I’ve been playing Counter-Strike since 2000, meaning this game has actually been a part of my life for well over a decade. Over the course of my extended history with CS, there have been a number of variations – Versions 1.3 and 1.6 having been the most significant, as they’ve made the community either praise the changes that were implemented, or cry that their beloved game had been tragically altered forever. I remember when ‘bunny hopping’ – jumping around unrealistically without any reduction in speed – was effectively removed, punishing players for their jumps by slowing their movement down and making them sitting ducks. This balanced the game however and made it more realistic. Eventually, 1.6 came along and seemingly made the size of the ‘head shot box’ smaller, meaning it was becoming far more difficult to ‘spray’ your weapon and get lucky with a one shot kill. Skill was a must in order to excel at Counter-Strike.
After this, Counter-Strike: Source came out, and this has been the preferred version by many for quite some time now. I remember when this was the bees knees; the Source engine was once beautiful and lush, and the CS: Source game was a much needed upgrade. This version also introduced a couple of new weapons, as well as the ability to use a riot shield… something that people said gimped the game, and they certainly weren’t wrong in saying so. Thankfully, the riot shield was never really used by anyone who actually took CS seriously, which was pretty much everyone. Also, the ‘hit box’ for headshots was a bit bigger. But, nowadays, CS: Source looks old and outdated. The Source engine is showing its age and then some. CS: Source was still a favorite of mine and I have sunk about 411 hours into this version of Counter-Strike alone (nope, that doesn’t include CS 1.3-1.6 or even before). Something fresh was needed.
Last fall, a news story broke that Valve was working on a new Counter-Strike game that would be available in February of 2012. Knowing Valve, I knew that release window would be missed entirely and we’d be lucky to see their new CS at all before 2013 rolled around. Yet, here we are – Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has finally been released, and not only on the PC. No, CS:GO is also available for the Xbox 360 and PS3.
I usually have a smoother online gaming experience on my Xbox 360, so I downloaded the one hour CS:GO trial, just to see how the game looked and felt on a console. Well, the game looked great, but there were some serious concerns after playing for such a short period of time – One being that the servers were limited to 5 vs. 5 play. Anyone who has played Counter-Strike on the PC knows that there are servers of 40 or even 64 slots out there. I mean, come on – The more the merrier. 20 vs. 20 is simply an amazing experience. 5 vs. 5 seemed like a serious letdown. Secondly, one of the best reasons to keep playing Counter-Strike all these years has been the community – The community is responsible for creating various mods for the game, the most popular of which being the ‘zombie mod’ (where one team of zombies tries to turn every last ‘survivor’ on the other team into a zombie). However, mods are not possible on the consoles, and I can’t live without playing the occasional zombie mod! Not only that, but the community was also responsible for introducing many of the fan favorite maps, and the only way to get new quality maps at a regular interval would be to have the PC version. So, after the one hour trial on Xbox, I figured I was going to have to get the PC version. There was just no way around it. Besides, playing a game for 10+ years with a mouse and keyboard does NOT translate well to a controller at all, especially when there’s no other game out there that’s as demanding as this. CS is about precise firing and skill. Period.
So, I bought the PC version.
I’ll be honest, at first I wasn’t ‘feeling’ it. It seemed to me that my bullets weren’t connecting as well as they were on CS: Source, and I wasn’t really sure why. Even if my aim was ‘off’, I knew it was completely my fault, because I could ‘feel’ where my aim was every step of the way. That changed somewhat with CS:GO. I’ve come to the conclusion however that ‘spraying’, even just a little (depending on the weapon, of course), is far less forgiving in CS:GO. Now that I’ve come to that realization, I’m actually completely in love with the new recoil system. It’s far more realistic, and furthermore, makes the game a bit more ‘hardcore’. However, character models show no ‘feedback’ when being shot, so you’re just going to have to trust your aim in many cases.
Wearing a vest and helmet for protection actually seems to do some good now, so you really do need to make sure you at least hit your target continually in the chest or go for a headshot. And in regards to headshots – The ‘hit box’ has been reduced to the smaller size that was around in CS 1.6. Yep, spray and pray is no longer your friend in this game, and I’m perfectly fine with that. In fact, the tolerance for spraying in CS:GO is less than it’s been during the entirety of Counter-Strike’s existance.
The nicest change in the game thus far is just how good the classic maps look. I mean, the difference is really night and day. Not only that, but Valve actually took it upon themselves to improve on a few maps. For one, the ‘under bridge’ passage in de_dust has a passageway built off the side. This is great because the T’s were bottlenecked way too much, making that passage nearly impossible. Now, there’s more room to hide behind things, and that extra escape route gives the T side a bit more of a chance. Also, the CT side bomb site has been moved just outside of the CT spawn area. Italy has a couple added passageways included as well.
Most the other classic maps just have minor cosmetic changes that even things up a bit (better places to hide, more cover when coming out of a major access point, etc). I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out for the classic maps. As far as the new play modes included in the game… I honestly haven’t played them yet. I’m anxious to try the new maps but I’ve just been having a blast playing the classics in their newest incarnations.
Another surprise, was that there’s already servers out there running the awesome zombie mod… and Valve themselves actually made zombie models for this particular mod, meaning the zombies look far more realistic than they previously have.
Secondly, there are some changes/additions to weapons. First, you can’t add a silencer to your weapon anymore. That’s really no big deal since the game encourages you to shoot precisely or suffer if you don’t. I never used the silencers because all they did was weaken the damage being done to my target. But what’s probably most impressive of all is that there are new grenades. One new grenade essentially covers a popular choke point in fire for a bit… and if you know the timing of how long it takes the other side to reach a certain point in the map, you can catch them off guard with this and cause quite a bit of damage. At the very least, you can put a little distance between you and your enemies if need be. There’s a grenade that does more damage than the regular one. There’s also another device that sort of acts as a decoy, making the sounds of gunfire in order to draw enemies to it so you can reposition yourself and attack from their flank. The fire-nade as I’ve been calling it, is probably my favorite new throwing toy.
The server experience is quite different as well. You can opt to play on Valve’s official servers, and you can play ‘casually’ or ‘competitively’. Casual gameplay means you don’t have to buy a defuse kit or armor, friendly fire is off (so you don’t hurt your team), etc. The opposite is true of course in competitive play. If you’re finding you just plain suck, you can now play an offline mode with bots so you can perfect your skills. You can choose the difficulty of your bots, and when the bots dispose of you, you can actually take control of a bot for the rest of the round so you’re always in practice mode.
Of course, if you like playing on individual servers, you still have the option to do that as well. I’m part of a clan called ‘FGA’, the ‘Family Gamers Alliance’, and they have hands down best the best Counter-Strike server I’ve ever played on. Why? Because you get the most money possible every round, they do NOT allow AWP’s, and foul language and the usual obnoxious behavior is not allowed. Really, your children could play there and you would never have a concern as to what kind of gaming experience they’re having. I just found out last night FGA is soon to have their own server on CS:GO soon enough, so that will be my new home when it is (update: their server is up).
One thing people will notice first and foremost though, is the fact that the buy menu is way different. It’s a radial (circular) design, probably to make purchasing easier for those playing with a controller on the consoles. It’s a little odd at first, but I think it’s pretty simplistic and not as daunting as reading everything like you had to on the older menu system. Besides, each piece of ‘pie’ on the radial menu is still fixed to a number, so you can create binds if you want.
I’m really just rattling off a lot of first impressions here, but from what I can tell thus far, Valve has done everything they could make sure the game is ‘accessible’ to newcomers without watering it down. Although the game doesn’t implement new age ideas like ‘aiming down the sights’ or anything like that, CS:GO provides plenty of options for just about any player, and I think this will ensure that CS will remain relevant for much, much longer on PC than anyone could ever hope for. Most importantly, this CS veteran actually feels like he’s playing Counter-Strike again for the first time. It feels new again, and in a good way.