Counter-Strike is back. Is it just like it used to be or have Valve done anything to mix things up?
The importance of the original Counter-Strike cannot be overstated. It was one of the first online shooters, with sort of a realistic feel to it, and in a way almost every modern shooter owes something to CS.
It was also the first game to prove the potential of the mod scene. Counter-Strike was the first mod, that in some ways exceeded the popularity of the game it was based on. It served as inspirations to others, and raised the bar for what we would come to expect from the mod scene. Everyone wanted to make next CS, very few made passed a few screenshots and ambitious dreams.
Counter-Strike became such a phenomenon that Valve went out and acquire it and made it into a standalone experience, and since then CS in various incarnations has sold in excess of 20 million.
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The definitive version of Counter-Strike is version 1.6 from 2003, in spite of constant updates since, this because 1.6 ran on the old, nearly ancient Gold Source engine, that also powered the original Half-Life, an archaic engine by today's standards.
Nonetheless many purists still maintain that this is the best version, as subsequent versions of the game are based on the Source Engine (Half-Life), and fails to capture the exact controls that veterans hold dear in CS.
And it is this divide that Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is meant to bridge. Valve's latest release is essentially a make-over, that tries not to mess with the classic gameplay, but transports it into a more modern game engine.
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Counter-Strike: Global Offensive hardly takes any risks. It's the same game modes in the same levels, that we've been playing since the turn of the century. One team of terrorists compete with one team of counter terrorists to either kill eachother, save hostages or detonate a bomb, depending on the mode. There are no respawns, once you're dead you're out of the fight until the next round. There are no unlocks or progression - instead you're rewarded with cash for winning or getting kills and this can be used to buy equipment and guns. If you survive to the end you get to keep your stuff, otherwise you start out with the standard gear.
Nothing new in this regard - but it's odd and telling just how much fun this old formula remains. It's a demanding game, where the key is to keep your cools, and until you've learned the ins and outs of each map you're probably not going to last long. Death is sudden, and headshots are an absolute must if you want to stay alive.
That said you still go far on good instincts, and while it's sometimes more a matter of luck than skill, there's a tremendous sense of accomplishment when you catch an opponent off guard and simply dispose of them.
Counter-Strike still does the job, even in its new skin. The controls are sharp, and the network code appears solid (even with a somewhat aggressive correction of your position at times).
While Global Offensive is a very conservative follow up, there are still a couple of new feature, and the most important addition is a "casual" version of the main game mode. Friendly fire is turned off, and everyone starts with kevlar vests, and defuse kits (so you can quickly defuse bombs), normally things you have to buy. If you're more of an old school player, you'll want to stick to "competitive", where kevlar vests and defuse kits have to be earned, friendly fire is turned on, and you play best of 30 rounds, instead of the best of 10 in casual mode.
Room has also been made for a couple of variations on the popular Gun Game mod. In Arms Race you compete in a deathmatch without teams and with respawns, and every time you kill an enemy you're rewarded with a better gun. The first player to unlock all weapons wins.
This concept is turned on its head in Demolition, where you play in teams and you're equipped with progressively weaker weapons with every kill. Both a fairly good modes, but there's no doubt that the classic game modes is where the focus lies.
The arsenal has also been altered a bit, and the most significant inclusion are the new Molotov cocktails, not previously seen in Counter-Strike. And if you don't have the patience to browse the store menus you can simply press F1 and you automatically get assigned weapons - which usually means AK47 or M4A1, depending on your occupation.
Apart from these minor new features Global Offensive is a conservative game that mirrors its predecessors, and it makes you wonder if we really needed this version of the game. Sure, it's nice that the game is now available on console (even if we played the PC version for the sake of this review), but otherwise it feels like a wasted opportunity.
Make no mistake, Global Offensive entertains, regardless of whether you're a veteran CS player or a newcomer to the series. But compared to Valve's Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a bit underwhelming. Both games mirror their predecessors very tightly, but where Valve have added spectator modes and lots of e-sport support with Dota 2 that motivates a new release.
But for now there is no such support in Global Offensive. It's purely a graphical and technical update of a classic game, with some minor new features. I haven't played enough CS 1.6 to weigh in with an opinion on whether it will make the purists happy or not (my CS days stretched from beta 6 to 1.1), but the only thing here that can attract old players is better looking graphics and more up to date technology.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, is true to the Counter-Strike brand. It's very entertaining, but comes across a bit like Americans going to Japan only to eat at McDonald's when they could have been eating the same burgers at home.
7 / 10
+ Solid, classic gameplay. + Nice technical update. + True to the original. + Increased accessibility.
- Too conservative. - Most new features add very little. - Graphics could have been better.