Review – Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

The grandaddy of shooting people is back.  Is it the return of the king?  Or is it a little too late in a world of bombastic explosions, loud guns, and achievements earned for being the biggest gaming douche?

The beauty of a game like CS:GO is that it is such a breath of fresh air, simple in a world of over-made shooters.  If you’re like me, and tired of the all the other “next-gen shooters” out on the market right now offering “realism” or “hyper-frenetic explosive action” in spades,then CS:GO will be a welcome change.  Battlefield 3 was fun for a time, but like Call of Duty, the game punished those who didn’t spend enough time unlocking the next best thing or racking up enough XP to get that highly imbalanced perk.  CS:GO, well, the entire Counter-Strike franchise for that matter, is great, because it has none of that.

Whether you bought it on day one or five months down the road, you can jump into any game and play just as well as anybody else.  Weapons are bought in each round, and money is rewarded for kills made in that round, not by the million hours spent playing before.  And you certainly don’t have to worry about an AC-130 gunship dropping missiles on your head from miles high.  It’s just you, your skill, and that of your enemy.

CS:GO isn’t a drastic change from the Counter-Strikes of old, and I don’t think that was the intention of Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment.  They weren’t looking to invent the wheel, just bring it up to “next-gen” standards and this meant adding things like leaderboards which you use to compare how crappily you’re doing against friends and the world.  There is sophisticated stats tracking, and ugh, dare I say, achievements.  We are well and truly in the modern era when even a tightly made game like CS:GO has pointless achievements.  I mean seriously, do we really need to get a little colored icon to tell us that we’ve made enough headshots or thrown enough grenades?  I don’t think that that’s what keeps people coming back for more CS:GO.

What does keep people coming back for more CS:GO, is CS:GO.  The refinements in-game are mostly under the hood.  Since the launch of beta last year, pro-gamers have been feeding the developers with info on how to continually balance the game and map designs.  If there’s one thing that the game’s good for, it is tournament-level play.  The inclusion of a Competitive Classic mode that does all the hard behind-the-scenes game management, score keeping and team balancing is also probably the most significant part of this latest version.  It lets those who already take the game seriously, take it even more seriously.  And those that want to make the transition into a little bit more hardcore, they can too.  There’s also a Casual mode and an offline with bots for the intimidated and not-yet-ready.  But don’t count on the bots to keep you entertained for long, they are still really dumb, and soon enough, you’ll be jumping onto servers looking for real people to deal out damage to.  As for actual game modes, there’s the standard hostage and demolition modes, but also a new Arms Race.  That’s Call of Duty’s Gun Game, just in CS:GO.  I liked Gun Game in Modern Warfare 3, it’s kinda’ meh in CS:GO.  Let’s just hope they don’t add a Capture the Flag.  Let’s leave that one to Team Fortress 2.

The graphics have been overhauled, the maps are positively shiny, the guns look more like their real-world counterparts, and have a lot of punch to them when shot.  The latest Source Engine is used to good effect here, fire is nice (the addition of molotovs tactically and just for pure fun, is welcome), and rag-doll physics never gets old.  The new purchase weapons wheel UI is great, but doesn’t necessarily streamline the buying process all that much from before.  I mean, once you’ve repeated the sequence of purchase enough times, it doesn’t even matter.  But for newbies, the simpler it is, the better.  There are new maps included, and I’m sure this isn’t all we’ll see in coming months, as we also haven’t yet got the new versions of  classics like CS_Assault which I’m greatly looking forward to and new community-made maps – but what is there already, is great.  My only gripe is that at least in Singapore, De_Dust 2 is so popular, servers here refuse to run any other maps.  Gamers seem contented just to enact their bullet hell in an endless limbo of dusty hallways, that one big door which people snipe through and bomb sites centered around crates.  Damn them!

Ultimately though, CS:GO is good, simple fun.  Reminds you of a time when shooting was really all about shooting people and not having superpowers that made you invincible, drop grenades when you die, or throw knives like Bullseye.  And for a price at USD$12, the average price for a good decent meal at your local taco joint, with the promise of more and better made tacos delivered right to your doorstep down the road, you’re undoubtedly getting your money’s worth.  Go, go, go.

PS.  At the game’s launch, Valve put out a really nicely made short film, once again showing off their animation chops but also getting people’s blood pumping for CS:GO.  Here it is:

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