Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Dear Counter-Strike, it’s been a while. We first met over a decade ago. It was at Anthony’s house, remember? His family was away for the weekend so the guys and I invited you over. We had a blast.
Counter-Strike originally began as a mod for Half-Life. Luckily, my friend’s Dad was into IT and had a number of PCs he’d constructed throughout their house. This made for a fantastic LAN party set up. Staying up until the early hours of the following morning, we’d play 2vs2 across a restricted number of maps. During the infrequent breaks for carbohydrates and sugar infused drinks we’d load up a number of mod-built bots. They were rather dim-witted but filled the gaps and furnished the environments with good target practice. And whoever built them had more understanding of AI coding than any of us did. We practically lost a friend to the game, too. For all intents and purposes he departed from life to join one of the top clans in Europe. Playing against him was like a game of chicken with an oncoming train. We were the chicken. In all of the 3vs1 games played we never once killed him. His response time and precision was absurd.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a contemporary release for the original title. The graphics and engine have been updated, maps transformed, new weapons added, and it’s been released cross-platform (XBLA for the 360). At heart this is the same game as it was many years ago. The participants are split into two teams, one of counter-terrorists and the other terrorists. Dependent upon the map, the terrorists are tasked with planting a bomb at one of two target sites or the counter-terrorists must rescue hostages, with the opposing side working to prevent this from happening.
Popping on for five minutes soon ends up lasting for hours. Crouching down, taking your time to fire that pin-point shot that pops the head of an oncoming enemy who’s firing wildly feels authentic. Defusing a planted bomb with a second to go and knowing the eliminated members of your squad are watching on is thrilling. There are no iron-sights that allow you to zoom in with a bionic eye and running’n’gunning is imprecise. Both simple and effective, the classic competitive battles are what make the Counter-Strike formula so addictive.
All team members are given the prospect to buy gear at the beginning of each round. Any items from the last round are carried over if you survived. Cash is rewarded based upon personal and team performance. This is a brilliant balancing tool, as length of service doesn’t equate to superior weapons or overpowered perks. All gear is available from the start: everyone begins on equal ground. The ability to improve comes from a real and actual improvement in skill rather than artificial aids. This is further evidenced with no aim-assist; the cursor doesn’t stick to the enemy or slow down. There are also two additional game types along with the casual and competitive classic modes: Arms Race and Demolition.
Arms Race is the closest to a conventional team deathmatch. The objective is to be the first to 26 kills. The twist being that each kill changes your weapon. You’ll work through rifles, SMGs, shotguns, heavy machine guns, sniper rifles, pistols, and, finally, onto the match winning weapon: the golden knife. Whilst perhaps not true to the origins of Counter-Strike, it’s a fast and furious alternative that provides instant satisfaction.
In Demolition, the terrorists are trying to successfully plant a C4 explosive. This time, however, there is only one target site and the maps are reduced in size to create a more intimate and immediate fire fight. Here, finishing a round with a successful kill will move you up the weapon ladder, with additional kills rewarding grenades. This removes purchasing from the beginning of each round as players advance through the pre-selected weapon selection. It’s a nice idea, but falls flat when you feel punished for advancing and ending up with a weapon you detest. It’s a balancing mechanic, sure, but the very nature of the purchasing system already nailed that perfectly.
Should you want to hone your skill offline there’s the option to compete against bots. With various difficulty levels these bots provide an open playground to toy with, much in the same manner that TimeSplitters once did. Only without split-screen support which is a shame. There’s also an introduction to the game that covers the basics with Valve’s signature humorous edge.
This isn’t a flawless battle, though. Movement feels squared-off, lacking the precision expected. Other titles have done a good job in transferring mouse and keyboard to the controller and here it simply doesn’t feel as accurate and responsive as it should do. To put this into context: it isn’t clumsy or unresponsive, nor game breaking, but Counter-Strike was, is, and always shall be about lightning reactions and pixel-perfect accuracy. And while there is no apparent aim-assist I’ve witnessed many dubious head shots when spectating.
As with other Valve games, you can’t see your body and legs when looking down (a personal pet hate), and you’re essentially a floating camera in the air rather than a highly-trained, square-jawed counter-terrorist. There’s no feeling of traction with the ground as you slide around on what feels like ice. The hit collision on debris and structures is sporadically off. Ducking behind an abandoned car, I unleashed a few accurate bursts of rifle fire at an enemy running over the adjacent hill. He should have been dropped by the hail of lead but was saved by an invisible wall in the car window that blocked every shot. A similar situation occurred when attempting to fire from a secured position between two train carriages. It doesn’t happen often but it’s a pain in the arse when it does. An addition worthy of note for competitive players is that open places on teams are auto-filled by bots.
The lobby system is currently broken. When generating a lobby with friends we were not once successful in joining a game. This is compounded by an in-built block on party chat. If you join party chat you’ll be booted from the current game. This makes even less sense in the casual mode when you can openly communicate with the opposing team. A combination of these faults leads to players jumping into an available game, their friends waiting for an open slot, and then, if they’re desperate, attempting to kick other players off the team – in the process ruining their game – to try and build a squadron of friends. Or, alternatively, simply giving up on the game.
This is an online title. Playing with friends shouldn’t be a chore or nigh-on-impossible.
So the majority of my time online has been spent with strangers. At times the team communication was non-existent and everyone went off to do their own thing. On other occasions teammates followed the designated leader and supported one another in silence. And then there were times when the team communicated, worked together and it was a lot of fun. It was competitive and sportsman-like. You’ll probably find that hard to believe with the dregs that litter other FPSes; however, in this case it’s true.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a welcome entry in the series and as an XBLA title it can stand its ground against much of the full priced competition. But, and there’s always a but, the broken lobby system and anti-party chat setup is detrimental to an otherwise enjoyable experience. As an online game my apprehension is that if friends can’t play together without hassle then soon they won’t bother.