The online shooter is a strange creature. There are so many on the market, yet only a very few are deemed worthy to generate a lasting community within. With console shooters now too being online as standard (the majority, at least), it is getting more difficult for developers to come up with a twist to make their online experience stand out from the crowd. Games like Gears of War, Battlefield: Bad Company and Call of Duty 4 all have huge fan bases, but in comparison to the popularity, lifespan and constant evolution of Counter-Strike, these games feel little more than occasional distractions. First breaking into the online scene as a mere mod for Half-Life in 1999, Counter-Strike became the king of online gaming. Cue the release of Half-Life 2 in 2004 and Counter-Strike: Source steps into the online limelight.
So why is it that even now, nearly four years later that the original game is still seeing as much action as Source? The reason is, despite Valveís attempts to take a forward leap with the franchise, Sourceís refinements make it a very different game than the original, despite it using the majority of the same maps and the same classic game type. The implementation of the Havok physics engine and more realistic character models make it a game that focuses on headshots. This very minor change to the gameplay sparked much controversy, with many of the longest serving players reverting back to the original after mere months.
However Source has been able to develop its own parallel community over the years, now standing alongside the original game, Halo 3 and World of Warcraft as one of the kings of online gaming. With all online shooters, the main hook factor is the incredible skill levels of the best players. Whereas most games have some room for genuine gaming skill to be developed, CS:S has an incredible amount of depth to all its 20+ weapons, which all take some committed use to master. Each weapon has its own style and techniques, for instance one of the early golden rules to master is making use of the Ďperfectí AK-47 first bullet which has no recoil. Once you can pull off a long-range headshot with that, itís time to think about the best techniques to provide accurate bursts without exposing yourself by moving too slow, crouching etc. Then there are various weapon combinations to think about such as determining how long the opponent you just flash banged is going to be blind for, or when exactly the recoil on that M4 is too much to handle, so you can take that USP for a spin.
These are just a few examples of golden rules you might learn during your time playing. Of course though, it isnít just a free for all game and you have to communicate well as a team if youíre going to win. The game supports its own in-game chat, however many clan teams choose to use other external voice communication channels. If you donít have a headset then the text communications are a sufficient substitute, however if youíre a serious Counter-Strike player then a headset is essential. The dedication some players have to the game is unmatched; many players spend hundreds on new hardware upgrades for their computer in order to squeeze out those extra few frames per second. Every little process that can be changed has large knock on effects; so if youíre just starting up then donít feel intimidated because someone tells you to ďsort your rates outĒ.
It is however not necessary to spend hundreds of pounds on hardware upgrades, unless your PC is reaching its fifth birthday anytime soon as the game still looks fantastic, even on lower settings. The visuals have had a huge upgrade up to Half-Life 2 standard, and now the game can even take advantage of HDR lighting if your hardware is up to scratch. Nearly four years on they still donít look out of place in the current generation and I canít imagine them looking bad in another five years time, just like the originalís graphics.
As well as a headset giving you a tactical advantage through teamwork, you can do yourself a massive favour by investing in a decent pair of headphones as the audio is as much your friend as it can be your enemy, depending on your setup. Using your ears to work out where somebody is can be just as important as your aim. Youíll also learn what each weapon sounds like from even across an entire map, for each gunís sound is very distinctive. Bar the shooting itself, there is little else to listen to, so you may find it relaxing to put some music on a media player whilst playing, especially as when starting up youíll probably spend more time dead than alive.
Donít let the intimidating skill of other players put you off trying out CS:S. Once you get a grip for a handful of weapons then the game really starts to take off. If youíre not a fan of the classic Counter-Terrorists versus Terrorist game play then, independent servers have a large variety of game modes; the key ones to check out being Zombie Mod and Gun-Game.
For a bargain price of $20 (or free with most standard versions of Half-Life 2), Counter-Strike: Source is utterly essential for anybody who has so much as wanted to try an online shooter before. Its huge community combined with some of the deepest game play available, and a development team who are still finding new ways to improve the experience with constant updates makes it one of the best online games ever made. Utterly essential Ė you donít just play Counter-Strike, you learn it.
Ten out of ten
- A ridiculous amount of depth
- One of the largest online gaming communities
- Constantly being updated
- Highly addictive
- May seem intimidating for new players
- Setting up your own game can be difficult