Review: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

CounterStrikeGlobalOffensive

There’s an old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” that can be applied to a lot of things in today’s world. Old movies don’t need to be remade.  Stable operating systems don’t need to be upgraded every year.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the U.S. political system (I kid).  

The same can be said in the video game business. Older video games are regularly re-released or remade simply by taking the same mechanics and the same maps and updating the graphics and models to allow for higher resolutions and richer textures.  HD upgrades of previous generation console games are now a standard, but what about PC games that have never had a spot on consoles?

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is one such title that has made its way from the humble PC mod roots originating back in 1999 and is now available on both PC and consoles.  Along the way, Counter-Strike has seen both graphical improvements as well as game engine upgrades all the while remaining true (mostly) to the core concept of terrorists versus counter-terrorists.  The game has remained true to the point that aside from visual niceties, the original classic maps Aztec, Dust and Office are back, proving the relevance of that old saying about not fixing things that aren’t broken.

When I first started to play CS:GO, I tried to think back on any memories I had with the earlier releases.  Memories slowly came into focus of squads of gamers facing off in an engaging online experience unlike anything I had ever played at that time. There was something to be said about picking your weapon loadout at the beginning of each round and then working with your team, either through text or voice chat, in a mad dash to either rescue hostages or protect point A or B.  While those memories are mostly good, I also remember getting picked off by a sniper during that initial mad rush or being taken down in a spray of bullets along with two or three of my teammates during an open-area skirmish, which typically meant that I had to sit and wait for the round to end before I could play again.  Waiting for the next round could take anywhere from ten seconds up to five minutes, depending on how coordinated the other team was or how good the remaining players on my team were. Unfortunately the waiting part is what I mostly remember from past experiences with CS.

Not to be deterred by those memories, I loaded up CS:GO on my PS3 and went right into a quick match.  There is something warm and nostalgic about returning to a game that has been updated for modern gaming systems yet has the same maps from yesteryear.  It’s like putting on an old pair of comfortable slippers.  It’s welcoming.  My only initial hang-up was the fact that other modern shooters have spoiled me with zooming scopes and iron sight targeting.  Counter-Strike is old school in a lot of ways, especially in that the only time you can zoom is if you have a scoped rifle.  That muscle memory from modern shooters has also conditioned me to press L1 to zoom or aim down the barrel, but by default L1 is mapped to cycle to the next weapon.  Fortunately, CS:GO is completely customizable.  Every button can be re-mapped to your preference, which makes for a very streamlined experience, once each function has been mapped just the way you like it.

Adding to the high customization of CS:GO on the PS3, players also have the option to use a mouse and keyboard, which again goes right back to the roots of playing classic CS. Movement and aiming feel perfectly natural using a mouse and keyboard on the PS3.  My only problem was trying to find a comfortable yet functional place to use the mouse while sitting on my couch.  After adjusting and stacking some throw pillows, I found a good comfort zone with my wireless keyboard on my lap and my mouse naturally scrolling about on my couch cushion.  With the recent job posting from Valve looking to fill an Industrial Designer role, I can only hope that along with the often rumored Steam box, there will be an included lap table for holding a wireless mouse and keyboard for comfort gaming while sitting on a couch.  One of the settings I also noticed was the option to switch the UI from couch to desktop.  Little touches like this show that Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment have considered that not all console gamers play on a huge HD TV sitting 10 to 20 feet away from their display.

If using a typical console controller or mouse and keyboard aren’t your preferred methods for getting your FPS on, support for the PlayStation Move and the Sharp Shooter rifle attachment are also available in the PS3 version.  As with mouse and keyboard and the DualShock 3, all buttons can be mapped to the various buttons on the Sharp Shooter.  It is rare to find a game that offers three perfectly viable input methods where each works just as well as the other, but that just goes to show how dedicated the developers were to providing an experience that each gamer will truly enjoy.

So enough about methods of input: how does the game play?  Cynics would say, “It’s just more Counter-Strike,” and while I can’t argue that logic, I would also point out that there is new content here, including the fast-paced and supremely addictive new modes called Arms Race and Demolition.  Arms Race pits teams of five against each other in an open arena with the objective being to be the first person to kill with each type of weapon.  As soon as one kill is made, the game automatically switches out to the next weapon, with a total of 26 different loadouts. The last weapon being a golden knife adds even more tension and excitement, as match after match comes down to the wire with two or three other players reaching that magical last weapon while opposing players all work to take the leader down before he (or she) can get a kill in with the knife.  The maps created for Arms Race are both fun and well balanced, one being a luggage processing facility for an airport and the other a tropical village fortress of sorts. Each has multiple levels for tactical sniping as well as open areas for full on mayhem.

The other new game mode, as mentioned, is Demolition, which is a series of escalations where the terrorist team attempts to plant a bomb and if a successful kill is made during a round a different weapon is issued at the start of the next round.  Obviously the counter-terrorists attempt to stop the bomb from being planted and a full series is finished after whichever team wins the best of 10 out of a potential 20 rounds.  Each round is short with a max timer of only three minutes, so matches really fly by in a way that prevents the action from stagnating.

 One of the unique things that I noticed first with Demolition and then later in the traditional CS modes is that each team has five players at the start of each match, but if one team doesn’t have an actual player available, an AI bot fills the role.  While bots in games aren’t new, what I thought was a nice touch was the fact that if I died and a bot was still running around in the match, I could take control of that bot.  Any kills earned while playing as the bot leveled that bot’s weapon increase, which in the grand scheme of things doesn’t really matter because matches are so quick and the chance to kill an opponent is fairly easy, but taking control of a bot helps to extend gameplay and kept me from having to sit and watch the rest of the match, waiting for my team to either win or lose.

If playing online with strangers isn’t your cup of tea and no one on your friend list currently has the title, CS:GO does offer an offline mode with bots.  Bot AI can be dumbed down to completely moronic while you learn the ropes or super L33t if you want to master a map and have a challenge that will reflect what you’ll be facing against any of the dedicated online players.  Playing the offline bot mode is a handy way to learn maps, but it is also an alternative to playing online and not being able to find a match. Fortunately I never had any trouble loading up matches, either through the Quick Match option or by selecting a specific match type.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive offers console gamers a great competitive FPS experience that has traditionally only been available to the PC crowd, and does so without alienating its original PC fan base. Quick matches, effective matchmaking, plenty of maps and modes, and vast customization options give gamers of all platforms a large variety of choices at a very reasonable price. While some maps are recycled from the olden days, if the game ain’t broke, why fix it? Fans of competitive online shooters should seriously give Counter-Strike: Global Offensive a shot.    

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Fun, quick matches
+ Tons of customization options
+ Offline bot mode

Cons:
- No cross-platform matchmaking

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN, also available for Xbox Live Arcade and Steam (PC/Mac)
Publisher: Valve
Developer: Valve/Hidden Path Entertainment
Release Date: 8/21/2012
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-10
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.