. Graphical updates were also implemented to bring the game into the mid-00s.
The story is set years after the original game but still stars Gordon Freeman. He is awoken by the mysterious G-Man who sends him to City 17 to battle against alien forces known as the Combine. Freeman meets up with resistance fighters throughout his travels, including Alyx Vance, Barney Calhoun (the protagonist of Blue Shift,) Issac Kleiner, and more in order to overthrow the alien regime.
Half-Life 2 thrust the series and Valve in general into the limelight. It received critical acclaim across gaming news outlets, getting near-perfect scores from just about every publication. It also received 39 Game of the Year awards. The game was ported to multiple PC platforms, Microsoft’s Xbox and Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3.
Half-Life 2: Episode One (2006)
Two years later, Valve released Episode One, a standalone episodic expansion to Half-Life 2. Episode One continues the story from the second game and expands upon Alyx Vance’s story. As such, the game features a greater emphasis on cooperative play between Freeman and Vance. Alyx even has an updated, more human-like AI. It also includes an updated version of Valve’s Source engine.
The game picks up immediately following the events of the second game. After Freeman and company destroy the Citadel’s reactor, G-Man puts Freeman back in stasis to revive him for another day. Luckily, Freeman’s crew saves him as he awakens in what used to be City 17. Freeman reunites with Alyx and the duo must navigate through a decaying city. Standing in their way are ticked-off Combine forces and dangerous creatures from the rift.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two (2007)
Half-Life fans only had to wait another year for more, when Episode Two released in 2007. Little did they know that this was the last piece of Half-Life content they’d receive for over a decade. Luckily, the third part of the Half-Life 2 story doesn’t disappoint. It offers new, complex puzzles that push the Source engine to its limits, introduces new foes that will test the limits of players’ capabilities and a gripping story that is sure to tug on your heartstrings.
In Episode Two, Gordon, Alyx, and Alyx’s father Eli fight to deliver a Combine transmission to another research facility in White Forest that has the power to end the Combine threat for good. The trio come across countless extraterrestrial enemies, including the Hunter, a new, super-powerful enemy that serves as the crew’s overarching foil. Players must make use of their surroundings to fight – or avoid – the Hunter and get to the research facility in one piece.
The events of Portal 2 take place following Episode Two. If you’d like to explore the narrative further, you can play Portal 2 now to get the full story.
Half-Life: Alyx (2020)
It took 13 years for fans to finally get a new Half-Life game, and it wasn’t even Half-Life 3 or even Episode 3, but a new VR game centered around Alyx. Half-Life Alyx tells the story of Alyx and her father Eli as they mount a resistance against the Combine, who have taken over the Earth. The game explores their efforts to uncover and thwart the Combine’s plans, which eventually leads them to uncover a potential way out that can change Alyx’s and Eli’s futures.
Like its main series predecessors, Alyx received stellar reviews, praising the game’s graphics, voice acting, storytelling, and use of VR. It was widely considered to be the first killer VR app and a must-have for any gamer with a VR headset.
All Half-Life Games in Release Order
- Half-Life (1998)
- Half-Life: Opposing Force (1999)
- Half-Life: Blue Shift (2001)
- Half-Life 2 (2004)
- Half-Life 2: Episode One (2006)
- Half-Life 2: Episode Two (2007)
- Half-Life: Alyx (2020)