Best Half-Life 2 mods

Did you know that in 2004 Valve launched Half-Life 2 [official site]? And did you know that Episode 1 followed two years later and Episode 2 a year after that? Did you know it’s now been ten years and besides a mass of rumours, bad jokes and conversations with unverified sources, Gordon Freeman’s elusive third Half-Life outing – be that Half-Life 3 or HL2: Episode 3 – is still Not A Thing?

I’m sure you did. Let me now ask you this: do you know about Half-Life 2’s modding scene – a community which has been producing consistently brilliant tweaks and tinkerings to Freeman’s Combine-killing shooter for over a decade? Built from Valve’s Source Engine, the following list is comprised of single and multiplayer mods for the Seattle-based dev’s seminal and ever-enduring FPS – some of which are set in Freeman-familiar worlds, others which take on completely new looks entirely.

I know it’s hard to swallow, but Half-Life 3 might never happen. Play these mods instead.

Get a Life

By Cide

Get a Life was one of the first Half-Life 2 mods I ever played, and I instantly loved how different it was from its source material. Playing as Alexander Zemlinsky, you assume control of a vulnerable subway technician suffering from leukaemia and are tasked with taking on an unscrupulous agency and waves of otherworldly beings.

As an everyday civilian, Zemlinsky can barely handle the mod’s 13-weapon arsenal and afflictions such as bleeding, dizziness, shaking while aiming, and limping make combating its 60+ enemy types across its 24 maps less than straightforward. Add that to the mod’s limb damage system and you’ve got your work cut out for you. Upgradable weapons and drugs that trigger a special bullet-time mode work in your favour across Get a Life’s ten hour or so runtime.

GoldenEye: Source

By Team GoldenEye: Source

Designed to reimagine the Nintendo 64’s wonderful GoldenEye FPS from 1997, GoldenEye Source is a fan-made Half-Life 2 total conversion mod with one goal in mind: “To bring the memories and experiences from the original GoldenEye64 back to life using Source technology.”

It’s been around for almost 12 years and has been consistently updated along the way – having launched its version 5.0 last year. Classic maps such as the Bunker and the Dam return, however while its team promise to maintain the “original feel” of the game now two some decades old, naturally it’s been brought up to speed with ten multiplayer game modes, 25 maps in total and all 28 weapons from the original. Here’s its latest trailer:

Neotokyo

By Studio Radi-8

Set in a fictionalised cyberpunk Tokyo some 30 years into the future, Neotokyo is best described as a class-leaning Counter-Strike mixed with the Japanese fantasy/sci-fi manga series Ghost in the Shell. Government corruption is said to have turn the Japanese capital as we once knew it into a dystopian nightmare where war rages between the military sect Jinrai and the National Security Force. In practice this means loads of twitch shooting and relentless warring across Team Deathmatch and Capture the Ghost – the latter of which is portrayed by a female robot and is, as you probably expect, this mod’s version of capture the flag.

Once housed on ModDB, Neotokyo now exists on Steam and can be downloaded without owning Half-Life 2 itself which is pretty neat.

Minerva: Metastasis

By Adam Foster

Perhaps Minerva’s greatest achievement is that much of its sprawling levels play out in tight corridors and confined spaces, yet it rarely, if ever, feels cramped or claustrophobic. And this is testament to lone creator Adam Foster who, through this wonderfully designed three-episode mod, wound up with a full-time job at Valve.

Filling the boots of an unnamed hero, you’re tasked with uncovering the mysteries of the heavily Combine guarded island you’ve been held prisoner on. “Something is going on here,” suggests the mod’s blurb. “Your goal is to uncover what that is and destroy it.” Doing so will lead you into the island’s central mine shaft and with the help of the titular Minerva – who only exists via on-screen text messaging – you’ll set about taking down whatever it is that’s keeping you trapped on the archipelago.

First released in 2007, Foster launched Minerva on Steam Workshop on 2013. You’re required to already own Half-Life: Episode One to play.

Research and Development

By mbortolino

A non-combative game before non-combative games were cool. Crafted in 2009, two years after the aforementioned Minerva, R&D was often uttered in the same breath as Adam Foster’s work by way of its originality and ambition. Minus guns, besides the Gravity Gun, Gordon Freeman must here rely on his wits as you guide him through a series of tricky, often mind-building and sometimes infuriating puzzles. Occasionally, you’ll face the odd baddie who wants nothing more than to see you dead, but only by leveraging your surrounds can you see them off.

“You’re definitely not Edward Pistolhands,” said Alec not long after R&D’s release, before saying this:

“The best comparison, oddly, is the original Half-Life – a game whose noble puzzle values its sequel largely abandoned in favour of super-atmospheric action. There is very much that sense of strange tricks and traps born of scientific experimentation, and your largely non-combative persona is in many ways more in keeping with the mind-over-matter character we’re often told Gordon Freeman is than the openly, incongruously murderous role he dons in Valve’s games.”

Games such as the Talos Principle have since performed the idea better, but R&D was well ahead of its time some eight years ago.

The Stanley Parable

By Cakebread

How to explain The Stanley Parable without spoiling it? And how to explain it without sounding mad? Two tough questions that I’d honestly rather you worked out for yourself because The Stanley Parable really needs to be experienced to be believed. You probably already know this mod went onto become a fully realised paid-for game – which is absolutely worth paying – however its less sophisticated, rougher-around-the-edges, and free mod version can still be played and enjoyed today.

Exploring themes of 9-5 culture, the illusion of choice, and the contradictions of self-fulfilment, The Stanley Parable takes you on a journey where your only friend is an omnipresent, overseeing narrator. But do you trust him?

“You will make a choice that does not matter,” suggests the mod’s description. “You will follow a story that has no end. You will play a game you cannot win… it’s actually best if you don’t know anything about it before you play it.” I agree.

Black Mesa

By Black Mesa Dev Team

Put simply, Black Mesa is a mod project that started in 2012 with the aim of reimagining the original Half-Life in its sequel’s Source Engine. Having somewhat grown arms and legs since, Black Mesa now exists as a free mod which its creators the Crowbar Collective are no longer progressing, and a paid-for Early Access game, which will receive the most attention.

For example, this means Xen – the otherworldly zone Gordon Freeman visits towards the end of the original game – will not feature in Black Mesa’s mod version, and the premium version plans to add ten or so hours which won’t feature for free. That said, about 85 percent of the single player game does exist in the mod and is for the most a beautiful reinterpretation of Freeman’s first outing. Perhaps the best testimonial I’ve spotted for Black Mesa is tied to generational differences: “Now I understand what people felt like in 1998,” said ModDB user HunteR4708 which is probably absolutely right, even if it makes me myself feel old.

Silent Hill: Alchemilla

By White Noise

There are loads of horror-inspired Half-Life 2 mods kicking around these days, however 2015’s first-person Silent Hill: Alchemilla is my favourite. While it claims to tell a “completely original story”, Alchemilla is heavily inspired by the first game and reimagines its world – particularly the titular hospital and the outside otherworld areas – to terrifying effect.

Without spoiling anything, its puzzles are a little on the light side, so it’s perhaps best to avoid diving into this one expecting a revolutionary first-person modern day retelling of the 1999 debut – a la Resident Evil 7. That said, while Alchemilla promises to entertain “fanatics of the original game”, there’s definitely enough meat on this ‘uns bones to impress series fans of all understandings.

Synergy

By Synergy Team

If co-operative multiplayer is your bag, look no further than Synergy. Another long-standing mod that’s since been housed in the Steam Workshop, Synergy was born from a number of other mods – DC Co-op 2, Dev Co-op, Tim-Coop, for example – and stands to let players play through Half-Life 2’s otherwise single-player campaigns with friends.

Be that Half-Life 2’s base game, Episode One and/or Two, you and your pals can take down Headcrabs, Gunships and Striders to your heart’s’ content – and Synergy now even works with other user-made mods such as the aforementioned Minerva: Metastasis. Synergy also brings a handful of its own levels to the table, which means there’s plenty here to hold you and your pals’ attention.

Dino D-Day

By Digital Ranch Interactive

Besides having the best name on this entire list, Dino D-Day almost certainly has the best premise: during the second World War, Hitler has discovered a way to resurrect dinosaurs and, by fighting online, players can either choose to side with the Allies or the Nazis.

Now, a war-based Deathmatch-style shooter that lets players ride around on dinosaurs is probably enough to sell those of you inclined, however Dino D-Day offers a host of classes which vary on each side, a range of dinos, and an impressive arsenal of weaponry.

Dino D-Day is another mod which has since graduated to paid-for Steam release, however the original freebie itself is still available to download and packs five maps and three game modes – the latter of which includes team deathmatch, king of the hill, and objective mode.

Honourable Mentions

Garry’s Mod
By Garry Newman

The archetypal mod – Garry Newman’s Garry’s Mod offers players a sandbox and tools to make it their own. There are no rules or objectives, but tens of thousands of players and game modes.

Prospekt
By Richard Seabrook

Prospekt has received middling reviews on Steam, however is a fun one-man project which furthers the story Adrian Shephard, star of Half-Life 1 expansion Opposing Force.

Dear Esther
By The Chinese Room

The non-combat exploration game, or Walking Simulator if you prefer, that started it all.

HL2: Capture the Flag
By MeNtHoL

Simple, yet necessary. The Half-Life 2 Deathmatch mode than never was.

Nuclear Dawn
By GameConnect

A lovely FPS/RTS hybrid.

As noted above, Half-Life 2’s modding community has now been operating for well over ten years. This means I’ve definitely missed some crackers, but the above list should more than get those of you new to the scene started. Again, these are my own favourites but, as always, I’d love to hear which ones I’ve missed in the comments below.

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28 Comments

  1. popej says:

    Neotokyo’s soundtrack! It is very good: link to ghostiq.com

    I haven’t played the mod.

    Minerva is easily the best of the mods I’ve played on that list. Black Mesa is good too.

    • Premium User Badge

      heretic says:

      +1 for the soundtrack

      I missed the boat on the mod but the soundtrack is pretty awesome :)

    • Premium User Badge

      AceJohnny says:

      Huh, I didn’t know about NeoTokyo. I love how it’s clearly referencing but cleverly dodging copyright claims by Ghost in the Shell.

      And the soundtrack does indeed sound awesome.

  2. Abacus says:

    Not a mod, but I have a lot of good memories playing puzzle maps in HL2:DM. I had a LOT of hours in Zombie Master Source too.

    Having a thing about some of the other mods I remember playing, there are a few whose names escape me. I think there was a stargazing one called Radiator? I also remember a ‘haunted house’ one with moving mannequins that reminded me a lot of FEAR. Zombie Panic was quite fun. Also worth mentioning poor old Fortress Forever, the long awaited successor to Team Fortress Classic that released a month or two before the release of The Orange Box and Team Fortress 2. Also one of the first mods I played was the one that was basically HL2 set in dystopian Canada.

  3. Lord_Mordja says:

    SMDH that this list’s missing things like The Hidden, Zombie Master, Fistful of Frags, Dystopia, and Eternal Silence.

    And no mention of any variety of SMOD!

    • Abacus says:

      THE HIDDEN! I’m desperate for a modern iteration of that.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I just logged in to comment about Smod. It adds so many fun weapons and other things that going back to regular Half-Life 2, even a prettified one such as with the Cinematic Mod, feels beyond dull.

      People act like Half-Life 2 is the Godfather of video games, but other games within the same engine (VtM: Bloodlines, Dark Messiah) did more fun stuff. Smod and the thought of all the other fun mods was the one thing stopping me from uninstalling it, but I still did so several years ago and haven’t looked back.

    • vahnn says:

      Fistful of Frags is so damn fun. Gentlemen Rules,always and forever.

      The Hidden is also great.

      I can’t remember if it was an HL1 mod, or a Source mod,but Firearms was really damn fun back in the day.

  4. CAMN says:

    Wasn’t Portal a mod for HL2 when it began?

    If so, I’d say Portal is by far the best mod for HL2 ever created.

    “This was a triumph, I’m making a note here, huge success…”

    That song killed me at the end :)

  5. MultiVaC says:

    Didn’t Black Mesa get started long before 2012? Maybe I’m completely off, but I think I remember following the project (It used to be called Black Mesa: Source) way back around 2004 or so. Maybe even earlier, pretty much the moment the game was officially unveiled thousands of mod team immediately formed and started posting weapon renders.

    Anyway, there were a few mods that were basically my go to multiplayer games for a while. Dystopia, Eternal Silence, and Zombie Master were probably my favorites of them. As more recent ones go, No More Room In Hell was pretty cool when I tried it, and I remember a sorta FEAR esque-singleplayer mod that wasn’t half bad either, I think maybe Nightmare House (2?) or something like that.

    • Frank says:

      According to wikipedia, it started in 2004 and started winning vaporware awards by 2009, which sounds lot more accurate than 2012.

  6. L3TUC3 says:

    link to empiresmod.com
    link to store.steampowered.com
    link to youtube.com

    Another FPS/RTS multiplayer combo. Quite a lot of fun with mechanics that not a whole lot of games had at the time.

  7. MikeHoncho says:

    Aww, no love for Age of Chivalry? It’s worth including for the head explodies alone!

  8. Hoot says:

    How long before a talented mod team just decides enough is enough and makes Half Life 3?

    I’d support it. Valve are taking the piss; knowing they have a captive audience, a guaranteed monetary super-hit if nothing else and the freedom to make the fucking thing yet they just won’t do it.

    Too much time and hype literally kills games. Kills them dead. DNF. Daikatana. No Man’s Sky (One Man’s Lie, Please Don’t Buy, End). All victims of being tied to the tracks right while the hype train barrelled toward them, ultimately smashing them into a slightly smell pile of pulp.

  9. Frank says:

    I’m not usually much into mods, but Dystopia was great. Kind of surprised it didn’t at least get an honorable mention here.

  10. hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

    No Dystopia? I know it’s old, it started development before HL2 even released, but at one point Valve were grooming the game to perhaps be the official HL2-era multiplayer much like they did with Counter-Strike. Sadly it never came to pass, but it’s still got the best balance of any FPS I’ve ever played, or even any multiplayer game period. It’s fast and quick and asymmetrical and tons of fun, yet hangs with the very best, drawing favorable balance comparisons to Starcraft and the likes.

    The only downside and one of the things leading to its small player base is the steep learning curve, it’s got a lot of moving parts. On the other hand, not many games still have an active player base 12 years after release.

    • aethereal says:

      This so much! Dystopia was tf2 before tf2. Even after tf2 came out, I much preferred Dystopia’s crazy awesome class loadout system, cyber combat, the freaking Tesla gun (imagine if symmetras alt-fire could be slung around corners and also shot lightning like Winston), invisibility and katanas. In my opinion, NeoTokyo gameplay was a boring slog in comparison.

      Unfortunately it just never gained a huge momentum, and died out very gradually. New players should show up , but a lot would get intimidated. If you follow the Dystopia steam group, you can still get the occasional pub game going.

      Definitely a little bit confusing to start with, but the basic tutorial covered abilities and the differences between meatspace and cyberspace, which is what tended to confuse people the most.

  11. hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

    I won’t pretend that Riot Act is anywhere as good as Minerva, but that’s a tough standard to meet for HL2 singleplayer mods. It’s been a long time since I played & beat it, but I did get an incredible feeling of catharsis after finishing it, and would definitely recommend it as well: link to moddb.com

  12. Premium User Badge

    zapatapon says:

    I just want to mention Mission improbable, a straight but darn good single-player mod campaign (requires HL2 Ep2) with a cool atmosphere and amazing visuals.

  13. Aseliot says:

    Underhell is the best mod for HL2 (singleplayer) i’ve ever played. It’s really high quality. link to moddb.com

    It’s made by a guy who now works on Day of Infamy as well apparently.

  14. Scandalon says:

    Valve is in Bellevue, not Seattle.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      To people outside the region this may seem like pedantry, but trust me when I say there is no love lost between Seattle and Bellevue.

      The distinctions between the two aren’t what they once were, but Bellevue is still the place whose solution to ‘unsightly homeless people’ was for cops to pick them up and drop them in Seattle.

  15. Siimon says:

    The R&D mod had me thinking it was a HL2 remake of the wonderful Science & Industry mod for HL which was one of my favorites way back when. I Googled it, and lo and behold: You guys did a thing on it last year! link to rockpapershotgun.com

  16. Cuzco says:

    Hi guys !
    First comment ever on this website. As a huge fan of Hal life series, I love to redo the games and add mods.
    I was a bit suprised to not see the glorious cinematic mod of half life 2 in this list !
    You should all defenetly give it a go. Although it is 17go of download, it has to be done ! A must have for the people who loved half life².
    Website <– http://cinematicmod.com

    Free !

    Thank you for all the communauty here on RPS !
    (and sorry for my english wich is not my mother tong..)

    • fabrulana says:

      Very nice, will definitely try this out for a replay of HL2. Thanks.