Valve has consistently remained one of the most innovative video game developers on the market with a roster of classics under their belt, despite a cry for a third Half-Life which may or may not happen – but given it’s already monumental impact on the gaming community, it just further solidifies the company as one of the most beloved of all time. Compiling a top ten list of their best was no easy task as several entries on this list deservedly warrant the top spot, so I took into consideration not only critical and commercial success, but also how each subsequent game has come to revolutionize their respective genres; thankfully, Valve’s database is filled with game-changers. Also, as Valve-like as The Stanley Parable is, it only retains the Half-Life 2 modified Source engine and was never officially picked up by Valve, so unfortunately I couldn’t place it here – but rest assured, it would’ve been in the top 3. It’s that bloody good.
10. COUNTER-STRIKE: GLOBAL OFFENSIVE
When Counter-Strike first launched, it was nothing short of a global phenomenon. Due to the rising popularity of eSports at the time, Counter-Strike struck while the iron was hot and imprinted Valve’s name in the major leagues. The fourth game in the series, 2012’s Global Offensive, quickly became its most popular entry in the series and is still widely played in most eSports professional competitions. To think this started off as a mere modification of Half-Life, the series has come to obtain an instantly recognizable identity of its own, with Global Offensive offering the culmination of its greatest ideas infused with a new coat of paint. This is unfortunately a hindrance on the game as it doesn’t particularly break any new ground but still retains that classic competitive multiplayer spirit.
9. DOTA 2
Defense of the Ancients 2, or DotA 2, is the go-to free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena game that single-handedly dethroned League of Legends’ reign. The first DotA was a community-created mod for Blizzard’s Warcraft III before Valve picked up the rights and developed the standalone sequel that would also play a huge part in eSports to this day. DotA 2’s greatest strength was its easy accessibility, essentially opening up the doors as a worthy entry point for many MOBA games. The gameplay was straight-forward enough to grasp on an initial run but also left room for plenty of strategic planning; something that many eSports gamers have taken a liking to.
8. COUNTER-STRIKE: SOURCE
While the original fired the series into stardom, it was the equally acclaimed Source engine remake, Counter-Strike: Source, that steered it in the right direction. Using the Source engine’s array of utilities to build upon, CS: Source improved everything down to the gameplay and smooth new graphics. For a long while, it remained the essential online multiplayer shooter that built a devoted community of gamers. Where Source succeeded over Global Offensive, though, was in its design. Source presented a more accessible and well-rounded experience whereas Global Offensive succumbed to a lot more controversy down the line involving the various gambling monopolies and microtransactions that Source mostly shied away from.
7. LEFT 4 DEAD
Before Turtle Rock Studios dug their untimely grave with Evolve, they were part of a collaborative force with Valve behind the co-op first-person shooter/horror, Left 4 Dead. At a time when the zombie survival horror genre was at a bit of a stalemate, Left 4 Dead came along and revitalized the genre by introducing an effective co-op campaign with strong emphasis on party play and multiplayer. By any means, the game wasn’t The Last Of Us in telling a heartfelt story while turning the tides of the dreading apocalyptic/survival gameplay, but it did bank on its multiplayer as its greatest selling point – and absolutely nailed it.
6. LEFT 4 DEAD 2
The sequel, Left 4 Dead 2, expanded upon everything present in the first game by introducing more tight controls, a meatier and longer campaign, and especially variety in locations, weapons and enemies. Valve stuck to the saying, “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”, and indeed they kept the momentum going for the series while tweaking the necessary components to make it a worthwhile and fulfilling sequel that still transcended its zombie survival horror genre. Left 4 Dead 2 limited ammunition while ramping up the scare factor and difficulty for a nail-biting experience that absolutely demanded the help of other players to achieve success; something the AI could never fathom when it either abandoned you entirely or lead you into your demise – so not far off from real humans, I guess.
The Orange Box was arguably one of the best game compilation releases of all time, bundling Team Fortress 2 with the acclaimed Half-Life 2 sequel episodes, Episode One and Two, but it was the introduction of a new little puzzle platformer that stood out among the rest. Portal was Valve at their lucrative and creative best, taking platformers to bold new heights along with impeccably timed comedic writing and wildly inventive gameplay. Portal rested entirely on its intricate yet simple mechanics using the now iconic portal gun to navigate and solve environmental puzzles – all the while being taunted by a viciously sarcastic computer system named GLaDOS. While it was a bit on the short side, Portal still maintained a level of ingenuity rarely ever touched upon in modern gaming.
4. TEAM FORTRESS 2
Before Overwatch became the staple online multiplayer shooter with colorful, cartoonish characters, there was Team Fortress 2. The first Team Fortress was inventive and boosted itself off the success of the rising eSports scene, but didn’t build enough steam for the series to really carry itself until its revamped sequel, which pretty much overhauled everything for a more wholesome multiplayer experience. Thanks to its diverse cast of intentionally stereotypical characters with traits reflecting their persona and incredibly addictive gameplay, Team Fortress 2 managed to climb Valve’s ladder as their most prized competitive shooter that will forever stand the test of time.
Half-Life single-handedly proved that all you need to make one of the most groundbreaking games of all time is give your main character the questionable inability to speak while wielding a crowbar; but that’s not all that Half-Life had to offer upon release. The newly built Source engine enabled Valve to experiment with some pretty amazing physics for first-person shooters as well as a deeply layered and complex story that was almost unheard of in gaming at the time. Most importantly, Half-Life was the springboard for many successful mods-turned-franchises like Counter-Strike that allowed Valve to have a snowball effect on their future. All it really needed was one great idea and the rest fell into place. Until it’s sequel, that is…
2. HALF-LIFE 2
Half-Life 2 somehow pulled off the extraordinary task of not only being better than its predecessor, but exceeded it in groundbreaking game mechanics that are still, to this day, way ahead of its time. Valve’s hurricane of innovation didn’t stop at the first game as Half-Life 2 took several steps ahead to ensure that video games would never be the same ever again. Again. Our crowbar-wielding silent protagonist, Gordon Freeman, awakens in the distant future to find the world in peril against the alien threat, Combine, and must find a way to free it using intuition and of course, creative weapons. The greatest addition to the gameplay was the inclusion of the Gravity Gun, a peppy little machine capable of manipulating the gravity of any object it aims at. This gave Valve plenty of leeway to experiment with some mind-blowing game physics that still never cease to amaze me.
1. PORTAL 2
I fought with myself – and everyone around me including my cat – for hours over whether Half-Life 2 or Portal 2 should deserve the top spot. Eventually I boiled it down to which game packed the greatest punch when I first played it, and while Half-Life 2 made me scrape my jaw off the floor a few times with a shovel, it was Portal 2 that made it okay for me to walk around without a jaw for the rest of my life. Portal 2, from a narrative perspective, mostly treads familiar ground with the concept of awakening in a distant, ruined future. The only difference is Portal 2 didn’t require the player to necessarily save humanity as the only signs of it was the recorded ramblings of J.K. Simmons and a potato. Like any sequel should do, Portal 2 introduced a handful of insane, truly mindblowing gameplay mechanics that built upon the winning formula of its predecessor. Portal 2 didn’t exactly leave room to breathe either. It’s writing was a stroke of sheer comedic genius while raising many thought-provoking questions about the nature of an advanced AI controlled future. When a game ends with players sucking the entire world through a portal on the moon, you know you’ve got something special. Oh, and you also put the conscience of GLaDOS into a potato. Lovely.