CS:GO Review

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(UPDATE: The Mac crash issue I reported here when this review was posted seems to have ceased, at least over the past few days. Perhaps a stealth patch was enacted) 

If you love “Counter Strike,” then CS:GO is for you; if you don’t, then it isn’t. There isn’t really any other way to put it than that. Valve and Hidden Path have pretty much towed the party line on this one, and thanks to an affordable price tag and the inherently strong foundation they’re working from, that’s a smart decision. This is not an evangelical experience, it won’t convert the unbelievers, but it is a welcome return for one of gaming’s most venerable shooter franchises.

I’m not going to summarize what “Counter Strike” is; if you don’t know, my friend Wikipedia is happy to clue you in. Let’s focus on what’s changed: first, the graphics have been given an update. Of course, it’s not much more than a cost-of-living adjustment, meant to keep CS from being embarrassing to behold. Occasionally I bounced into some textures I thought were nice, especially indoors, but for the most part the franchise continues to own its middle of the road visual status.

More significantly, Gun Game and Reverse Gun Game—popular mods which forced a player to switch weapons as they accumulated kills—have now been adopted into the family via “Arms Race” and “Demolition.” The former in particular is a welcome change of pace after you’ve spent an eternity waiting for rounds of Classic to end so you can finally respawn. It lets you get your fix, hard and fast, and the extra dimension of being forced through a pre-determined hierarchy of weapons gives CS:GO some real personality.

The Elo Matchmaking System has also been implemented, although I have to admit that so far, I detect no difference. I’ve been playing this game since it was a HL-mod, and I still feel grossly under-qualified to compete in at least 70% of the matches CS:GO places me in. I’m hoping the system needs a bit more time to get everyone sorted out, so I won’t close the book yet, but I can’t help wishing they had tried for something like the League system in “Starcraft II.” Offline practice with bots is a helpful boon, but let’s face it: all they’re going to do is get your hopes up and teach you bad habits before the real people eat your soul.

“Counter Strike” is one of those games you spend a fair amount of time truly hating, no matter how much you love it, because its relentless breed of tough love eventually borders on cruel. That’s as true here as ever. The hit boxes will drive you insane, even though they’re probably totally accurate; you won’t be able to count how many gunfights you lost when you were so sure you should have won. Veteran CS players haven’t gotten any softer either, and now the game helpfully informs you when they’re “Dominating You” or (my favorite) “Still Dominating You.”

But something else also hasn’t changed: “Counter Strike” still one of the most addictive shooters ever made. It’s amazing how well CS:GO stands up to its competition, even without a cover system, perks, Horde mode, kill streaks, or any of the accoutrements we’ve come to expect. This ballsy little beast doesn’t even have iron sights, and yet you just watch as it steals countless hours away from BF3, Reach, MW3 or anything else you’re playing. The core of CS:GO isn’t just strong, it’s timeless. It wades unchanged into a shooter market ten times more crowded and expensive than the one it was born in, and it holds up.

So there you have it. If you love “Counter Strike,” it’s back in all its glory. If you’ve never played before, this is probably as good a place to start as any, but be warned that the path ahead is rough. I would’ve liked a more comprehensive solution to the learning curve, but I’m glad they didn’t over-correct and soften the rigorous competition that made people fall in love with it. “Global Offensive” is a very good game, it just also happens to be one tough son of a b*tch.

RATING: 8/10

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