An Hour With Counter-Strike: GO

I've played Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and can now say it's for me, too.

On the eve of the public debut of its newest game, Valve Software let me into their ever-expanding offices in Bellevue, Washington to give me a sampling of four classic Counter-Strike maps as they've been remade for 2012's Counter-Strike: GO.

This was, I dare admit, the first time I've ever played Counter-Strike.

Forget my shame, and let me tell you how terrific an experience it was. There is a lot to this game that will be interesting to veterans and newcomers.

Even I knew before I put my hand to mouse and keyboard in a Valve testing lab today that Counter-Strike is a classic team-based first-person shooter. One side plays terrorists; one are counter-terrorists. The most popular mode and the one I played today is Bomb/Defuse. One of five terrorist players randomly gets the bomb and can place it; any of the five counter-terrorists can try to defuse it. The match ends when one team is wiped out or the bomb goes off.

CS: GO will launch with five maps for Bomb/Defuse mode, and two for the other classic franchise mode, Hostage Rescue. Those combined seven maps are all based on classic Counter-Strike 1.6 and CS: Source maps, in other words, maps from the two most popular earlier incarnations of the game.

The maps will be recognisable to series fans. Valve's designers have kept the best of them nearly intact, applying a graphical upgrade but leaving most of the level layout intact. The classic Dust 2, for example, looks improved but plays the same.

Another map, Nuke, has had some of its dead space removed, Valve's project lead on CS: GO, Ido Magal, told me. Areas where players would get lost have been tightened. The classic map Aztec has been altered to give terrorist players more cover and quicker paths to bomb placement areas. Dust has had a "sniper alley" fixed so that players can now run through a trench in that map while trusting that some bridges that span it and other obstructions will give them some cover.

If you're like me and a Counter-Strike novice, you'll notice none of the subtle changes in the game's maps. Valve is partially making the game for us, but also vetting many of their big and little changes through pro players in the massive competitive Counter-Strike community.

Players like me can cheer for the game's new Casual mode. In it, money is no object and players can buy weapons for each round without worrying about cost. They will be playing with voice-chat open to all players, on both sides and the ability to spectate any player's actions, again, from either faction, should they die and be watching the rest of the round as it plays out. Casual is, Magal and Valve writer Chet Faliszek explained to me, part of their and partner studio Hidden Path's effort to "lower the skill floor" for new players.

Veteran players will ideally appreciate the game creators' efforts to also "raise the skill ceiling." The overall idea is that Counter-Strike is considered, at Valve, to be a game about skill, one that doesn't sand over differences in player ability and always lets the player feel like they know why they died. I sure understood why I died and also why I was able to achieve a surprising number of kills during our Casual sessions. Weapons recoil and headshots remain paramount. Character movement is swift and the pace is indeed fast. Maps are clean and easy to rush through. Valve clearly wants nothing to obstruct the clarity of the play of the game. To wit: Faliszek explained to me that smoke and dust effects, which are prominent in the starting area of Dust, appear less frequently and with less opacity, as the round gets underway.

Experienced CS players may gravitate toward the game's Competitive mode, which drops the cross-team chat and spectating and intensifies the rounds, dropping round time from three minutes to two. In Competitive, money earned for success in a round does count and can be spent on weapons and armour for the next round.

For the new game, Valve will host its own servers. Fans can still host theirs and tweak the game, but Valve wants all of the players to be able to rely on having access to a consistent experience. On the Valve servers. CS: Go will play the way described here. And only on the Valve servers for PC and Mac -- or on the console versions for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 -- will players be matchmade based on skill. Valve is using a system called ELO and will prioritise that skill ranking when matchmaking in the Competitive mode. It will prioritise your friends list when matchmaking for Casual.

On PC and Mac, Counter-Strike: GO players can expect the standard options you get with a Steam game and any of the control options you would have with a computer. On the Xbox 360, players will use a game pad. On the PS3, players can use the game controller, the PlayStation Move motion controller or even a mouse and keyboard. PS3, Mac and PC players will be match-made against each other, clumped by skill, regardless of input device or platform. (Valve didn't demonstrate the PS3-PC.Mac cross-play to me today, but they confirmed that that enticing bit of networking is something they are striving to include in the game.)

Counter Strike: Global Offensive will feature eight new weapons and seven classic maps. Weapons: Decoy Grenade Molotov IMI Negev Taser Tec-9 Mag-7 Sawed-Off PP-Bizon

Classic Maps: dust dust2 aztec nuke inferno italy office

What Valve showed me and will be showing at both this week's Penny Arcade Expo and next month's Eurogamer Expo is a lot of CS:GO's nods to the past, through classic modes and tweaked and graphically improved classic maps. In the future we'll find out about new modes and maps associated with them, innovations to the formula about which the Valve guys dropped no hints, other than to mention that for some reason, on some undisclosed map, some players will be in the role of professional bank robbers.

But even in the content now being shown, fans will be able to spot differences all over the place. They will see that character models are dressed appropriately for their level's environment and, in time, Valve will ensure that all of the characters have small visual variations in their wardrobe to distinguish them from each other. Veterans will notice that in Casual or Competitive, bullets will now fire tracers, helping players learn and understand where the ammo from the game's various weapons is going and coming from. This will visualise the series' various realistic streams and arcs of bullets as guns fire, recoil and are subjected to simulated laws of physics.

Long time players will also spot new weapons and items. Among them is a taser gun, an expensive, one-shot, instant-elimination gun that Faliszek described as a weapon that is used to humiliate. Players on either side can use a decoy, a bundle of firecrackers, sort of, that looks like a player on the mini-map and lets off the sounds of guns being fired. But it doesn't look like a player and doesn't make the sound of footsteps. A third new item is the molotov cocktail which fills an area with fire and smoke, briefly, the first CS item, Magal explained to me, that is designed to slow another team down. There will be more new weapons, but those are the ones I spotted.

The game is set to go into beta this October. Attendees of PAX and the Eurogamer Expo will get Beta codes they can redeem later, and Valve will provide fans other means, not yet announced, to get into the game. Through the beta, which is PC only, and through dialogue with more players of all levels, they want to tweak and perfect this game. As Faliszek and Magal showed me CS:GO, they frequently referred to stats in the game that might change. That's the point of the beta and the continued dialogue, to determine, for example, if bombs should detonate in 45 seconds, as they did in the build I played, or if that time will be shortened to 35 in Competitive mode. Defusal is currently 10 seconds. Decoys last about five.

The process of give and take is constant for this game, the Valve guys told me. For example, Valve was going to eliminate the ability to get shields, but was talked out of it by Source players. So they added them in, made them cost money for Competitive mode, made them free for Casual and they think they've solved the problem. For now, Valve is confident that they've made the right decision to eliminate random spawn points on all maps, a trait of the old games they think the community agrees led to unfair advantages. Feedback and the reams of data Valve has collected from players of earlier incarnations of the game can still change and influence any of this.

Valve and Hidden Path are attempting to expand the Counter-Strike audience with CS:GO, roping in more console players while also creating something that is supremely refined for computer veterans. I was impressed with how streamlined everything felt and how pleasant a session of Casual was, leaving me without the feeling of shellshock I often get during my rare dalliances with competitive shooters and instead with the satisfaction of playing an efficiently-made game with an amiable crew.

Counter-Srike: Go is scheduled for a first quarter 2012 release on the PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It will be download-only. Faliszek couldn't tell me what it'll cost. They're worrying about making a great game first, he told me. They'll sweat the other details later. (But! Magal added: they won't be selling in-game hats.)

We'll have more on Counter-Strike: Go in the coming days here on Kotaku.


    MOAR PICS!!!!

    Oooo, much better than I was expecting. Thank god for Competitive mode...

      I had *almost* exactly the same thought:

      Oooo, much better than I was expecting. Thank god for Casual modeā€¦

    A Valve game without hats?! SELLOUTS. Will boycott until the release date.

    I couldnt see anything that would attract veterans:

    + reskinned with nicer graphics
    +/- few new weapons, and maps
    - tracer bullets

    Seems more a game for the casual audience. I hope I'm wrong though.

      Sorry mate as a Vet player from the beta release of CS, i can say im impressed and looking forward to the game.

      Im a bit worried about the Tracers tho will give you that, hopefully there will be a disable option for the server files.

      But given CS:S and 1.6 are still played a fair chunk by myself and friends both online and at local LANS, i can say this will be a welcome change and yet not a change.

    This is going to sound terribly elitist and geeky... but how can someone who's a games journalist not have played Counter Strike?

    I recall another story of a Kotaku writer who only recently played Doom for the first time.

    It's like a car site journalist never having used a manual shift... Even if you haven't somehow come across it, if you were an enthusiast you would have sought out the experience regardless...

      Maybe if they had never played a FPS would that comparason be apt. A more accurate one might be that a car journo has never driven a Model T Ford.

      I think your analogy's a bit rough. driving a manual makes you feel more in control and more connected to the overall experience of driving, whereas playing a 15 year old game will probably only serve to remind you of how much (or little) things have changed over the course of time, and neither of these things is integral to appreciating and understanding the things you love about these interests.

      baring in mind the time restraints journalists have on their lives as well, i don't blame anyone for not rushing out (or staying in) to appreciate some archaic (albeit important in ways) gaming experience. they couldn't possibly experience it the way everyone did when it was new technology anyway, so the relevance, in my opinion, seems trivial.

      sorry for the rant, i'm bored and your comment did seem a little elitist.

        having never played it would also help give a more unbiased view

          I believe you meant to say "unprofessional review"

      Yeah i agree completely. People talk of this "core gamer" and such- but if you didn't play either half-life or CS 10 years ago your a gaming poser.

        So for anyone who was born after the time that they could have played those games "years ago"... they will never be a gamer? How dumb can you get?

          Firstly, I never said you weren't a gamer. I said that it's odd for a gaming journalist to not have played the most influencial FPS of all time, or the most revolutionary step in online PC gaming of all time.

          Neither did I say anything about being born after a certain time.

          I'm just saying that it's the type of thing that should be assumed 'knowledge' for a GAMING journalist.

          Talk about butthurt.

      I am totally with Reign. I read this article up to the bit when he said this is his first CS game... *facepalm*

      The rest of the article means nothing to the legions of players who have played it and are still playing it and want to know what this new incarnation is like.

      It's like sending a journo to Maranello to test the latest Ferrari and reporting on the latest update when he's never driven a Ferrari before. Or as suggested in this case he's may not be an FPS player which means he's never even driven a sportscar before?!

      As a CSS player of 10 years, and still play it nightly, I want to know how it fairs versus the current version. Is it stand alone title that will run alongside or is it the replacement? How is the feel and aim of the AK/M4? jump? movement? so many questions not answered by this article...


        Couldn't agree more.

      I know what you mean, and yes it was the same author, Totilo, who had never played Doom before.

      I do respect the guy for being honest about what he's played or not played... seems like lots of reviewers and journalists claim to have knowledge of previous games in a series but are obviously drawing on knowledge only obtained from the first hour of the game :-P

      Honesty is something I can't complain about.

    You can play as professional bank robbers? INSTABUY!

    I can only imagine they'd have a "classic" mode of some sort, or at least give hosts the option of playing around with the settings so you can eliminate all the new stuff. Still looks pretty damn cool though.

    "Defusal is currently 10 seconds. Decoys last about five."

    I think he means with defusal kits...

      I think that's regular defusal. I remember the kits defusing a lot faster.

    Is this the same Valve that made Source? Because that fkn sucked compared to 1.6.

      Honestly, I want to look forward to this game but I think it's going to be a major disappointment for fans.

    now this is how you re-market an old franchise!

    I think the current version will go free to play soon like tf2 to build interest.

      I doubt it, 1.6 isn't even FTP.

      They reskin it to appeal to the new generation, and all the current source players who used to be the 1.6 players will still buy it because it's 'new'. Saying that I probably will buy also after playing 1.6 and source.

    Casual Mode...

    The noob hunt.
    Where teams of pros go to grief everyone else.

      A ranking system of some kind might prevent that from happening.

    "First CS item designed to slow the enemy down" - paraphrased.

    If you're playing with people who are good at the game, that's the only purpose the heavy machine gun has.

    FUCK YEAAAAH , didn't think i would be excited about this.. but goddamit in my heart of hearts i know that CS > all other competative 'realistic' online shooters.

    Counter-Strike was the reason I failed 3 out of 4 subjects in my very first semester in uni back in 2000. The new-look dust and Aztec maps look BOSS from the screenshots!

    Also, Counter-Strike: Source is the best game for an Alienware m11x... Portable nostalgia!


      CS always gets in the way of my studies....

      Grade12 next year, hoping to not fuck up.

    I'm not a fan of the tracers idea at all. I like that you often can't tell who is shooting at you in CS (a good set of headphones or surround sound are helpful though).

    As for the taser for humiliation, I thought that's what the knife was for...

    I'll wait to see/hear the decoy grenade before I believe it could be effective, but other than those things, this sounds pretty good (ie. the same).

    "Cross Platform Play" I lolled so hard at this! Can't wait to pwn the noobs using a analogue stick to aim >_<

    Women playing CS that's pretty funny.... You'll probably plant the bomb at your spawn. n00b!

    Can you look down the iron sights? I will not play a game that doesn't allow me to do that. I understand that valve may want to stay faithful to the original but time changes all, and iron sights is part and parcel of the iterative nature of video games. I used to play LOTS of CS 1.6 and haven't played any in recent years as it is far too antiquated.

      What about Left 4 Dead and even Half-Life 2? They're still very playable without iron sights.

    Sweet, I used to play Counter-Strike 1.6 back when it was first getting hugely popular, but it's been years since I really played it regularly. This sounds like a pretty good re-tooling to me.

    The cross play between PS3/PC/Mac will be interesting. Good there is keyboard support for the PS3, my friend will be happy.

    No more VENT DROOOP.

    OK so you kids out here pretending to know... I participated in the first... thee first beta of CS... when it was simply known as CS beta. With Gooseman... in those times we all had 350ms pings and broadband was a thing for the rich. Counter-Strike was an evolving machine... then came the hackers, who stopped it dead in it's tracks. Today it's still active but practically unbearable. Sad for me who has played this game so long. Sometimes I wish I could go back to the day. Anyone who was on CS beta was invited from team fortress classic by Gooseman himself. At the time it wasn't popular or glamorous, it was just something fun to do... that grew into a sport of sorts. Once I got hooked... I could hardly finish school I was so addicted.

    PS: CS:GO looks horrible by todays standards, the least they could do is realize that everyone who was in active beta was trying to make it better, every single version... in fact the excitement was every new beta, new features, new guns, new maps, new tech, etc... it was exciting. And it's a damn shame that after 10 years... this shenanigans is all we seem to have achieved.

    tisk tisk.

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