Back in 2003, Valve released a port of its phenomenally popular Half-Life mod, Counter-Strike, exclusively on Xbox. It was, in many ways, the perfect replica of its PC counterpart, offering console gamers the first chance to immerse themselves in the strategic first-person shooter with minimal tweaks to the original design.
The most noticeable alteration was the inclusion of a weapon wheel that stripped the game of its many shop menus, reducing it into a simple radial to benefit the console control pad. This minute change was emblematic of the game’s fundamental failing: Counter-Strike wasn’t designed for consoles.
Nearly ten years later and Valve has returned with another Counter-Strike destined for a Microsoft console and, for better or worse, the weapon radial returns. Has Valve learnt nothing? Well, it turns out it’s learnt quite a lot, actually. Designed from the ground up for PC, Mac and home consoles, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive isn’t another attempt at simply porting the original to additional hardware, but rather the first legitimate evolution of the brand since CS: Source overhauled the physics and aesthetics way back in 2004.
With that in mind, it’s interesting how much the first-person shooter landscape has changed in the interim. While both 1.6 and Source have remained a mainstay of PC gamers’ online routine, console shooters have been transformed by XP-driven experiences, fuelled by respawns, perks and those all-encompassing kill streaks.
To say that CS: GO feels stripped-back by comparison will come as no surprise; but to say it’s the most elegantly balanced, skill-oriented and thrilling shooter we’ve had the pleasure of playing for quite some time… Well, that’s a pill some might find hard to swallow.
The setup is simple: two teams – one terrorist, the other counter-terrorist – start at opposite ends of the map, with the two main objective modes involving either the terrorist team planting a bomb, or the counter-terrorist squad rescuing hostages. Kills and mission success reward players with cash to buy weapons at the beginning of each round, and with zero respawns, players are encouraged to be a little more cautious with their tactics.
This is where balance comes into play. Regardless of how many hours you have pumped into online servers, every player starts off on an even standing. That’s not to say that newcomers won’t feel the biting indignity of an early trouncing when they jump into the game for the first time – in fact, Counter-Strike players form one of the most hardened and elite communities in gaming. But CS: GO rewards time, patience and earned skill, which unfortunately has become something of a rarity in the genre.
Players can prolong being chewed up on servers straight away. Weapons Course acts a serviceable introduction to the fundamental mechanics and offers a fleeting appearance of Valve’s trademark laconic wit, and is particularly beneficial to introduce console players to the controls. Elsewhere, two new modes – Arms Race and Demolition – feel a little bit more relaxed than standard team deathmatch rounds. Both are derived from Gun Game, which has had something of a renaissance in recent years since Call Of Duty: Black Ops included it as a Wager Match, but it actually began life as a Counter-Strike mod years prior. Here, each kill rewards the player immediately with a new gun, with the first to cycle through all the game’s weapons declared the victor.
Meanwhile, Demolition is a welcome mix of standard bomb-defusal team deathmatch and a twist on the Gun Game rules, with players rewarded with a new weapon at the start of each round if they have registered a kill.
These two new modes come paired with some new maps, designed around intense, small-scale skirmishes, which, in fairness, the original game lacked. However, outside these two new modes, Valve hasn’t included any new maps, which is sorely disappointing.
So it’s the game you fondly remember, having undergone a substantial facelift and released with a few concessions for console gamers. Implementing a matchmaking system feels mutually beneficial for both console and PC players, but the radial shop menu is still a befuddling mess like it was nearly a decade ago.
But it doesn’t take long to acclimatise yourself to the changes, both superficial and deeper-seated. Cast your mind back to the launch of CS: Source and it’s no surprise that its idiosyncrasies were easy to love, but in retrospect the game felt more like an imitation rather than a genuine innovation. Global Offensive makes no such mistakes. Counter-Strike’s famed map selection has been refined and tweaked in the right places. Perhaps the most noticeable is an additional staircase in Dust, but this isn’t a blasphemous revision, but rather a fresh perspective based on years of telemetry at Valve. Yes, it alters the environmental chemistry and map dynamic to a degree, but not in any overtly negative way. It’s just different and we like it.
Weapons have been mostly left alone, albeit with a few name changes here and there. The most notable new addition is the Molotov cocktail/incendiary grenades that unleash a huge spread of fire, perfect for blocking key avenues and rerouting enemies into your line of sight. Other inclusions are largely ignorable and even verge on trolling – the priciest weapon is a bizarre electric single-shot one-hit-kill taser. It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of the core system that the original vision remains so gloriously intact.
CS: GO stands as a glowing reminder that quality game design is rewarded in longevity and variety. Valve has not only updated the shooter but has completely outclassed its contemporaries. This is Counter-Strike, whatever the format you choose to play it on, and there isn’t a higher recommendation than that.