Is this the refresh that the world of competitive Counter-Strike needed? We find out.
By Alex Walker on August 24, 2012 at 11:49 am
The excerpt isn’t a lie; regular readers of my Sunday eSports columns will have become acquainted for my love of the original Counter-Strike. It helped develop my passion for competitive gaming as a whole, took me places I would have never visited otherwise, introduced me to people I would have never met and put in me situations to learn lessons I would have thought impossible for a video game.
It’s also largely the reason why you’re reading this now, so I have to be honest and face the brutal question up-front: how do I feel about the round-based team shooter that was released on the internet in 1999, hit retail shelves the year after, laid the groundwork for eSports in the West, altered my perspective on gaming and helped give me a start in the media, being replaced after 12 years?
Truthfully – not too bad.
Think about it from a developer’s perspective. Even by Valve’s glacial standards, allowing something like Counter-Strike – which was a major influence in getting Steam off the ground, since it was necessary for Counter-Strike 1.6 – to wither into nothingness would transcend insanity.
How did we get here?
But their track record on revitalising this particular franchise has been woefully inadequate. Condition Zero wasn’t a bad product by any means, but the majority of gamers – almost all teenagers at the time – voted with their feet, or lack thereof. They didn’t have the money to shell out for a new game and many didn’t need to, since internet cafes were still a wildly popular way to play the game in large parts of the world.
Counter-Strike: Source was the big attempt to move the community over, and anybody who’s read a few forum threads in the past seven years can work out just how well that went. The game’s in a perfectly playable state now, although many (myself included) still consider 1.6 to be superior. The product that actually shipped on launch day was particularly bad; many never forgot the sour taste and are yet to forgive Valve for the transgression.
As a result, the communities have been polarised for years. Counter-Strike was by far and away the more successful competitive title, although Source built up a strong following in its own right and was even featured on cable in the United States (although many insist that Valve explicitly forbid the use of 1.6 for television).
After years of looking at between 50,000 to over 100,000 people every day split across what was exactly the same game, Global Offensive is Valve and Hidden Path’s attempt to repair a historical wrong once and for all.
Where to begin
But if you’re not already packing years of experience, where should you start? The best place to go is the weapons course, a bootcamp-style tutorial similar to a lot of the training courses in Call of Duty. There’s an obstacle course as well which will be a great warmup for people not accustomed to the finer parts of movement and pre-aiming that is far more essential in CS:GO. 30 seconds is a good starting point, while sub-24 second times seem to be the world-class benchmark for now, although I’d expect a time around the high 22s to be reached within a year.
Even the course itself has been proof of the developer’s determination to support the game. After it was introduced on Tuesday, the course has since been updated with voice-overs and Left 4 Dead-style indicators for basic items like picking up your gun.
Take a look at the changes at the last few days alone. The height of smoke grenades have been tweaked to make them more tactically useful in certain areas. There’s been bug-fixes galore. Matchmaking is a little more reliable. The UI’s been played around with and even sounds have been raised and lowered. Admittedly, this has meant that my copy of the game has been “completing installation” every day this week, but I’d much rather see that than be praying for a patch.
Support isn’t everything though – and the appeal of CS:GO may be difficult for many to see. The only real compromise is that the gameplay is a blend between 1.6 and Source, albeit a mix that fans of both games have so far accepted, according to my contacts.
That all-important gameplay
The message for newcomers is that this game is brutal. It’s a real hark back to the old-school days; if you missed a shot, you will most likely die. The unwary often have a hard time surviving a trip around the corner, let alone around the map. Any attempts to spray and pray will be met with derision: it might work in just about every other shooter today, but, thankfully, it only produces laughably horrendous results in CS:GO.
Players will find the recoil patterns difficult to master too, although the accessibility of YouTube these days should remove a large degree of trial and error from the process. The guns are largely the same as when I covered them in my two-part preview, save for some fine-tuning of the recoil on certain weapons like the AK-47.
The maps are the same as they’ve always been and again, things are identical to the beta in this respect. The important change is that servers are much more populated now, with server admins resolving the ridiculous situation where two teams of five would be watching each other while 10+ frustrated spectators watched on.
Global Offensive uses a modified Source engine, so most of the maps should, and are, translating over fairly quickly. The classics like Bloodstrike and aim_map are already available, while there’s a local server dedicated towards surf maps. Deathmatch servers (normal and FFA versions) are live too, and it won’t be long before somebody works out the settings necessary to get the jump maps scene going again.
But even nostalgia and a well-developed set of blinkers can’t avoid the inescapable truth. It’s an updated engine, but the graphics are still a generation behind the Call of Duty crowd and well behind anything running Frostbite 2.0. It doesn’t even really stand up that great against the original CryEngine, let alone its predecessor.
That said, CS:GO is infinitely less resource hungry than any of the games I just mentioned. A rubbish Core 2 Duo E6600 (or the X3 8750 Phenom series) and 1GB RAM is sufficient to get things moving, so anything from the i-series generation of CPUs should have no troubles whatsoever. More than 85% of people on Steam own a dual-core CPU or better (according to last month’s Steam Hardware survey) and over 90% have 2GB RAM or more.
Being able to have massive battles with molotovs, flashbangs, bullets and models flying all over the place without a single dropped frame is not just nice – it’s absolutely essential if the game is to develop competitively.
The new platform for competitive CS?
Luckily, most people should be able to transition over fairly smoothly. The Pantheon eSports website – a relic borne by the team that represented Australia in the World Cyber Games back in 2001- has already revived, with servers and competitions of its own.
Cybergamer already has plans to get involved, but even more importantly than the support of admins is the backing of the players. Most of the old-schoolers I stay in contact with are impressed at the state of the game even at this early stage, which is a positive sign from diehard 1.6 fans that refused to enjoy Source even while they were winning tournaments.
There’s a strong casual base too, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more and more people merge over from Source and 1.6 over the next few weeks. Source should effectively be dead with CS:GO’s release – Global Offensive is a better, fresher iteration of what Source tried but failed to do. The old-schoolers were simply waiting for something decent enough to come along, and it looks like that day, seven years later, has finally arrived.
Matchmaking and cross-play
Most of the experience has been trouble-free – although the matchmaking, something traditional Counter-Strike fans have learned to ignore (because it didn’t exist), isn’t so smooth. Finding a game never seems to work, although matchmaking for community servers seems works fine – even if it tends to favour more populated servers in say, Europe, as opposed to the playable ones back home.
At the end of the day browsing the servers yourself is always the best option, but that might have a detrimental effect on the PC crowd. Having not played the 360 version (and being a hardcore old-schooler, I have no inclination to) I can’t comment on the console matchmaking.
It’s a shame that there’s no cross-play function, although we know from reports back in March and April that the decision was made to allow for a smoother, and more frequent, patching process on the Macintosh and PC. Whether it can be reimplemented in the future is questionable – it was abandoned shortly before the beta launched, and the engine obviously has the capacity – but reconnecting the two player bases would do a lot to maintain the game’s longevity.
Nevertheless, the almost daily updates are immensely appreciated and the PC crowd wouldn’t have accepted waiting a week just so console gamers could catch up.
What to look out for
For those that have played any form of Counter-Strike, here’s a quick rundown of the changes. The physics of the grenades are the same as 1.6, although the flashbang effect is copied from Source. Scoped rifles now have a fog-like effect where the scope itself blurs out while you’re moving, and your field of vision narrows in if you jump around.
All of the strafing and tapping issues have been worked out in the beta, and it’s just a case of learning the new recoil patterns. A lot of people will have issues with the M4A1 – the Colt feels substantially less powerful than it did before, but only time will tell if more experience or an update is required.
The new grenades are largely a novelty, although the molotov might have some life in competitive play as a short-term zoning tool. Some of the new guns are quite interesting: the PP-Bizon is an effective alternative to the MP5 (which was replaced by the MP7) and the single-shot Tec-9 could be used by high-level teams as a cheaper Desert Eagle. There’s no USP anymore, but some updates have made the PP2000 a much more serviceable spawning weapon.
The new maps for the new modes are interesting – Bank is particularly hectic, especially given how many shots newer players miss, while St Marc’s design could make it rather interesting for competition. Some of the animations have changed, while there’s still that overall gun-barrel-grey feel to the models and textures from Source.
For the elitists: crouchbobbing is gone, while the ability for bullets to pierce through objects is identical to the model used in Source. This is an excellent change. While many 1.6 fans will miss the ability to score crazy frags through seemingly innocuous locations, it made the game infinitely more frustrating and not necessarily a better one. Partial wallbanging (the common vernacular) is a much better trade-off, particularly for casual players who will have a hard enough time easing their way into the game.
Wrapping it up
That barrier for casual players will still be Global Offensive’s greatest asset and its core weakness: it’s bloody hard and still the same rage-inducing shooter that makes kittens cry and sends 12-year-olds postal. Voice chat is still more annoying than helpful (thanks to the odd griefer), and yes, as always, complaints about “rego” are well and truly alive.
But this is what gamers have wanted for years – a return to the shooter of old, where skill ceilings were high and developers refused to mollycoddle to the lowest denominator. Your wish has been granted – now it’s time for you to find out if this is still the kind of game you enjoy.
God knows I do.
- A mix between 1.6 and Source that fans of both can enjoy
- Plenty of casual and hardcore Australians
- Formula is perfected to a fine sheen
- Skill required epitomises the term “skill ceiling”
- New guns and maps fit in nicely
- Strong, if not the best, developer support
- Source engine means you won’t miss out on all your fun maps
- No headshots through five miles of concrete anymore
- Insanely difficult – not a game for the impatient
- Graphics are serviceable, but well behind newer games like Battlefield
- If you’re struggling, tough luck