Publisher: Valve / Developer: Valve / Platform: PC, PSN, XBLA

One of us used to play Counter-Strike at LAN parties, the other had never played it before. What did we think of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (aka CS:GO)?

Kate: You have previous experience with the series, James. Do you remember which edition of the game you used to play?

James: I played Counter-Strike back when it was just a downloadable mod for the original Half-Life.  My dad and his work buddy were really big into LAN gaming, so my dad, my brother and I would always pack up our PCs and drive over to their house and play games like Counter-Strike, Unreal Tournament and Quake.  I did play a little bit of CS: Source when that came out, as well as the original Xbox port, but I never really got into the more competitive scene.

Kate: How would you say CS:GO compares?

James: CS:GO seems like a prettied-up version of the same Counter-Strike I’m used to.  There are a few new weapons and levels, but for the most part it seems pretty much the same to me.  I don’t know much of the finer details like weapon statistics or exact level layouts, but it definitely brings back some memories.

Kate: My experience with CS:GO was a little different, in that I knew literally nothing about the game going in other than that it was a Valve game and that I like Valve games.

Being new to the game, my first stop was Weapon Training, which was the sort of well-paced tutorial sprinkled with humor that you’d expect from Valve. It not only introduced me to the basic controls while also being entertaining, but also gave me a chance to try out some different control schemes outside of the heat of battle. One of the things I love about Valve is that while most console game developers only let you choose from a few preset control layouts – if they give you a choice at all – Valve almost always lets you completely remap the controls to your heart’s desire. One day this will become a standard thing that we expect from our games, and we’ll wonder why it took so long.

James: Yeah, I thought the training mode was a nice touch.  The ability to customize your controls is a rarity, however I almost always see it in recent fighting games for some reason.  Why hasn’t this caught on?

Kate: After Weapon Training, I decided to hop into an offline bot match with some easy bots just to familiarize myself with some of the maps. And that’s when it all goes to hell. “You mean I have to buy my weapons at the start of each round? This wasn’t in the tutorial…” There wasn’t enough time compare stats for all the weapons, so I just went with whatever looked good. Next thing I know I’m dead – from easy bots, no less – having also just discovered that this is a no respawning zone. Clearly this game does not mess around.

At this point I was feeling a little overwhelmed. If this had been a demo, I would’ve just moved on to something else. But I was determined to review this game, so I did what any wise gamer would do: I researched. Here I discovered useful tidbits like what guns are typically favored by players, but I was also introduced to concepts like how “recoil patterns,” or how running instead of walking can result in people hearing you coming. This was starting to sound like the sort of game that required a great deal of research and practice before someone could become a remotely competitive player. I tend to gravitate towards arcade-y shooters, and hadn’t been expecting such a simulator-esque game from Valve. These people were going to eat me alive.

Despite now being incredibly intimidated, I knew I had to push onward and start playing some actual humans. And that’s when something interesting happened. While the first few rounds were a little rough, only 10 minutes in I suddenly found myself doing well. Better than well, actually. First I scored the game-winning kill. A few rounds later, I had somehow gotten the most kills of anyone on my team. Then I was celebrating having managed to actually detonate the bomb. Then I was celebrating having managed to win the round by defusing a bomb. Then I was celebrating getting an award for planting a bomb within 25 seconds. Killing an enemy while they’re reloading. Killing an enemy while at one health. Killing an enemy who is leading the hostages without injuring the hostages.

I was good at this game! Mind you, I’d been against playing fellow noobs in Classic Casual. But I was having fun, and that’s what matters. It made me kind of sad that the game has such a steep initial learning curve.

James: Actually, CS is still pretty arcadey, even in comparison to games like Call of Duty.  You die quickly and there are no respawns, but everything is very fast.  The menus are designed to allow you to navigate to what you want as quickly as possible.  Weapon switching is near-instant.  Your character moves incredibly fast.  It’s definitely more arcade than simulator, it just has a very steep learning curve.

I like Counter-Strike.  It’s fun… when you’re winning.  To me, the bad moments in CS outweigh the good.  The fact that you have one life per round puts a lot of pressure on whoever is still alive.  Unless you’re playing with friends, I constantly find myself thinking “oh god, oh god, I’m going to screw up and all of Xbox Live will hate me forever.”  It’s silly, but it’s one of the main reasons I couldn’t get into the multiplayer for Gears of War 1 or GOW2.

If you’re playing with friends, though, it’s very fun.  Someone messes up and you all just laugh about it.  I still remember moments playing the original game as a kid, and my friend screaming like a little girl when my brother popped around the corner with a shotgun.  Counter-Strike, no matter what version you play, is best played with friends.

Kate: It does seem a little more arcade-y to me now that I’ve gotten the hang of it, but there are other aspects that seem simulator-esque. There’s the whole footsteps thing, but also the purchasing armor aspect in Classic Competitive, and how the weight of your weapon can cause you to run faster or slower. Though I suppose it’s more that it has the potential for a simulator type game, rather than actually being one.

And yes, it’s fun as long as you’re winning. Being the best player on my team becomes less fun when I’m up against a team with at least two good people, and my team is useless. Though it’s not enough to ruin the game for me, unless I can’t find any other groups to join.

But I, too, have experienced the pressure of worrying whether anyone who was “out” was watching my screen. My first time playing a hostage level, I ended up being the last person alive on the Terrorist side. I’d decided to situate myself in a place where I could see the hostages, and would be able to attack when someone showed up. But I’d decided to go with a Molotov as my weapon of choice, not realizing that you’re penalized for injuring or killing hostages. I mean, they’re hostages…if I’m playing as a bad guy, they exist for me to threaten to kill. Coincidentally, this was one of the few rounds I played where someone was actually using their headset, though I wasn’t using one myself. So I got to listen to their running commentary as I threw the Molotov – “forget the hostages!”

After that, every time I was the last survivor and screwed up in a major way, I was hyper-aware of who was watching. But I imagine it’d be an amusing feature if I was playing with just friends instead of strangers.

Really, the only issue I have with the game other than the steep initial learning curve is sometimes the players, which isn’t something a developer can help. I consider CS:GO a 9/10.

James: If you think about it, all those things are in most shooters anyway.  Footsteps, weapons affecting your running speed, things like that are all in games like Call of Duty, Max Payne 3, stuff like that.  It’s just magnified by the fact that you die so quickly, and death carries such a heavier cost than in most multiplayer shooters.  To me it isn’t less arcadey, you just have a significantly less margin of error.

I think this is my main complaint about Counter-Strike in general.  Some enjoy that, and I have no issue with it.  I just don’t like it when I don’t have room in a video game to mess up a little bit.  It makes me uncomfortable. Despite this, CS:GO is still a great game, and a wonderful upgrade to the series.  While again, I really don’t know much about the finer details like specific weapon stats, CS:GO is great for fans of Counter-Strike, as well as those who have never touched the game despite the game’s natural frustrations. 9/10.