Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Review (Xbox360)

Counter-Strike (CS) players fall into three distinct groups - those who've been playing since the (supposed) definitive version 1.6 (or earlier), Source fans who've put up with the aforementioned group's moans that Source is a waste of time, and completely new players bred on modern shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield 3.

The most incredible thing about Global Offensive (GO) is how little has changed. It’s a series that doesn’t care if you die. It’s a fact – you will. A lot. Even if you've been playing Source for eight years (it's always necessary for a CS player to share their credentials), GO is no different. It's a brutal game that courts players with a twitch-style (i.e. reflex) and thin layer of unpredictability which verges on, and this is said because there’s not a more appropriate term available, bullshit.

Cabin in the Woods

CS is a game where your skill defines entirely how you perform. If you're better than others it's because you understand how to play, how to shoot and what not to do. You don’t run and gun, spray wildly or make noise. The best players in GO are those that walk around the map, choose when to come out of cover and stay cool under pressure.

There are no perks to boost performance, nothing in the way of kill streaks and definitely no aim assist. It’s amazing that a raw experience like CS can function in today’s hand-holding shooter landscape, but it does and it’s extremely appreciated.

Also, Global Offensive is testament to the creative forces which originally put the series into motion. There’s a reason why it’s bundled with the same weapons, maps and style. Quality is quality, something age doesn't affect. Essentially, GO is an updated engine with tweaks brought about by community suggestions – fixed hit-boxes and better map balancing.

Anyone who's played CS before will feel right at home in Competitive mode. Two teams start at opposing points and move to extract/safeguard hostages or blow up/defuse a bomb. Taking on the role of faceless terrorists or masked counter terrorists, matches play out across a number of rounds.

One of the biggest changes is a matchmaking service (which has so far struggled with numbers higher than 2 and less than 5) that feeds into 5 on 5 matches. There are still plenty of community servers that offer more space, but the reduction in default server numbers hones the experience. You’re forced to work as a team, backing each other up. One of the hardest parts of CS has always been finding people willing to play matches (3v3, 5v5, 10v10) in line with your skill.

It used to be the realm of IRC and clans, but now everyone can experience how Counter-Strike was meant to be played. Of course, if this sounds too much for you there exists a Casual Mode. There you can walk through other plays, not worry about friendly-fire and take more damage (or at least it seems like that at the moment).

You’ve got to pump it up

However, whichever mode you choose to play, the real stars of a Counter-Strike game are its guns. Purchased at the start of the round, money’s awarded for kills. Everything is officially licensed now and while some new additions enter the fray, the roster remains similar. Sadly the economy-round MP5 has gone, but the MP7 replaces it with less effect. That said, the AWP, M4 and AK still come up as player favourites and rightfully so.

Supplementing the guns are two new equipment additions – the Molotov/incendiary grenade which stops rushers in their tracks and makes games much more tactical and decoy flash bangs. They both add something unique to the mix and push established players to think differently. The HE grenade seems to have been reduced in power, but flash bangs and smoke are still there as remembered.

Still, where guns have been bolstered maps have been culled. Yes, the same maps still dominate play.

In fact because of this you'd be let off mistaking GO for a graphical mod for Source. Having cut underplayed maps like Tides, Cbble and Compound (though they may return in later updates), you're left with a leaner, purer experience.

Hostage rescue is limited to the wonderful Office and terrorist-sided Italy. DE maps are slightly more in number – Aztec, Inferno, Train, Dust1/2 and Nuke. Some have been slightly clanged - Dust is now much more even and Italy has a redesigned wine cellar - but the majority are exactly as you remember. Then again, why change the pinnacle of competitive FPS level design.

Some will feel hard done by, but Counter-Strike: GO’s cut down price is perhaps a subtle understanding that any higher cost would be taking advantage of the community. That said, there is the new Demolition mode which has you playing mini maps (like Lake and the imaginatively named ShortTrain) that have one bomb site. The catch – you move up the weapons ladder with every kill (though still limited to one a round).

It’s probably the closest you’ll get to a CoD like experience. It’s a lot of fun, has a faster pace and is perfect for those without the patience for standard Counter Strike. It’s a blend of modern shooting and fantastic design.

Fire in the hole indeed...

Also included is Gun Game – sorry, Arms Race. CS: GO is slightly meta evolving from a mod for Half-Life to a full game that includes a mod for itself. Gun Game was an extremely popular mod that has you, like Demolition, progressing from the worst weapon in the roster to the best in a team-deathmatch style arena. There are no rounds – you literally rack up the kills working your way through the weapon set before grabbing a kill with a knife. It lacks some of the timing of traditional Gun Game (which came in many forms), but it’s a great alternative.

Some would conclude and suggest CS: GO hasn’t changed so why bother. This is flawed – GO is perhaps the most exciting game in the series. It’s culled the crap, brought new content and tactics to a near-perfect series, and focused on community. It’s got an extremely bright future ahead of itself.

Top Gaming Moment: 10v10, last one left alive, killing the final 4 enemies to feel like a boss.

Disclaimer: This was the PC version tested. The experience on Xbox 360 and PS3, due to its controller requirements, is undeniably going to be different. The PS3 does allow mouse/keyboard play.