In the halcyon days of my youth, by which I mean freshman year of college, I played a fair amount of Counter-Strike. I was never especially good at it, though. Going to a technical college, and going with friends, there were ample opponents and I had a blast in our local 2v2 and 3v3 matches. Expanding those battles to the internet (which was blazing fast at the time) to experience the thrill of the hunt with strangers, was about the point that Counter-Strike and I grew apart. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is the newest CS game from Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment and provides an easy way to experience CS with a very low barrier to entry. Be it your first time, or your first time in a while (as it is for me), CS:GO is probably right for you.
“Easy to learn but difficult to master” is a phrase thrown around quite a bit in gaming, though less so in video gaming. Counter Strike seems to fit that idea pretty well. This is not a game with a plethora of modes or one that contains upgrade decisions that you might agonize over. CS is lean. CS:GO is the embodiment of what made CS good, with clean, updated graphics and a couple of new modes, but little of the basic formula has really changed.
Does the CS gameplay still hold up? Well, over the years CS has carved out quite an impressive niche, and it has done so on the strength of that gameplay. It is the quintessential competitive shooter and remains as sharp and pinpoint accurate as ever. For those who may have been playing CS for the last ten plus years, there is a lot in GO that will feel immediately familiar. The classic maps such as Dust II, Italy, and Office are all here and looking sharp, and the primary gameplay modes are basically the same as you remember. If you have never played, or have been away for a while, here’s how it works. There are two teams: terrorists and counter-terrorists.
One side has an objective to complete, such as planting a bomb or rescuing hostages, and the other side opposes that goal. Once the conditions are met or thwarted, or the simpler strategy of killing the other team is complete, that team wins the round. Games are generally short because death can come in a fraction of a second, and knocks you out until the next round. Between rounds, earned money is used to upgrade weapons and extras, and you try again. The simple premise is elegant in allowing the teamwork and precision to override any gameplay requirements that might dictate who wins. The people with the quicker reflexes and better knowledge of the map will be the ones atop the boards. Counter Strike started E-sports, and the competitive nature of the game has not faded over time.
This core gameplay is uncomplicated, but hard to be the best at because winning relies so heavily on precision and reflexes, and this is why CS has remained so popular for so long. In addition to the stalwart favorites, a couple of new modes have been added that spice up the overall experience. Arms Race is a mode where each kill automatically changes the gun you have in a roughly descending power level culminating in a required knife kill forcing you to get one kill with each weapon to win.
Demolition tweaks the classic objective based formula by doling out specific weapons for getting kills instead of allowing you to purchase weapons between rounds. Classic CS is all that the old-school CSers may want, but it’s good that these alternatives exist to allow for some variety. The alternate modes also allow for play on the new maps. Classic maps, such as Dust, have undergone minor tweaks and balances, which are welcome. Of the 16 total maps, half of them are new and exclusive to the new modes. The games I played on these maps tended to be a little faster paced than on the classic maps owing to respawning after death, smaller maps, and my having no idea where to wait and hide. Arms Race in particular was a lot of fun.
CS is a precise game, and I am usually on the receiving end of that precision. Much like with StarCraft and most fighting games, I fall into the casual admirer role for CS. I enjoy playing CS and I love playing it with friends. When I go online though, the game changes a bit. Here’s an example of a typical game for me: I purchase my SG 553 and run toward the first upper choke point on Dust. I set up in a corner off to the right, scope in, and cover my teammates. At some point the other team breaks through. I start blasting away. Four, five, six shots into the lead guy, and he isn’t even facing me.
As I continue to shoot, he turns and fires a single bullet in my direction and I’m dead. You can sub in running and spraying with a P90, or chasing and lining up shots with a desert eagle, but the result is usually the same. In most encounters, I feel like I have an advantage only to end up eating bullets. These moments are not particularly fun, but they highlight the difference between the top end and the average (or below) players. The skill ceiling in CS is lofty.
It would be nice if there were easier ways to practice without getting creamed, but CS:GO does take a few steps to ease in new players. CS:GO provides solo play by including an offline mode with bots. In this mode, you can play any of the game types and do so with teams consisting of bots at any of six skill levels. I wouldn’t start at the ground floor though. Even level 5 or 6 bots are nothing like real people. This is particularly noticeable once you die and watch how the rest of them play. Bots can be useful for checking certain weapon matchups and working on headshot aiming, but you are better off taking your licks online where the competition is stiff. To complement solo play, matchmaking makes finding and entering a game vastly easier than I remember. You still can select individual servers to play on if you want, but you don’t have to.
The Elo ranking system to match up players of similar skill is a welcome inclusion. The true test of whether this works will come once the game has been out awhile. If it holds up, it offers me and mine a place to hang out and a way to keep playing “real” CS:GO without as many insta-deaths. CS is notoriously hard to get into, but CS:GO does a fair job welcoming new recruits, just don’t expect the veteran players online to extend the same helping hand.
While the upgrades and inclusions in CS:GO are welcome, there are some components that modern shooter fans may feel are missing. Notably, aiming down the sights, as is common in Call of Duty or Killzone, is not present here, unless you have a gun with a scope. Also, the movement of your character feels a bit loose, and some of the gun models are a little weak. Further, the lack of perks and persistent upgrades may cause some to feel this game lacks staying power. It’s easy to say that CS could salvage good ideas from other games and implement improvements, but CS:GO and CS in general have a pure honed feel that argues against the need for evolution. CS is the shark of the shooting game world; it reached its apex long ago and confidently defies the passage of time.
In the end, CS:GO is CS. There’s something to be said for a game that knows what it is and executes that idea well. Between the refined quality of classic CS, and the new tweaks and modes, there is plenty here to warrant a $15 price tag whether you have played CS before or not. The potential value is absurd given the historic and expected persistence of the community. CS:GO is hard, hardcore, and still a blast to play.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.