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Counter-Strike Source review

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.

Key to this success is the visual makeover. Most maps feel like genuine places thanks to extensive re-texturing, subtle visual effects and the careful littering of debris and extraneous objects about the place. By far and away the most successful reworking is cs_office, the snowy agency that's been a staple of the game since year dot. Stage a firefight in the back rooms by the (freakishly tall) captives and watch as stray bullets clip PCs, shattering their cases to reveal the internal chips. Fire a single round into the safety glass windows and they'll shatter, but not collapse. Watch then, as one of your team-mates leaps through the glass, leaving a terrorist-shaped hole. Remarkable.

Then, there's the subtle change in dynamics. Flash-bangs are striking in their effectiveness - get caught in their blast radius and you'll not only be blinded, but a strange after-image is burnt into your retina: you'll find yourself shooting at visual artefacts, rather than the dangerous chap with the pointy gun and angry grimace. Skilful players will notice that shadows can now be used to aid ambushes: hide in a dark corner and wait for your opponents to give themselves away. The physics may seem pointless to begin with, but we're starting to see players improvise in the heat of the moment, using barrels as temporary cover or to hide the flashing bomb, using grenades to blow rifles back into the hands of an unarmed terrorist... there will be more.

And yet, we have criticisms. All the levels in this first release are taken from the very latest version of vanilla CS, and the choices are a little confusing. Maps like de_piranesi (blow up/protect a medieval castle come museum of antiquities) and cs_havana (a hostage rescue effort set in a South-American slum) just aren't that interesting, with too few choke points and confusing crisscross patterns. The latter example in particular goes out of its way to frustrate you, by randomly rotating which doors are opened and closed at the start of a round; forcing both sides into picking their path through almost unfamiliar territory. Will you turn a corner to face a brick wall and almost certain death? Probably.

Yet in three months, that might not be an issue. The wider community is desperately seeking some way of creating for the Source engine. We have no reason to doubt that map-makers will be churning out re-makes of classics, alongside novel ideas and layouts.

There's a reason why CS became the most played mod on the planet: it's because it's brilliant. It's comfort gaming, something you can slip into for an evening. Just one more map, just one more round, one more-headshot, one more life. It seems so simple, little more than kill or be killed, but the human dynamic changes everything. Dodging the best sniper on the map, rushing the nearest bomb-site, crushing the opposition... these are all stories we create in our hours of play. Yet it just got better. This update has refreshed our love of the game, bringing a new physicality and violence to online shooters. CS:Source is essential.

Counter-Strike Source is available now for PC via Steam

This update has refreshed our love of the game, bringing a new physicality and violence to online shooters

More Info

Release date: Nov 16 2004 - PC (US)
Available Platforms: PC
Genre: Shooter
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Valve
Franchise: Half-Life
ESRB Rating:
Mature

1 comment

  • rebel748 - October 28, 2008 9:21 p.m.

    I may be the first to comment,but I won't do it!Nobody can make me!C.S.S. is awesome!If anyone comes here after me,I hope they care about C.S.S. Someone has to.

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