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Counter-Strike is an institution, I would say, particularly in eSports. Like the fans of popular fighting game franchises, hardcore players are so attuned to the fine changes in gameplay from one edition to the next—or even onepatch to another—that significant portions of them will remain behind to play their preferred way when an update is released. Counter-Srike: Global Offensive feels like the natural next step in the CS series and is quite fun to play. It handles tight, it’s strategic, and it’s tense. It offers multiple modes of classic CS defusal and hostage rescue play as well as a new Arms Race mode based on progressing sequentially through the weapons. It feels like The Counter-Strike and it looks a lot like The Counter-Strike, but I mention at the top that the series’ fans are particular because I promise you that it will be burnt in effigy in some internet village squares.

You’re blurry! I’m not blurry! I win with sharpness! Fall down now! >:(

Not being very good at Counter-Strike games, I always enjoy them for a time after release but trail off within two or three months. It’s not that I’ve exhausted all their fun. It’s only that they’re gameplay isn’t in my wheelhouse, so I’m not compelled by even average performance to stick with it. Between CS: Source and now is probably the longest I’ve gone without playing and it’s eye-opening. CS:GO hasn’t much changed the formula, but CS used to occupy the “realism” spot for FPSs in my mind, a spot now taken by Battlefield and Call of Duty, particularly in their respective “less health, no crosshairs” modes. While a single bullet through an unarmored head will still appropriately drop a digital man, CS:GO does shine more intensely as an eSports experience now that it’s sitting in lists with BF and CoD. You skate across courtyards smoothly and quickly, the sound of regular footfalls and your crosshairs going wacky being the only indications you’re supposed to be playing a human. You most often pick your guns and gear for specific predicaments, as opposed to spending time experimenting with load-outs. Everything enforces in you the idea that mistakes will not be tolerated. Get to that door, clear the room, and don’t hesitate at any time.

Combat is exactly how I remember, though a re-balancing of the guns (and maybe the community re-learning them) has prompted more weapon variety than I saw in ol’ CS:S. Like in the old games, 90% of the time you see a man, you should engage him. It is valuable to know when you can make that corner you were headed for rather than trying to make a stand but those occasions seem rare. Enemies near to you are obviously a priority, but even far away, that man must be dealt with. He has a chance at winging you in the head large enough that it’s sobering and you should probably take your chance at his cranium, particularly if  you brought something other than a shotgun to the fight. The screenshot I included at the top of this review is a rarity. My inclusion of it could really just be called a lie. Below, you’ll find a more common scenarioThe odd blob of pixels near my crosshair is another player that opened my helmet the not-nice way shortly after this picture was taken.

Don’t be fooled by its sleek and dangerous appearance. That’s a pistol in my hand, and it felt as effective at the time as if I had loaded the magazine with farts.

Past installations have only offered that type of game. Perhaps another reason that I would drift away from them was that I am actually tuckered out by the tension of multiplayer FPSs, and CS always stacks on the tension. CS:GO offers a break, for once, in the form of a game mode called Arms Race that you’ve seen in other places, especially in recent shooting games. I think the original was called  Gun Game and was a mod for Quake or something. I know I first played it as a mod for the original Counter-Strike. It’s a kill-to-advance-through-the-arsenal game and I would call it my favorite addition. One kill? New gun. Progress. Its instant respawn and smaller maps (it’s two maps are designed with old-school symmetry and simplicity) makes me feel a little more like wasting and wanting. I feel more free with how I play. It’s all easier to take. It uses a 26-weapon list that starts in miniscule SMGs, progresses eventually through rifles, before challenging the best with a string of pistols and a last knife kill necessary to win the match.

So we have the good ol’ CS feel, a new work-through-the-gun-list game mode, and a whole lot of me dying. I want to take a little time to talk about the Counter-Strike games as a series at this point. There’s a magical place in these games, and it’s not that place in the middle of a guy’s head where if you shoot it, his head explodes. It’s a doorway. It’s many of the doorways, actually. Fighting around a doorway happens a lot in FPSs. It provides at least one player with the enviable ability to greatly vary his view of the world beyond and its of him. But in most games, you take that place, you press to the wall, and you pump your bullets through it like an action hero. Counter-Strike’s iterative gameplay, round after round, seems more than other games to breed fear into both teams. The doorway isn’t where you make your assault but rather where you’re going to wait a bit and see what happens. You press down the walk key on your keyboard as you near, silencing your character’s movement, with care like the other team might hear the button click. Short bursts of action are punctuation to a lot of staring intently at pixels and sweating.

Caution—

—is used—

—FOR GOOD REASON.

Global Offensive is a good game. The controls are tight and the new weapon balance makes more guns than ever feel viable. Source updated gun models well enough that they still look pretty great today but the fuller, more detailed environments of GO are a great visual update. The included gun progression game type, Arms Race, was a fantastic idea and is well executed. Lastly, when I come to the end of my train of thought about CS:GO, I need to remember that this game costs $15. It doesn’t have the single-player campaign I’d expect from a AAA shooter but it’s definitely worth more than what they’re charging.

This happens to me a lot. I know all about these dirt texture maps.

-Matthew (RAP)