Like many things that come from the beacon of innovation that is Valve software, Counter-Strike was revolutionary for its time. Aside from bringing intense squad-based gameplay to the masses, the game also spawned international gaming tournaments where you could win real money. Yes, Counter-Strike has left a huge impact crater on the world, and we owe a hell of a lot to it (including the monopoly that modern combat shooters have established over the FPS genre), but has its classic formula kept up with the times? Or is it best left in the canons of gaming history?
For the uninitiated (shame on you), Counter-Strike is a team-based shooter that pits terrorists and counter-terrorists. A match usually spans five to ten rounds, with each round having a different objective – be that rescuing a hostage or defusing a bomb. The game has always been renowned for making you value your life more than in most games, as there are no respawns in most modes, meaning that you have to wait until the next round to get back in the game.
Counter-Strike: GO very much continues in this noble tradition, without really adding much to improve it. This isn’t all bad, given it’s quite a satisfying gameplay formula, but some kind of innovation would’ve been welcome. Yes, there are two new game modes in Arms Race and Demolition, which give you new weapons for completing certain challenges, but the lack of a levelling system or long-term rewards may make it feel a bit aimless for some.
On the other hand, players may appreciate the fact that every single match gives them a level playing field. Having made the mistake of buying Modern Warfare 3 months after everyone else, I know what it feels like to be completely underequipped and outgunned in an online shooter (like a eunuch at an orgy, for the record). It’s refreshing to be able to dip into a game after a couple-month absence and not feel like the weapons of the whole world have progressed while you remain stuck in the Middle Ages.
The gameplay is typical, clinical Counter-Strike. The controls work for the most part, although it may catch you off-guard that you can only look down the sights of fully-scoped weapons, with most shooting being done from the hip. As ever, teamwork is the key. Running headlong into battle screaming the name of whatever deity you’ve infused your character with will have you hovering around the map in spectator mode like some dejected ghost in no time.
The controls feel decidedly old-school, with grenades being allocated their own weapon slot rather than being immediately throwable, but this adds to the more calculated feel of the game in comparison with other modern combat shooters. It’s precisely such elements as this, no respawns, and the lack of a long-term rewards system that CS loyalists will play this game for.
Like much of the game, the graphics here are to-the-point rather than flashy, with not much going on in the background, and no crazy effects and explosions to speak of a la Killzone 3. The Source engine isn’t showing its age one bit however, with realistic crimson blood splatters complementing the realistically-crumpling bodies. This, and the fact that there are no respawns, makes each kill feel particularly satisfying.
CS nostalgics will be pleased to see that eight of the original game maps make an appearance (with plenty of overhauls), as well as there being eight all-new maps for you to traverse. As you’d expect from Valve, they’re all designed meticulously, providing a good balance of bottlenecks, cover and open areas.
For all its old-school goodness, CS GO lacks scale, with the 10-player maximum feeling like a bit minimal. 24 players would not have made the game feel overcrowded by any means, at which point some kind of squad system could’ve been thrown in to maintain its strategic feel.
CS GO is a great alternative to the blockbuster online shooters (we all know who they are). By sticking to its roots in terms of encouraging tight, tactical gameplay over perks, power-levelling and those f**king nukes, it will appeal to those who enjoy their skill dictating how well they do, rather than how many power-ups they have. With a small player limit and fairly rudimentary graphics, it can feel a bit hollow at times, but old-school CS fans will certainly get their nostalgia fix here.