It’s 3 p.m. and I’m sitting here with my window open, a nice breeze and a few birds drowning out the sound of my computer fans. My feet are kicked up on a stand next to my desk, my body twisted in an ungodly way that would make most orthopedic doctors squirm. My speakers are jacked up, my sub cranked just as high.
“Go, go, go!”
A shockwave of gunfire rocks my body. I swear I hear an AWP echoing off a house outside. One of my neighbors is staring up at my window, giving it that look of derision that typically foreshadows a call to the police.
I feel like I’ve been transported back in time. I’m in my youth, my glory days as a pubstar, racking up kills and annoying neighbors with my penchant for loud gunfire. I’m high on nostalgia.
I’m playing Counter-Strike.
I’ve probably put more time into Counter-Strike than any other game I can think of. I can still remember the first time I navigated a buy menu – it was my freshman year of high school. Somehow, the students had convinced the administration to let us use the library for LAN parties after school, and so here we were, stacked up in front of a handful of gaudy cases and crappy CRT monitors that likely weighed more than I did.
A few seniors were all playing a game that I’d heard a lot about, but just never got into. It was called Counter-Strike, and they all were bemoaning the death of the game – apparently in a few months Valve was coming out with this thing called Steam, and it was going to totally ruin everything. But I didn’t care. I was taken up by the action. It looked competitive. The rounds were punishing. It wasn’t like Quake, which I’d briefly touched before – no in this you didn’t just respawn. Every life mattered. It was tactical.
Needless to say, I ended up getting hooked. I played in CAL, I stomped a few LANs, I followed the transition over to Counter-Strike: Source, and I screamed about registration just like everyone else.
And now here we are, with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the newest version of the champion of competitive, teamwork-focused shooters.
Unlike Counter-Strike: Source, which was essentially just a port of 1.6 to a new engine (with all the headaches associated with such a move), Global Offensive is a reimagining of what Counter-Strike actually is. It feels as if every component of the game has been taken out, vivisected, and then completely rebuilt from the ground up.
While certain aspects of Counter-Strike have been considered too sacred to touch in the past, Hidden Path and Valve have no qualms about ripping into the heart of the beast – and for good reason. Their goal isn’t to just please the 1.6 (Hah!) and Source veterans that have been playing their game for the last decade, it’s to bring in new players as well. You can’t really blame that for that, either. The competitive FPS market has become downright anemic, making it the perfect time for Valve to remind gamers what a real shooter looks like.
Stepping in to Global Offensive the first thing you’ll notice is that the Source engine has seen some major graphical upgrades.
While some maps such as Inferno or Train don’t really show this off, Aztec and Dust2 are both gorgeous, especially when you consider how old the engine behind the visuals actually is. Overall, however, the art style at work here isn’t exactly what you’d call gritty and realistic. The models have a cartoonish sort of look about them, and the levels themselves don’t exactly scream Bob Ross.
While this style works well for things in the background, the main focus of Counter-Strike – the guns – don’t exactly fare quite as well. To be blunt, they look like toys. Almost all of the models look as if they’ve been dipped in cheap plastic, hiding any subtle details they might’ve had. This is especially obvious in the IMI Galil, which doesn’t have any of its prior character. Even worse? The pistols. With the exception of the Desert Eagle and the Dual Berettas, everything looks… well, identical. There’s almost no definition between them. Are we playing with airsoft guns here? I keep expecting to see orange tips on all of the weapons.
Likewise, they sound about as plastic as they look. Hidden Path has opted to re-record the sounds for most of the guns and unfortunately they lack the specific definition they had in the Counter-Strikes of past. While there are some exceptions, most of the guns just blend together in the background.
Hell, the way sound in general works is pretty abysmal.
Footsteps, for example, make no logical sense whatsoever. The sound of your own feet echo in your head about a second after you take a step, leading to constantly feeling as if someone is right behind you. Likewise, the footfalls of enemies tend to echo about in the most illogical manner ever. Someone walking across the other side of the map? You’ll hear them loud and clear. Someone just around that corner, running at full speed? Might sound like a mouse with slippers.
And yes, guns echo about the map in just about the same way. Sound has always been a big part of Counter-Strike, but as it stands now, you’ll probably just want to turn it off. Just run music in the background or something. You’ll probably do a lot better than if you were relying on the soundscape of the game.
Hidden Path has also decided to include a few extra goodies to add to the, er, “immersion” of Counter-Strike. On certain maps, the counter-terrorist team is dropped off by helicopter. This sounds neat, but really it just means that a large shadow hovers by your feet while a loud, whirring monstrosity batters about in the background.
Oh. And fog. There’s fog and dust and debris everywhere. On top of that Valve has made use of a few filters to “enhance” the way the game looks. While it isn’t quite the gloomy dusty Instagram world of Call of Duty or Battlefield, it does make spotting enemies a chore. While the debris and fog is toned down on the “competitive” versions of most of the maps, the filters seem to be just part of the game.
Thankfully, most of the changes to the actual gameplay have been beneficial.
Now, I’ll stick this here as a warning yet again – this is a beta. Absolutely everything is in a state of flux, including what I’m about to describe. So don’t get your hopes up – or worse – start thinking that Valve or Hidden Path have ruined something you love. Okay? Good.
The weapons in Global Offensive are something of a Charlie Foxtrot. The guns that you probably expect to be good – the AK, M4, AWP, and Desert Eagle – are all basically awesome. While they don’t handle quite like their older counterparts, they’re pretty easy to get used to. There are some other gems, too. The Nova and the sawed-off shotgun are both way better than any buckshot machine in prior titles. The automatic sniper rifles are actually good. The P90 is pretty fun. The Galil is reliable.
Everything else, though? Junk.
While that might not surprise Counter-Strike veterans, Hidden Path has been pretty adamant about trying to get players to use the other weapons. Unfortunately, every time they make a non-standard gun powerful, they seem to cut the trigger on it in the very next pass. While balancing a game is a long and difficult process, after being in the beta for a few months I’m starting to wonder if they are just moving back to the classic “big four” style of guns in Counter-Strike.
Because seriously, the other firearms are pathetic.
Most of the pistols feel absolutely worthless. The submachine guns are laughably bad. The PP-Bizon and the MP7/9 are all so incredibly awful that I’m not even sure why they are in the game. The FAMAS is terrible in automatic and even worse in burst-fire mode. And while the AUG and SG 553 were pretty great at one point, they currently make little sense in any sort of competitive setting. Hell, they aren’t even very fun.
The good news, though? Your bullets will actually register. As it stands, the net code in Global Offensive is a considerable improvement over Counter-Strike: Source.
Much like was the case in 1.6, if you pull the trigger with your crosshair lingering over someone’s dome, you’ll be rewarded with a whole lot of grey brain goo. You know, as opposed to your blood pressure flying through the roof. This is a good thing. While GO still needs work, it was Counter-Strike: Source’s terrible shot registration that hamstrung it more than anything else, so while this might seem like a simple thing, it’s actually a pretty huge deal.
Really though, the opening to this preview should clue you in on something pretty important: this game, albeit currently quite flawed (it’s a beta!), feels like Counter-Strike. Yes, this preview is pretty harsh, but it’s important to realize two things. First, the game is fun. Even with the wonky sound, the worthless guns, and the questionable graphical changes, it still will make you smile.
More important than that, though, is what you haven’t seen. This preview has been rewritten three or four times throughout the beta. Each time, it’s gotten a bit less critical. That isn’t because I’ve gotten softer over the months, rather it’s because the game has continuously improved. Week by week Hidden Path and Valve are carving a pretty impressive shooter out of the decade-old Source engine. When I first got into the beta in January, Global Offensive was a total mess. It was – and I’m not being hyperbolic here – the worst FPS I’ve ever played.
Today, however? It’s within spitting distance of not just CS:S, but 1.6. Week by week the developers are addressing concerns of not just the professional community, but the casual one as well. It’s refreshing. In a way, they’re giving the community exactly what they want, and while that might seem like a terrible idea in any other circle – the Counter-Strike scene has been chomping on theory for years. They know exactly what they want: a solid, competitive shooter that has a focus on gameplay, not gimmicks.
And while it isn’t quite there yet, it’s looking like Valve and Hidden Path might just deliver.
Sure, it probably won’t launch for a few more months, but that’s okay. This is Counter-Strike – not Call of Duty. This will likely be the last Counter-Strike title for many, many years. So while you might be itching to play it, just chill out and save a bit. When the time comes, I’ll promise you’ll be rushing your ass off.
Chris Hornyak is a senior editor at Piki Geek. When he isn’t spouting off his crappy opinions, he can be found on Twitter @nutinmuch, or slamming his face into whatever game happens to be on the menu.