Valve is one of the most iconic game developers of all time. In this post, we’ve highlighted some of the best Valve games and have discussed what makes each one so great.
Just seven days before the end of August, in 1996, Valve Software was founded. A little over two years later, “Half-Life” was released. Valve released Half-Life on November 19th of 1998. Since then, Valve has gone on to develop a wide array of titles.
The majority of those titles have been critically acclaimed, financially successful, and ultimately revolutionary. This post highlights some of the best Valve games and what makes them worth playing.
What Are the Best Valve Games?
While the following isn’t an exhaustive list of every game Valve has developed, it showcases some of the more popular Valve games.
The vast majority of Valve’s success is due to Half-Life. There are two reasons for this.
The first is that some of the titles Valve is most known for—Team Fortress and Counter-Strike, to name two examples—began as mods for Half-Life.
The second is that Half-Life brought Valve immense financial success. This tremendous financial success allowed Valve to continue creating phenomenal games while also investing in other unique projects.
One of these unique projects was Steam.
So, not only did Half-Life single-handedly lead to some of the best games ever made, but it also, in a way, led to transformations in the way video games are sold and distributed.
But, what about the game itself?
As a modern gaming experience, Half-Life is relatively clunky. Many of the game’s mechanics feel primitive and unintuitive.
The same can be said of the game’s graphics which, while good back in 1998, are considerably less appealing today. If you can look past that facade, though, you’ll find everything that Valve is known for:
- A unique setting
- Very distinctive environments
- A wide assortment of unusual weapons
- And immersive storytelling
Even so, though, for some, Half-Life will still be difficult to get into. If that’s the case for you, then there is one option you might want to look into.
On March 6th of 2020, a remake of Half-Life, titled “Black Mesa,” was fully released on Steam.
Even though Black Mesa is a remake of Half-Life, it wasn’t developed by Valve. But, Valve has supported the release, giving the developers access to tools that made it easier to develop the game while also allowing them to sell it through Steam.
If you want to see where it all began, you should play Half-Life. If you want to play Half-Life, but with better graphics, you should play Black Mesa.
Many would agree that, with some rare exceptions, sequels are rarely as good as their predecessor. Fortunately for Valve—and us, of course—Half-Life 2 is one of those rare exceptions.
Everything that the first Half-Life offers is here.
You will find the same unique worldbuilding, diverse weapons, and immersive storytelling. But, you will also find a plethora of new qualities. Some of these qualities include graphics that still hold up:
- An enjoyable physics system
- A more fleshed-out science-fiction world
- Better environmental design
- Improved gunplay
So, if you enjoyed Half-Life (or Black Mesa, for that matter, since the gameplay is quite similar), then Half-Life 2 is a must-play.
Half-Life 2: Episode 1 & 2
Just under three years after the release of Half-Life 2, Half-Life Episodes 1 and 2 were released. Both games follow the events of Half-Life 2, expanding on the world and characters while also introducing plenty of new environments, a few unique weapons, and some new characters.
Since these are “episodes” and not full-titles, both games are relatively short.
For the most part, the gameplay is identical to that of Half-Life 2. But, the artificial intelligence has been improved, the lighting is better, and the animations are more fluid and realistic.
Each one of these changes improves upon the core experience that Half-Life 2 offered.
If you enjoyed Half-Life 2, and want to see where the story goes, then playing Half-Life 2: Episodes 1 and 2 is necessary.
Eventually, after nearly thirteen years since the release of the “Episodes,” Valve returned to the Half-Life franchise. Since the release of the last Half-Life title, the gaming industry has changed quite a bit.
To embrace those changes, Valve chose to make Half-Life: Alyx—a VR-exclusive game.
As a result, while Half-Life: Alyx offers many of the same mechanics found in the franchise’s previous titles, each one of these mechanics feels new and exciting.
Even something as simple as shooting your gun is kinetic and physical in this virtual Half-Life game.
The same is true of every other mechanic found in Half-Life: Alyx.
As you would expect from Valve, these mechanics are never annoying; they are mechanically rich and deeply rewarding. But, these mechanics aren’t the only thing that Half-Life: Alyx offers. The game’s visual design is superb, as is the sound design, worldbuilding, and voice acting.
Each one of those elements is anchored by good writing that, for the most part, embraces subtle worldbuilding and more overt humor than the series was known for.
Since this game is VR-exclusive, the barrier-to-entry is higher than other Valve games. If you do own a VR-ready gaming PC, though, this isn’t just one of the best games by Valve; it’s one of the best games for VR, period.
Earlier in this list, we looked at Half-Life 2: Episodes 1 and 2. Both of those games were released together in a compilation titled “The Orange Box.”
By purchasing The Orange Box, you received Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episodes 1 and 2, Team Fortress 2, and Portal.
Right before Portal’s release, Valve was uncertain what the response would be. That is, in part, why Portal was not released as a stand-alone title.
But, of course, Portal was a massive success in every possible way.
A large part of Portal’s popularity came from the unique game mechanics, and the excellent storytelling and twisted sense of humor found within every facet of the game. Each of these elements came together to create a short but memorable experience that stayed with players far longer than Valve ever anticipated.
Portal is very much worth playing for those who enjoy short, memorable titles and who don’t mind a slower, more puzzle-based gameplay.
Like Half-Life 2, Portal 2 is one of those rare sequels that is just as good as its predecessor. Everything that makes Portal enjoyable can be found in Portal 2.
You will also find a plethora of new mechanics and features, each of which makes for a rich, rewarding game experience.
Some of these new mechanics include the addition of special gels for solving certain types of puzzles, a co-op mode, a map creator, and a new cast of well-written and very well-acted characters.
If you enjoyed Portal and want more of the same, but with some new ideas here and there, then Portal 2 is absolutely worth playing.
Team Fortress 2
Like Portal, to play Team Fortress 2, you needed to purchase “The Orange Box.”
For a time, that is.
Eventually, in April of 2008, Team Fortress 2 was released as a stand-alone title. For three years after that, Team Fortress 2 was very popular.
On June 23rd of 2011, Team Fortress 2 became free-to-play. Right as the game became free-to-play, Valve created an online store where people could purchase cosmetic items. Soon after that, Team Fortress 2 became more popular than it ever had been before. All of this popularity led to even greater financial success.
The success of Team Fortress 2, as a free-to-play title reliant on an in-game store, inspired many other developers to create something with the same business model.
Many of these titles failed, but a few of them—Fortnite, for example—have ended up becoming some of the most-played games of all time.
Even though Valve wasn’t the first to embrace the business model, they were one of the first to do it right and, in doing so, inspired many other titles.
But, what about the game itself?
A combination of fun team-based gameplay and unique game classes make for a game that, to this day, provides an enormous amount of enjoyment. For those who want a fun free multiplayer game to play, Team Fortress 2 is worth installing.
Right after Half-Life was released, a small group of developers came together to create Counter-Strike.
For a period of time, Counter-Strike was popular, but only with a small group of people. Eventually, though, after a series of beta iterations were released this changed. Counter-Strike became incredibly popular. So popular that Valve, realizing the potential, purchased Counter-Strike’s intellectual property and gave the developers jobs.
Since the initial release of Counter-Strike (Counter-Strike 1.6, to be specific) the franchise has spawned three sequels, along with a sizable esports community.
Even though there have been several iterations of Counter-Strike, Counter-Strike 1.6 still remains one of the most popular versions of the original game.
But, for those who want the most accessible and modern experience, you’ll want to play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which is one of the most played games on Steam.
The popularity of Counter-Strike as a franchise is due to the game’s mechanics.Despite the simplicity of game’s mechanics, they’re difficult to master, making for a rewarding and mechanically rich experience.
Just like Counter-Strike, Valve did not, at first, develop Dota. Rather, the first Dota, or “Defense Of The Ancients,” was developed as a mod for Warcraft 3.
A few years after Dota was released, Valve purchased the intellectual property and began developing Dota 2.
Since the release of Dota 2, on July 9th of 2013, a massive esports scene has developed around the game, along with an enormous player base that continues to thrive.
The gameplay and overall experience that Dota 2 offers are just like that of other MOBAs.
But, the level of polish and mechanical depth that Valve brings to the experience sets Dota 2 apart from other MOBAs, making for a unique experience that could only come from Valve.
If you enjoy MOBAs and want a title that offers enormous polish and depth, then Dota 2 is one of the best options out there.
Valve is easily one of the most important game developers of all-time, not just because of the many successful games they have created, but also because of how their success has helped the gaming industry—namely, with the creation of their video game distribution service, Steam.
In this post, we’ve highlighted some of the best games Valve has created and given a run-down on why those games earned the success and praise they have received.