Theres probably no more famous a name in gaming than Valve. From the seminal Half-Life series to the near ubiquitous nature of their Steam digital distribution service, it seems that whatever Gabe Newell and his team touches turns to gold. Now the original Half Life mod, Counter-Strike, finally makes its way to PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade in the form of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
For those who dont know, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO) is a shooter aimed squarely at online team based play. Theres no levelling up, no perks and no iron sights, with the game consisting of four modes (Arms Race, Demolition, Classic Casual and Classic Competitive) all with the emphasis placed on skill and dedication by the players involved.
The learning curve can be brutal for those unfamiliar how a Counter-Strike title works. Depending on what game mode is played, the instant death from what seems like nowhere will leave those weaned on the frenetic pace of the Call of Duty series distinctly unimpressed. But Counter Strike was never about bombast and bluster. Theres a subtlety to the action, with those who take advantage of communication and co-ordination via headsets (instead of yelling racial epithets and other obscenities down the mic as is sadly the norm in such online games) winning the day.
Classic Casual is a good introduction for newcomers with friendly fire turned off and generous kill rewards, while Classic Competitive turns friendly fire on and lasts up to thirty rounds. Truly for the hardcore/dedicated crowd, this will test the mettle of anyone coming to it fresh, but never is it unfair it merely provides the player the ability to test their mettle against the more hardened CS:GO players out there.
Arms Race, which swaps out the weapon the player is currently using for a new one after each successive kill, is an orgy of violence as players on both sides compete for kills until they reach the pinnacle, the Golden Knife. Whoever lands the decisive kill with this wins the round.
Demolition sees the Counter Terrorism team looking to prevent Terrorists from planting a bomb at designated points on the map. If dropped the remaining players have to take up the duty of carrying the bomb and arming it, at which time they become vulnerable to the opposing teams (and the same is true for whoever is disarming it).
Working to a teams strengths will always reap rich rewards in CS:GO, but not in the obvious ways either. Having certain members storm buildings while others cut off potential escape routes are sound tactics, but having a sneaky team member who patrols tunnels looking to take out less canny opposition will serve the rest of the team.
If all of this seems like too much to take in, there is the ability to train offline with Bots. Even cranking up the difficulty to Expert wont emulate the cunning a well drilled team possesses, but itll certainly helps get players up to speed by allowing them to get a feel for combat and the intricacies involved.
Maps are varied across all modes, with the classic Dust and Dust II embodying the now ubiquitous Middle Eastern look, but having been around long before it was popularised in modern military titles. Aztec is a lovely mixture of temples contrasting with works scaffolding. Italy is classic Neapolitan architecture with crowded streets and piazzas, while Office has a snowy look, dominated by interconnecting towers. The two maps dedicated to Arms Race, Baggage and Shoots, couldnt more different if they tried. Baggage is (predictably) set in the baggage room in an airport while Shoots brings to mind a guerilla compound with interconnecting rooms and discreet hiding spots/vantage points for the more cunning.
Weapons feel as punchy and satisfying as they ever did. Getting up close and personal with a sawn-off is a tremendous rush, balancing that classic risk/reward and is just as compelling as attempting to use a Sniper Rifle from distance in a support role, wrestling with the painfully slow reload time if a target isnt struck straight and true first time.
Of course the PC purists will always argue that the console experience here will never match up, and they have a point in that regard. The speed of a mouse will always exceed what an analogue stick can produce, and the user created content on offer will probably never appear on either PlayStation Network/Xbox Live Arcade, uless there is a profound change in how each of the platform holders conduct their business. But what is on offer will provide many hours of play for newcomers and veterans alike if they become hooked.
There will be a particular audience who will be attracted to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, most probably those looking for a slice of nostalgia or something different in their usual diet of online bloodshed. Once used to the more subtle pace newcomers will be rewarded with an intense, satisfying experience that manages to feel fresh and compelling, and old timers will smile in contentment as long dormant muscle memory springs back to life.