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For one reason or another I managed to totally miss playing any of the Half-life series. I have the time and money now to play these games that I have heard such great things about. So what are all the Half-life games that I should play? and what order should I play them in?

I am confused of where the episodes and expansions all fit in. And what they mean by "Source" versions. Are these even part of the same series? And what about Blue Shift, Lost Coast, or Opposing Force? So many games, and I don't know where or if they fit.

Are there any in the series that I should skip, or just read the plot summary for? Can someone please give me a run-down of what I should play, in order.

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Well, it kind of depends on weather or not you want the whole story or not. –  user77043 May 21 at 16:12
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5 Answers 5

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The must-play Half-Life games are Half-Life 1, then Half-Life 2. The expansions and spin-offs for Half-Life 1 which were not developed by Valve are quite skippable; Opposing Force, Blue Shift and Decay return to the setting and events of Half-Life 1, but portray the story through the eyes of a U.S. Marine, a security guard and two scientists (since Decay is a cooperative multiplayer game), respectively.

The Source version of Half-Life 1 is, and I quote:

a digitally remastered version of the critically acclaimed and best selling PC game

Needless to say it's smoke and mirrors, there's absolutely no significant difference between the two.

My advice is to play the original Half-Life 1, then Half-Life 2, and if you'd like to extend the pleasure, sequels Episode 1 and Episode 2 for Half-Life 2 are quite good, but not as good as the two main games.

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"quite skippable", i don't think so, events that happened in Episode 2 are pretty important and will have significant impact in Episode 3 (or Half Life 3, it's up to Valve how they decide). –  Tomas Voracek Jan 1 '11 at 10:16
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I strongly disagree. Episode One did not add too much, I agree there. But Episode Two is definitely important enough to make this list, and you'd need to play One to make sense of Two. Also, Blue Shift and Opposing Force are not made by Valve (by Gearbox) and are not considered canon by quite a few people. –  user56 Jan 1 '11 at 20:59
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Okay I can't really disagree with that :p I've moderated my views in my original post. –  Nicolas Bazire Jan 3 '11 at 9:55
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"Needless to say it's smoke and mirrors, there's absolutely no significant difference between the two" - except that it's SIGNIFICANTLY harder to move boxes around on the physics-free Half-Life engine. If you have Half-Life: Source, play that instead of the original. –  Stuart P. Bentley Aug 31 '11 at 1:54
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Episode Two is a worth successor to Half-Life 2, and very significant to the story. Episode One is not as good, but it's worth the 4-5 hours to play through for the story setup. –  Joren Jan 2 '12 at 18:36
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The HL2 episodes are not an accessory part of the story, but actual sequels. They do contain plot changing events. The same is not true for the Half Life "One" series, as far as I know.

Thus:

  1. Half Life
  2. Half Life 2
  3. Half Life 2 Episode 1
  4. Half Life 2 Episode 2

As for Portal -- it does contain some side references to corporate entities in the Half Life universe, but as it is that's more flavor than actual plot.

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+1 for leaving out Opposing Force and Blue Shift. Although they may be enjoyable in their own right, they are not at all essential to the overall storyline. –  oKtosiTe Jan 3 '11 at 12:45
    
I just downloaded The Orange Box and got Half-Life 2, Episode 1 and 2 and Lost Coast, but no Half-Life 1. Do I miss too much when I skip HL1? Where (in your order of games) would you put Lost Coast? –  Christian Ivicevic Jul 14 '12 at 17:28
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FWIW, Lost Coast is totally an accessory part of the story; hardly part of the story at all, actually. It's literally just a tech demo of some High Dynamic Range effects –  Ben Brocka Feb 19 '13 at 19:04
    
@ChristianIvicevic You have probably long since either played or not played the original Half-Life, but for completion of this answer, I will say what you miss from skipping out on it is all of the context in which Half-Life 2 and its sequels have. In short, Half-Life sets up the events of Half-Life 2, and gets referenced frequently in the rest of the main Half-Life series. That being said, you CAN get by in the rest of the series without playing the first game, but references to events in the first game will seem very obscure if you don't play it. –  Zibbobz Nov 25 '13 at 19:40
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The Source versions are a remake of the original games on the engine used by HL2. Half Life: Source is pretty much identical to Half Life.

The recommended playing order is pretty much the release order:

  • Half Life (Or Half Life: Source)
  • Half Life: Opposing Force
  • Half Life: Blue Shift
  • Half Life: Decay (skippable - PS2 only)
  • Half Life 2
  • Half Life 2: Episode One
  • Half Life 2: Episode Two

Half Life 2: Lost Coast is just a tech demo for graphics options that went into later Source games. If you want to be quick, you can skip everything but Half Life and Half Life 2.

Portal is also tangentially related to the Half Life plot, but isn't too important as it doesn't have much story of its own. Portal 2 may change this however.

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Definitely play Portal as well. Just for the refreshing and totally awesome gameplay. –  bummzack Jan 1 '11 at 11:30
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Portal is perfect and answers all game recs. –  badp Jan 3 '11 at 9:59
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I don't think Opposing Force or Blue Shift need to be played in order to enjoy the whole story. –  oKtosiTe Jan 3 '11 at 12:47
    
Seems Decay is not PS2 only. There is (or at least they are still working on) a PC port - decay.half-lifecreations.com/?content=files&sub=decay –  Adam Harte Mar 21 '11 at 22:05
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My recommendation would be:

  • Half-Life (or Half-Life: Source)
  • Half-Life 2
  • Half-Life 2 Episode 1
  • Half-Life 2 Episode 2

While the two Episodes are quite short in gameplay, they do add crucial stuff to the story that you'll need for an eventual Half Life 3 or a third Episode.

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Why would you post this answer? It isn't helpful at all, since it's almost copy of what badp said. –  Olegs Jeremejevs Jan 2 '12 at 17:46
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ok.... i read all the answers above, and i must agree in some parts and disagree in others. If anyone really wants to have more than just a simple answer like my fello slacker answers above, read this. If you become a true fan and wants to know about the game (more than just playing, but to treat the storyline as a master piece like if it was a book), then this is the order and reason why to play them:

  • Half-Life OR Half-Life Source OR Black Mesa (Which is a remake on a Half-Life 2 source mode but at the current time I write this, is developed by Valve to be sold on Steam for a low price).

  • Half-Life: Oppossing Force OR Operation: Black Mesa ( which at this time is being developed but not finished, is a remake in the Half-Life 2 source mode, it merged with the delevopment team of Guard Duty).

  • Half-Life: Blue Shift OR Guard Duty ( not finished but development in progress, same team of Operation: Black Mesa, remake on the source mode of Half-Life 2.

  • Half-Life: Decay OR Decay Or Hazard Team (if u do not have a ps2, a ukranian team ported the game to pc, named Decay, Hazard Team is not finished and the development not progressing, source mode Half-Life 2 remake, lets hope they group up with the other modder remake teams so this will be finished).

  • Half-Life 2

  • Portal

  • Half-Life 2: Episode One

  • Half-Life 2: Episode Two

  • Portal 2

Note that Gearbox games are not yet decided to be cannon or not... if they decide they are ( which Half-Life: Blue Shift is most likely to the presence of Barney Calhoun on Half-Life 2), then you would not want to play some new storyline without a clue what they are talking about because you skipped the previous games, besides... they are all fun :P

Portal games are in the same universe and you never know when they are going to combine the characters from within.

And guys.... That is how you answer someone's question :)

AND FOR THE COMMENT OF THE GUY ABOUT BLACK MESA:

If you learn to read... i said it is developed by Valve to be SOLD, not to be finished. AND it is being worked by their development team to finish the chapters in Xen. I mentioned the mods to give a little bit of credit... even though they are not done, they still put effort on them (except Hazard Team, lets keep hoping they finish working on it. That is as far as i know aboht that mod, that is dead. if is not or you have some kind of information about it that i have not mentioned or you might want to add... please write it so i can be informed).

AND as i must add and restate: playing this expantions and Portal games are just to know and/or be prepared for any other storyline it could come ahead, if u got the time and money as you said.... go ahead and play them all.... if not then just play what you feel like it..... this was just my recomendation. It would not surprise me, in fact, i am expecting for Valve to recommend players in some kind of announcement to play Black Mesa as they call it cannon for the storyline (when they finish Xen ofcourse). If the other mods are as good as Black Mesa... my opinion goes the same for them.

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Black Mesa is not being developed by Valve, it is a completely separate team. Valve has given their blessing and the game is coming to Steam Greenlight but that is NOT the same as being developed by Valve. Also, Black Mesa is missing the complete end of the game. I also can't understand the recommendation without reservation with regards to the mods. Either the storyline in each game is too important to skip (in which case, incomplete mods are unacceptable) or they aren't in which case you don't need to play them. –  wawa Nov 22 '13 at 19:31
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