Available on PC and Xbox 360 (both versions tested), coming soon on PS3
Is Counter-Strike still relevant? We’re not asking the question of you, the hardcore CS fan, or of you, the would-be e-sports champion. You’re either going to tell us that it always is, always has been and always will be, or you’re going to waffle on about how it hasn’t been any good since the glory days of Counter-Strike 1.6. No. I’m asking the question on behalf of those who haven’t played Counter-Strike since Counter-Strike: Source hit in 2005 (or classic Counter-Strike 1.6 before that) or those who haven’t even played it ever before. In a world of Battlefield and Modern Warfare, is there still a place for the pioneering competitive FPS?
It’s a question worth asking, because Global Offensive isn’t so much a sequel as a remake. The basic gameplay – one team of terrorists vs. one team of counter-terrorists, fighting either over a bomb or over a bunch of dozy hostages – hasn’t changed. Indeed, play the game in its classic competitive or casual modes, and you’ll still find the same maps, albeit with the odd minor change for balance reasons. Matches are still divided into rounds, and dying puts you out of the current round, sitting, spectating from the sidelines until the next one begins. You still use money earned for kills and victories in one round at the start of the next to buy guns, grenades and/or armour, and the general look and feel hasn’t really changed. In fact, Global Offensive is arguably closer to classic Counter-Strike than Counter-Strike Source was.
The big change, of course, is in the graphics. Global Offensive has had its version of the Source engine upgraded to take in all the lighting and surfacing effects introduced through Half Life: Episode Two, Portal II and Left 4 Dead. Meanwhile, the maps, guns and character models have been upgraded to make a little more use of the power of modern consoles and PCs. We’re still not talking Crysis levels of detail. There’s more detail to the textures, the figures and the architecture, but it all looks suspiciously clean. While you’ll spot some beautiful little touches in the smoke trails, the shadows and the blood spatters, you’ll still note how vegetation doesn’t move or the water looks a bit old-hat. In a way, Global Offensive’s style is a good thing, cutting out distractions and allowing those with more modest PCs to enjoy the game. All the same, this is hardly a cutting-edge game.
The action remains, as ever, beautifully balanced but brutally difficult. While awards are doled out for kills in the form of achievements and cash rewards, there are no perks or kill streaks and no persistent advantages to levelling up. If you haven’t played for a while you’ll find yourself getting trashed by players who know the tricks and the maps better than you, and it takes a certain level of persistence not to give up and crawl back to the Battlefield or Modern Warfare threequels. Valve has implemented a new matchmaking system, designed to fit you with players of your own skill level, but while this gives you a fighting chance it doesn’t remove the steep difficulty curve entirely. You will get better, but it’s going to take some time, some practice, and some experience against other players.