Dear hostages. Perhaps you should take a seat. We'll have you out of there in no time... just as soon as we've grown bored of rolling these barrels, shot up a few boxes of oranges, played football with melons and toppled a rusty bicycle. In the meantime, do try not to go all Stockholm syndrome on us. Best regards, Sgt_Dr00py. SEALS, Italian Division.
CS: Source is the 'official' multiplayer bundled with Half-Life 2, the online component you'll be playing long after Gordon and Alyx's adventures are over. After Counter-Strike's initial success as an amateur mod, Valve gave the team a big hug, and drew them into their studio. CS:Source is a 're-imaging' of their work, applying the marvellous technology used in Half-Life 2 to an online-only game. There's been an unwarranted level of criticism over this decision, cries of "where's the deathmatch?", "this isn't new", and "we expected Team Fortress 2". Dear everyone: shut up. This is a brilliant freebie, sold as part of Half-Life 2. We can assume that if you're reading this magazine, at some point you're going to buy Half-Life 2. I mean, come on. Just look at it.
The fundamentals haven't changed. Two sets of objectives exist in CS: rescue or defend a group of hostages, or bomb and defend sites of historical importance. Killing the enemy, or completing your objectives, nets you cash, to be spent on deadlier weapons, Kevlar armour and matching earmuffs, grenades, defusing kits, nightvision goggles, and every accessory for the fashion conscious 21st century digital warrior. Half-Life TV (see p142) and integrated voice-chat technology have added to the social experience. For progamers it's less a game, more a way of life.
And yet, we're having problems taking CS: Source seriously. Sorry. It's just so entertaining, full of stupidly violent shootouts, suicidal charges and tense red-wire/green-wire scenes of soldiers disarming several kiloton's worth of high-explosive. This game continually throws up the finest firefights we've ever seen in a videogame: full stop. Rescuing those hostages, planting that bomb, buying that lethal hardware all has a delicious rhythm to it, always new, always fresh. Online battles still have the capacity to surprise; players are devising new tactics for the ancient de_dust map years after its debut.
Sometimes you need to take a step back, and just watch the action unfold. Just ahead, a couple of our guys are holding the corner, stepping out, just trying to give cov... oops, make that one guy trying to give covering fire. Our sniper is crouched down, focused entirely on the corridor, waiting for the terrorists to show their faces. All I can hear are sharp, high pitched squeals, the result of one too many flash-bangs going off next to my ears. We're swimming in fog, stumbling over debris, picking our way through cadavers and discarded weapons. But just as we're about to charge to the rescue, a corpse flies through the air, arms wheeling, caught in the horrific discharge of multiple frag grenades. Then we just start giggling, and all our clever tactical planning goes to pot. Again.