If I was to compile a list of the games I’ve sunk the lion’s share of my time into the likes of Street Fighter 2 Turbo, Sensible World of Soccer, Final Fantasy VII and PES (back when it was all over FIFA) would all feature highly. None however would come close to Counter-Strike (CS), a tactical team-based FPS that’s about as polished as a game of its genre can get.
Originally a Half-Life mod crafted by Minh Le and Jess Cliffe, CS proved so well balanced, and heinously addictive, that soon even Valve themselves took notice, snapping up the rights to the game and taking its creators on as part of its staff.
Why so addictive? Because everything from weapon balancing, to map structure, to team bonuses and aiming were perfectly pitched, so much so that for a time CS dwarfed every other game out there in terms of number of players; its popularity even fuelling the emergence of prize money tournaments where the best players and clans would ply their trade.
To describe Counter-Strike is deceptively simple. Players choose either terrorist or counter-terrorist sides, take-up arms from their side’s unique roster of guns – which are purchased with funds earned in-game – and then go out to achieve specific objectives. Terrorists, for example, might have to bomb a certain point (or points) on the map, or else stop the CTs from rescuing their hostages, while CTs can defuse said bomb, or else rescue the hostages.
Then there’s the game’s je ne sais quoi: the fact that once you die in any given round, that’s it, you’re dead. Left to watch the rest of the players vie for supremacy from the sidelines as you count down the minutes until the next round, and never have a few minutes felt so long. The fact that death has a tangible punishment – where most games allow players straight back into the action – not only making you genuinely nervy as you play, but also acting as a catalyst for strategising as your team and the opposition consider their manoeuvres.
Needless to say, Global Offensive keeps all of the aspects of CS that made it so compelling in the first place but builds upon them, freshening up the graphics (though without particularly pushing the envelope) and adding new game types and weaponry.
So it is that the traditional modes are joined by Arms Race and Demolition. The former more akin to deathmatch than the fundamentals of CS, as players work through the entire arsenal of weapons (a new armament awarded upon each successful kill), with the winner he who successfully wields the final weapon: the golden knife.
Demolition meanwhile is another variation that sees the terrorist faction looking to bomb a point on the map, but this time maps have been shrunk down in scale creating bottlenecks and flash points which begin almost instantly. This quick-fire version of CS is even more action orientated, and also home to the majority of the game’s new maps, with the rest of the game happy to recycle classic maps, albeit with a few new secrets.
New weapons include a sprinkling of new guns, but the real fun lies in the grenades category with the introduction of the Molotov cocktail, which causes a blanket of fire to engulf an area, so causing damage and an impaired movement to anyway unfortunate to get caught within its effect.
Scoring has undergone an overhaul too with the most prominent score now a combination of your total kills and points earned through working for the team. The game even awards MVPs to the players who make the biggest impact on any given round, and gives constant feedback by highlighting players who did something particularly noteworthy during the course of the game – defusing the bomb say, or offing multiple opponents with a single grenade.
If I’ve any gripes about this new CS it’s that, by and large at least, there really isn’t too much new here. As a veteran I’m hoping Valve support CS:GO in the way they have Team Fortress 2 and so release new maps for the classic modes, add in new ways to play and look to generally shake things up for those who want it. I can see why they haven’t gone down that path just yet – imagine the outcry if the famous locales of Dust, Nuke and Aztec had failed to make the cut – but going forward why not inject even more freshness into map cycles?
Ultimately however CS:GO proves that once you’ve got, you’ve got it. Sure there are other options out there for players keen to take up virtual arms against each other – some might offer a faster way back into the action, or more explosions perhaps – but none match the perfection of CS, made possible through years of feedback and a dedicated legion of fans.