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.


7 Answers 7


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.

  • 12
    "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). Commented Jan 1, 2011 at 10:16
  • 7
    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
    Commented Jan 1, 2011 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.
    – nbz
    Commented Jan 3, 2011 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. Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 1:54
  • 1
    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
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 18:36

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.


  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.

  • 4
    +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
    Commented Jan 3, 2011 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? Commented Jul 14, 2012 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
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 19, 2013 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
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 19:40
  • 1
    @Timelord64: Try "using" any of the security guards in HL1 before the resonance cascade. One of their lines is "talk to me later and I'll buy you a beer," which is the first thing Barney references.
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 3:49

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.

  • 8
    Definitely play Portal as well. Just for the refreshing and totally awesome gameplay.
    – bummzack
    Commented Jan 1, 2011 at 11:30
  • 4
    Portal is perfect and answers all game recs.
    – badp
    Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 9:59
  • 3
    I don't think Opposing Force or Blue Shift need to be played in order to enjoy the whole story.
    – oKtosiTe
    Commented Jan 3, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 21, 2011 at 22:05

As already pointed out, the most logical order is to play the games by their initial release dates. This is assuming you want to follow the Half Life story from start to finish.

  1. Half-Life - You take control of Gordon Freeman in the Black Mesa facility
  2. Half-Life: Opposing Forces - You play as one of the marines during the events of the original game
  3. Half-Life: Blue-Shift - You play as a security guard during the events of the original game
  4. Half-Life 2 - Years later you take control of Gordon Freeman in a new story
  5. Half-Life 2 Episode 1 - Continue as Gordon Freeman after the events of Half-Life 2
  6. Half-Life 2 Episode 2 - Continue as Gordon Freeman after the events of Half-Life 2 Episode 1

Someone has already mentioned "Half-Life Decay". This is a coop game mode available on the Half-Life PS2 release. It takes place during the events of the first game. It is possible to play this on the PC (as someone has managed to port it onto the PC).

Lost Coast is a very short demo. It takes part in the realms of Half Life 2, but from memory the location doesn't appear in the full game.

Half-Life also has a rich mod community. One of the stand out mods would be the Black Mesa project - whereby Half Life 1 is being remade into the Source engine, used to make Half Life 2. The difference between this mod and the Half-Life: Source release is that the graphics are being completely polished.

Depending on your tolerance, or appreciation, for older games, it is feasible to completely skip Half Life 1, or at least the expansions. They were great games but are still old games. Not to say Half Life 2 isn't an old game.

Will you miss anything not playing Half-Life 1? Not really. The story in Half-Life 2 is so different. A different time, a different location, different enemies... If Half-Life 1 never existed, Half-Life 2 would still be a great game and story.

If you play Half-Life 2 then the episodes are worth going through as they immediately follow events from the main game. There is also a cliff-hanger at the end of Episode 2. Episode 3 never appeared and people have been waiting a generation for the next installment.

Portal has been mentioned but the game is not like Half-Life. Don't assume that you MUST play Portal 1 and/or 2 because you played Half-Life.

  • "the graphics are being completely polished" really under-sells the Black Mesa effort. It practically feels like a new game, and far surpasses Half-Life 2 et.seq. graphics. Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 0:31

There appears to be a lot of opinion and speculation generated from this question, so I am going to use the Wikipedia listing of the chronological Half-Life games, in order to give a rough overview of each game in the series. See below on my thoughts for deciding if you should play certain titles.

Which Games Should I Play?

I can't really tell you. The Half-Life series is so broad and diverse that it spans many releases, some official, some not. I have provided meta-reviews, where applicable, to help provide a general consensus of quality; However, due to different opinion, you might very well enjoy titles that were effectively shunned by the general community.

For this reason, I would mostly advise you to do your own research. Watch somebody play on YouTube. Read your own reviews on the game. In some cases, you can purchase packs of older titles at a good price, so you might consider buying a set of games and making your decision within the first hour or so of game-play.

There are some absolutes I can provide, that is, what games you should play for the purpose of story. Please keep in mind that some games are re-makes, in one way or another. In such cases, I will only list the original version. It is again up to you, personally, to decide whether you would have a greater experience replacing said title for the newer version, or if you in fact wish to play the very first release.

I am very interested in the story, including minor plot.

The following titles provide story, and are ordered in approximate order. There are several games the occur around each other, from alternate points of view, which can easily be played in any order. Furthermore, there are several titles that do not provide any form of story, which will be omitted.

Half-Life -> Half-Life: Opposing Force -> Half-Life: Blue Shift -> Half-Life 2 -> Half-Life 2: Episode One -> Half-Life 2: Episode Two

I am only interested in major story, and do not wish to involve minor plot.

The following title order will provide you with the main Half-Life plot. They are the main releases, with the episode releases intended to replace the expected long waiting time for Valve to develop an entirely new game.

Half-Life -> Half-Life 2 -> Half-Life 2: Episode One -> Half-Life 2: Episode Two.

The Games

Half-Life (also see Black Mesa)

  • Genre: Single-Player First Person Shooter
  • Original Release Date: 1998
  • Developer:
    • Valve Corporation (original release)
    • Gearbox Software (PlayStation 2 port)
  • Platform: Windows, OS X, Linux and PlayStation 2
  • Engine: GoldSrc
  • Metacritic Score: 96 on PC, 87 on PlayStation 2
  • GameRankings Score: 94 on PC, 83 on PlayStation 2
  • Notes: The first game in the Half-Life series, this game will take you back to where it all began, placing you in control of main protagonist Gordon Freeman. According to the developer, Half-Life has won over 50 Game of the Year awards, and sold over 20 million copies.

Half-Life: Source

  • Genre: Single-Player First Person Shooter
  • Original Release Date: 2004
  • Developer: Valve Corporation
  • Platform: Windows, OS X, Linux
  • Engine: Source
  • Metacritic Score: no score
  • GameRankings Score: no score
  • Notes: Half-Life, remade using the Source engine. It is worth noting that this particular release was criticised for not being a complete remaster, which lead to the development of Black Mesa.

Half-Life Deathmatch: Source

  • Genre: Multi-Player First Person Shooter
  • Original Release Date: 2006
  • Developer: Valve Corporation
  • Platform: Windows, OS X, Linux
  • Engine: Source
  • Metacritic Score: no score
  • GameRankings Score: no score
  • Notes: The multi-player component of the original Half-Life, remade using the Source engine. Much like Half-Life 2 Deathmatch, this game is simply a multiplayer game, and does not have any story.

Half-Life: Opposing Force

  • Genre: Single-Player First Person Shooter
  • Original Release Date: 1999
  • Developer: Gearbox Software (under direction of Valve)
  • Platform: Windows, OS X and Linux
  • Engine: GoldSrc
  • Metacritic Score: no score
  • GameRankings Score: 85 on PC
  • Notes: Valve gave the development reigns to Gearbox, for this title, in order to focus on other projects. It is played from the perspective of Adrian Shephard,

    A member of the marine squad sent in to "clean up" Black Mesa in Half-Life.

Half-Life: Blue Shift

  • Genre: Single-Player First Person Shooter w/ Multiplayer
  • Original Release Date: 2001
  • Developer: Gearbox Software (under direction of Valve)
  • Platform: Windows, OS X, Linux and PlayStation 2
  • Engine: GoldSrc
  • Metacritic Score: 71 on PC
  • GameRankings Score: 67 on PC
  • Notes: Another title developed by Gearbox, in this title, players take control of Barney Calhoun.

    Barney Calhoun is a security guard in Black Mesa, and a central character in Half-Life 2.

Another feature this game brought was the inclusion of high-definition models and textures, which would also upgrade Half-Life and Half-Life: Opposing Force.

Half Life: Decay

  • Genre: 2 Player Co-op First Person Shooter
  • Original Release Date: 2001
  • Developer: Gearbox Software (under direction of Valve)
  • Platform: PlayStation 2
  • Engine: GoldSrc
  • Metacritic Score: no listing
  • GameRankings Score: no listing
  • Notes: Designed as a 2 player co-op, for release with the PlayStation 2 version of Half-Life, Decay puts the players in control of two scientists inside Black Mesa. While only officially released for PlayStation 2, there also appears to be an unofficial port to PC.

Black Mesa

  • Genre: Single Player First Person Shooter
  • Original Release Date: 2005
  • Developer: Valve
  • Platform: PC
  • Engine: Source
  • Metacritic Score: no listing
  • GameRankings Score: no listing
  • Notes: Black Mesa is designed as a remake of Half-Life using the Source engine. This game is currently in early access. This means that if you pay for the game, now, you can play it, now. But it is not, in any way, a finished product. This is the main reason for no Metacritic or GameRankings score, although in house, Steam have received "overwhelmingly positive" reviews from the players, at the time of writing this. You can ask questions about this game, since it is semi-available to the public. But be aware that only a select group of people will be able to answer them.

Half-Life 2 (see Lost Coast, included with HL2)

  • Genre: Single-Player First Person Shooter
  • Original Release Date: 2004
  • Developer: Valve
  • Platform: Windows, OS X, Linux, Xbox, Xbox 360 and Shield Portable
  • Engine: Source
  • Metacritic Score: 96 on PC
  • GameRankings Score: 95 on PC
  • Notes: Sequel to Half-Life, this is the first game to put players back in control of Gordon Freeman. It is critically acclaimed, and has sold over 12 million copies.

Half-Life 2: Deathmatch

  • Genre: Multi-player First Person Shooter
  • Original Release Date: 2004
  • Developer: Valve
  • Platform: Windows, OS X and Linux
  • Engine: Source
  • Metacritic Score: 74 on PC
  • GameRankings Score: no score
  • Notes: Half-Life 2: Deathmatch is simply a stand alone multiplayer component for Half-Life 2. It allows you to compete, online, but does not involve any story.

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast

  • Genre: First Person Shooter
  • Original Release Date: 2005
  • Developer: Valve
  • Platform: Windows, OS X and Linux
  • Engine: Source
  • Metacritic Score: no score
  • GameRankings Score: no score
  • Notes: Lost Coast is a technology demonstration. It was created to showcase the high-dynamic-range rendering capabilities of the Source engine. While this was released separate to Half-Life 2, it should be considered "DLC" or an additional level, and is included with the purchase of Half-Life 2.

Half-Life 2: Episode One

  • Genre: First Person Shooter
  • Original Release Date: 2006
  • Developer: Valve
  • Platform: Windows, OS X, Linux, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
  • Engine: Source
  • Metacritic Score: 87 on PC
  • GameRankings Score: 86 on PC
  • Notes: Half Life 2: Episode One is the first episodic sequel to Half-Life 2. Given the long wait between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, Valve have decided to focus on releasing episodes, in effort to reduce the long waiting period between game releases. The player takes control of Gordon Freeman, again, with a greater focus on developing the other characters.

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

  • Genre: First Person Shooter
  • Original Release Date: 2007
  • Developer: Valve
  • Platform: Windows, OS X, Linux, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
  • Engine: Source
  • Metacritic Score: 90 on PC
  • GameRankings Score: 91 on PC
  • Notes: Half Life 2: Episode Two is the second episodic sequel to Half-Life 2, and direct sequel to Episode One. It was developed alongside Episode One, to give the two titles a greater sense of immersion.

Half-Life 2: Episode Three

The internet is filled with rumors concerning Half-Life 2: Episode Three. Is it really coming? Have Valve ditched the "episodic structure", and instead, working on Half-Life 3? You will see "episode three" listed within the game series, but be aware that most of it, at present, is speculation. When the game is released, this answer can be edited to include the appropriate information. I would speculate that, given the amount of time since Episode 2 compared to the time it took to develop Episode One and Episode Twp, and the expectation that an entire Half Life game would take a lot more time, we should be expecting Half Life 3 rather than another episode.

Further Information

  • There seems to be some users who advise "don't play that game, it was not made by Valve". All Half-Life games listed above were made under direction of Valve. They gave control of a majority of original Half-Life titles to Gearbox, so they could work on other titles. Gearbox is the company behind Borderlands and Duke Nukem Forever, two very conflicting examples of widely-accepted first-person shooters, so my best advice is don't knock it unless you have tried it.
  • If you are unsure about playing a game, look up the reviews. You should be playing the game because you think you will enjoy it, not because a group of fanboys say its bad. Just because I like apples, does not mean you have to. Thats what makes us human.
  • You can find any missed story collected together on the Half-Life Wikia. I have deliberately used the scores from MetaCritic and GameRankings, as they attempt to give an aggregated average across many other reviews. If you are the sort of person that looks at what the reviews have to say, before playing, go to a website you respect the opinion of, and see what they have to say. This is not the place for personal opinions.
  • The portal series is a series in its own right, but acts as a sort of "spin-off" to the Half-Life series. While not directly related, one could assume they are set in the same fictional universe, with references to Black Mesa lightly used in-game.

Furthermore, it is possible to "replace" the Gravity Gun in Half-Life 2 with the Portal Gun from Portal, with some easy manipulation on the user-end.


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 :)


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.

  • 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
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 19:31
  • there are no expansions to half life, atleast in the sequential series. All games are standalone. The inclusion of game versions in the same pointer is helpful, and would have earnt you a 1up, but the rest is merely opinion. And replying to a comment to the answer in an edit of the answer?
    – user106385
    Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 16:33
 You should play, Half-life 1, 

(add-ons include, opposing force, blue shift, decay, and the mod remake of half life 1, Black Mesa).

Then play, Portal 1 (if you have it). Half life 2, HL2 episode 1, HL2 episode 2, Portal 2, and then maybe play TF2 just for fun.

That's my recommendation. =D (Also, even though Black Mesa is still incomplete, it still does a good job of re-creating HL1 and making it look even better then before, you should play it even more since now it has multiplayer, but still, just a recommendation). That said, please play it after HL1 to compare, and play HL2 after. Thanks! Just wanting to state my opinion!

  • 1
    This question is very old and already has a fair number of answers, to which yours doesn't add any relevant information. This site is not well suited for opinions and recommendations, this question was simply not yet closed because of its age.
    – scenia
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 16:11

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