Eliminate foes and complete objectives in tense team-driven battles.
PC Release: August 21, 2012
By Ian Coppock
Reviewing a game as well-known as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive makes about as much sense as letting everyone know about this cool new thing called breathing, but hear me out: my editor-in-chief is on a mad power trip. She threatened to put me through Harry Potter Quiz Boot Camp if this essential title wasn’t covered in some amount of detail. Being faced with the possibility of being trapped in a dark room until I knew everything about House Elf culture has a funny way of enticing reviews of well-known games. So, in the interest of not losing my mind to the sound of a Mandrake, let’s take a look back at one of PC gaming’s most venerable shooters.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is as endemic to the PC gaming scene as World of Warcraft or Team Fortress 2. Even PC gamers who’ve never touched it are at least familiar with its gist. A team of terrorists and a team of counter-terrorists spawn on a map and complete objectives, usually while trying to wipe out the entire enemy team in as brief a time as possible. The original Counter-Strike was a Half-Life mod that Valve bought and released to grand acclaim all the way back in 2000. Global Offensive is the fourth CS game in the series and hit digital shelves everywhere in 2012.
As one of the crown jewels in Valve’s multiplayer crown, CS:GO‘s impact on the world of video games is difficult to overstate. Since its debut half a decade ago, the title has attracted millions of PC gamers and remains one of the most popular multiplayer games on Steam. Ironic, considering that most multiplayer games released on that platform have a half-life of anywhere from a few months to a year. But then again, CS:GO isn’t most games. It’s a tense multiplayer experience, major eSport, and source of industry controversy all rolled into one.
CS:GO players are divided into two teams: the terrorists and the counter-terrorists. Depending on the map, terrorists either have to arm explosives at specific points on the map or protect hostages. Counter-terrorists, meanwhile, have to either disarm those explosives if they get planted or escort hostages to safety. Players earn money for completing these objectives (as well as killing enemy players) which they can use to purchase new weapons at the start of the next round. Players who can kill lots of foes and complete objectives can rack up cash quickly, but be careful: teamkilling and other negative actions cause a penalty.
CS:GO colors this simple setup with five different game modes. Competitive mode is the playground for hardcore fans, and is not a kind place for players new to the scene. Casual mode is a relatively safe spot for newbs to get into the game or for veterans to warm up before a big match. Players can also participate in Arms Race and Demolition modes, which are CoD gun game-style mode that rewards kills with better weaponry. Finally, there’s Deathmatch, which is a good ol’ last-man-standing-style free-for-all. Though these modes are fun, most of them have been in Counter-Strike games for years, which risks making CS:GO feel like a mere graphical update to its predecessors.
One of the factors separating CS:GO from the hundreds of other multiplayer shooters out there is its tense gameplay setup. Rather than being able to endlessly respawn like in Call of Duty or Battlefield, players only get one life per round. That means that players only get one shot to complete their team’s objective, and if they die, they’re out for the rest of that round. This setup makes CS:GO‘s gameplay deliciously tense. Players can’t just charge into battle and respawn five seconds later if they die; instead, they have to play it safe. The only mode to which this setup doesn’t apply is Deathmatch.
Playing it safe and smart is the only way to succeed in CS:GO, which makes it a much more entertaining shooter than most of its contemporaries. It certainly results in more fidelity to actual hostage or bomb situations. Nothing beats the tension of creeping through a map, rifle up, ready to kill anyone who might be around the next corner. Players unconcerned with caution should remember that careless dying makes it that much harder for the team to win… and hell hath no fury like a CS:GO team that loses due to careless players.
Another factor behind CS:GO‘s success is its excellent map design. Though the maps in CS:GO are small by, say, Battlefield standards, they’re laden with intricate paths and lots of opportunities to set up ambushes. Players have to take care not to get turned around in hallway networks or get caught out in the open for too long at a time. Each of CS:GO‘s maps features different terrain elevations and multiple paths to singular areas. They also feature different areas that objectives may pop up in, ensuring even more variety.
CS:GO‘s maps are quite pleasing visually as well. Games built in the Source engine age well, and CS:GO‘s visuals remain competitive even five years after the game’s release. Part of that can be attributed to Valve’s constant tweaks and fixes, but CS:GO‘s core visage is colorful, lively, and fun to explore. Each map, be it an Aztec ruin or a besieged office complex, is replete with strong colors and lots of extra objects for detail. CS:GO‘s map variety is also to be envied, with dozens of core maps compounded by player-created levels available for download via the Steam store. Valve adds new maps and other new content every so often through its perennial Operation events.
The world of CS:GO is further made engaging through rich sound design. Guns in this game sound and feel deliciously powerful; even as players can see a shotgun shell bowl an enemy over, the sound of the shot is loud and crisp. Same goes for everything from the rapid tempo of a machine gun to even running on different types of terrain. Sound design is key to making weapons feel as dangerous as their real-life counterparts, and Valve got that part of CS:GO‘s design down like a champ.
Speaking of guns, what type of armory can players new to CS:GO expect? Players who have a good round can spend hard-earned cash on most any type of weapon before the next match. Sniper rifles, SMGs, assault rifles, pistols, knives, shotguns… everything’s there and everything feels fun to use. Weapons are responsive and precise, which is key to a game in which reflexes can make the difference between victory and defeat. That different weapons can be bought between rounds allows players to test different loadouts to see what niche feels right in relatively short order.
So what exactly is CS:GO‘s secret sauce? Why has it remained insanely popular while entire batches of other multiplayer shooters have come and gone? The key is the game’s simplicity. CS:GO, though difficult to master, is easy for shooter fans new and old to pick up and get into. The game’s casual mode provides a relatively safe space (for the Internet, at least) for newbs to get acquainted with the game’s ins and outs without getting grilled by vets. It runs well on systems new and old, it has a stellar options menu, and Valve continuously breathes new life into the title with fixes and content updates.
However, as with most popular multiplayer titles, there’s a dark side to CS:GO. The first and most obvious is that the game’s hardcore multiplayer community can be quite toxic. Because playing multiplayer games for extended periods of time apparently causes intermittent explosive disorder, vets are quick to tear into each other for the slightest perceived failure. This problem is hardly exclusive to CS:GO, but it runs pretty rampant in the game’s professional community. Casual mode is as much a place for learning CS:GO as it is a haven from explosively angry players.
Though corrosive online communities are not exclusive to CS:GO, one problem the game seems to have in especially large spades is hackers. Valve Anti-Cheat is not the hack-proof software that Valve claims it is, at least if the sheer amount of cheater cheater pumpkin eaters in CS:GO‘s highest-tiered matches is any indication. There’s little to be done by railing against the evils of hacking, but it’s been a problem in the CS:GO community for years… one that players new to the scene should be aware of. Once again, Casual mode provides an inadvertent haven from a cancerous problem.
Even though Valve is less than effective at stopping hackers, the company’s good at matchmaking. CS:GO is pretty apt at matching players of a similar skill level, which helps minimize the aforementioned risk of a newb getting ravaged (verbally or in-game) by veterans. Valve runs dedicated servers for CS:GO but players can also try their hand at a private server, many of which have modes and maps not found in the core game. Some of these modes have nothing to do with running and gunning, challenging players to instead surf along walls or bunny hop between platforms.
CS:GO‘s biggest woes stem less from a game design flaw and more from some truly unfortunate business decisions. In 2013 Valve introduced skins to the game, and players can purchase boxes of random gun customizations in a microtransaction. The value of these skins ranges immeasurably, with some being worth a few cents and others thousands of dollars. While there’s nothing wrong with this cosmetics market per se, Valve’s hands-off attitude toward this market has cast a slimy shadow over CS:GO.
What is that shadow? A slew of gambling websites that allow players to bet on the outcome of matches using gun skins as a currency. These sites almost always nix verifying players’ ages, meaning that CS:GO has become a hotbed of underage gambling. Sure, some might say that the underage gambling is the fault of parents for allowing their kids to play an M-rated game, but Valve’s stunning lack of oversight has resulted in two class-action lawsuits against the company for doing nothing to prevent it.
Most of CS:GO‘s problems have less to do with game design flaws than they do Valve’s reluctance to regulate Steam. For the discerning gamer who says no to shady gambling and can find the relatively hacker-free matches, CS:GO has a lot to offer. The game’s tense matches prevent it from feeling repetitive, and its outstanding technical performance and easy-to-learn gameplay makes it accessible to gamers of all experience levels. Players will never hurt for finding a match in CS:GO, and probably won’t for many years to come. Failing that, the game’s momentous eSports tournaments always make for great entertainment. Pick up a copy of CS:GO but remember not to shoot the hostages.
You can buy Counter-Strike: Global Offensive here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.