It’s been over 10 years since Counter-Strike debuted on PC. I can’t begin to count the amount of hours my friends and I sunk into it through high school during LAN parties and the plethora of Internet cafés that dotted the east coast in the early 2000s. The massive impact it had on our lives was unparalleled by anything else at the time outside of possibly Diablo II. As a result, it should come as no surprise that, when we first heard about Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, we were ecstatic to see what Valve would be able to come up with in what we thought would be the rebirth of the franchise. Now, whether or not we had our expectations a bit high is debatable, though what isn’t debatable is that CS:GO failed to meet them.
It’s important to note right off the bat that this review is focused on the console version of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, specifically the Xbox 360 version. While many of the mechanics are the same between consoles and PC, there are some minor changes that will have a massive impact in the scoring of the title.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was Valve’s attempt to bring the Counter-Strike franchise to the console markets. The PC title (and the original Xbox version to a lesser extent) has thrilled gamers for the past decade with its unique brand of tense FPS action. While the action can be extremely fast and frenetic, good strategy and a level head will win out over a twitchy trigger finger almost every time.
This reboot features a game that has been completely rebuilt, although many of the new features are fairly negligible in the long run. The new achievement system and a few minor tweaks to the overlay do help make the game feel fresh again; however, what they offer isn’t enough to set this version apart from the pack.
Visually, the game is damn near identical to Counter-Strike Source, although it’s had a few minor issues adjusted with regards to its character models. The models will now befit the map a bit better, removing the situations where it seems that a wayward terrorist from the desert accidentally found himself in the snow during his vacation. It’s a nice tweak, but outside of removing something silly, there weren’t any radical changes to be found.
Longtime fans will be glad to know that nine classic maps have made a return, and they’re mixed in with eight brand new ones. You’ll find a few minor changes here and there, but most of yesteryear’s strategies still work well. The new maps may not have the immediate enjoyment that comes with a good nostalgia wave, yet they’re all extremely well crafted and follow the basic blueprints set up from previous games. You’ll need to memorize every inch of the maps in order to best plan your attack strategy and adapt to your opponents or else you can expect a series of quick and infuriating defeats.
I’m hesitant to write this sentence knowing the possible backlash, but newcomers to the series will perhaps be a bit miffed at how slow the game is in comparison to most of multiplayer shooters on the market now. The action is still brisk, but it’s not going to blow anyone away when it comes to speed. You’ll have to rely on memorizing the maps as well as expert handling of your weapons to survive, as it’s truly a game where skilled players should have zero reason to not excel.
Two new game modes have been added to the mix this time around. Arms Race and Demolition, both a variation of the popular Gun Game from Counter-Strike Source, add in a bit of flair to the standard formula. I’d argue that this would be the perfect entry point for new players. With every kill, you’re awarded a new weapon, giving you a chance to learn your armory on the fly. CS:GO prides itself on giving the weapons weight, and it will take new players a few rounds to get used to the massive recoil from them.
Arms Race suffers from poor map choices and odd changes from the standard formula. It’s extremely fast-paced, and the two available maps are so claustrophobic that it feels a bit too chaotic overall. Demolition, on the other hand, is a brilliant twist on the normal game with Gun Game elements. Unlike Arms Race, death is permanent and the need to plant/disarm the bomb is present. The small maps only feature one plant site, so the gameplay is more intense while still staying true to what makes Counter-Strike a great game. There are six maps present, and while all of them are pretty stellar, it would have been great if more variety had been included.
Not everything is beautiful in the land of console Counter-Strike, though. In an ironic twist, developer Hidden Path took a project that was originally supposed to be a straight port from PC to consoles and managed to lose many of the title’s great aspects during that conversion. The game was simply not designed with consoles in mind, and it’s fairly obvious to anyone paying attention.
The first issue (and arguably the most damning) is the control scheme. The gamepad controls aren’t horrible, but compared to how smooth the game plays with a keyboard and mouse it’s damn near unplayable. PC players have the option of playing with a controller, but that’s about as advisable as running through a room of rabid porcupines naked and blindfolded. At least on the Xbox, the field is level for everyone, as opposed to the PS3 where players have the option of plugging in a mouse and keyboard for added control. It’s fantastic that Hidden Path made the effort to include the option, but those players are at a marked advantage over anyone else on the server.
Another noticeable difference is the smaller server size. PC players can enjoy matches with up to 32 players while consoles are limited to 10. This is a disturbing trend we’ve been seeing in recent titles. I understand there are some technological hurdles involved, and truth be told the base gameplay doesn’t really need any more than 10 players, but it’s still something worth noting.
Counter-Strike has always been community driven. The game was originally a mod itself, and has been showered in love from the modding community over the years through new levels and game modes. It’s not unexpected for consoles to miss out on these modes, but it dramatically lowers the replay value for them as opposed to their PC brethren. The game should suck up plenty of your time as it is, but without the constant stream of new content that PC gamers should be expecting it will probably fall far short in comparison.
My last complaint is that there may not be enough to justify an upgrade for PC players who own Counter-Strike Source. The new modes, while enjoyable, may not be as fun for some as opposed to other mods floating around for CSS, and the modding community hasn’t had a chance to flesh out the game yet.
On a quick personal note, I want to take a moment to address a common complaint I’ve encountered in games: accusations of hacking. Now, I have no doubt that there will be some scumbag players here and there, but players have been cutting their teeth with Counter-Strike games for over a decade. When you combine a game that rewards individual player skill with a rabid player base with 10 years of experience, there should be no surprise that certain players will rocket up the scoreboard. They’re not unbeatable; they’re simply exceptionally good. My one piece of advice is to watch them in-between rounds to learn what they’re doing. You’ll get there eventually.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a fine game. It’s everything we’ve loved from Counter-Strike over the years with just enough minor adjustments to keep it fresh. For players with a PC capable of handling it, that is decidedly the way to go, as you’ll bypass almost every limitation console players will run into.
However, this review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game and, after my time spent with it, I have to say that the consoles are getting an inferior version. Furthermore, I’d expect the player base to dry up the same way it did for Team Fortress 2. It’s really a shame as what was originally supposed to be a direct PC port to consoles has ended up being a watered down hollow shell of the game.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was provided to us.