Review by Eric43

"At the risk of sounding like a Counter-Strike junkie, this is a really good game."

The 90's was a great time for first-person shooters. Games like Doom, Goldeneye, and Half-Life expanded the genre ten-fold, and you don't need a historian to tell you that. But there was still something missing—a multiplayer PC game to get the whole online community worked up over, none other than the infamous Counter-Strike. Counter-Strike is a modification of the famous Half-Life game. In it, it's a team multiplayer game in which counter-terrorist units fight fictional terrorists in exaggerated scenarios. Sounds fairly simple of the surface, but there's something about this game that has made it the #1 most played online shooter.

If anything, the first thing you'll notice about this game is the pacing of this game. Consider it a mix of Half-Life and Rainbow Six. Like HL, you can dash around, jump, and switch weapons on the fly. Then comes in the R6 element. You'll die fairly quickly if you are shot in the chest and the head, so it's worthwhile to make your shots count. Unlike other arcade shooters, you must stand still and fire in bursts to maintain accuracy over a period of time. However, unlike R6, it's anything but stale and you'll find yourself in a razzle-dazzle match of wits and accuracy every round. Hit detection and the surreal feeling of getting a one-hit kill with a pistol never gets old. This game just feels right.

Games played on different maps are split up into rounds. Each round, the goal is to simply kill the other team. Unlike other games, when you die, you do not come back until the next round begins. Depending on the map, rounds can last anywhere from fifteen seconds to a minute or two. This “you die, you're out” feature is actually hard to swallow and this game could use a few respawn functions here and there, but it just builds up the strategic value of the game and asking yourself “What is my life worth this round?” There's also a few additional objectives that replace killing the other team. Terrorists can plant a bomb at a bombsite and let it explode before the counter-terrorists can defuse it. Also, counter-terrorists can rescue some pretty stupid hostages by escorting them to the rescue zone. There's a few additional objectives, but most frequently, you'll be planting bombs and killing the other team.

The money system was something fairly new in the genre. Each time your team wins or does something good, you get money. At the beginning of the round, you can purchase from a wide variety of weapons and items, such as pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, body armor, and grenades. All of your favorite contemporary weapons are available to buy, including the MP5, the AK-47, the M4A1, Desert Eagle, and the terrifying Arctic Warfare Magnum (sniper rifle). If you die in a round, you respawn with a basic pistol and must buy your weapons again, though there's a chance that another player will pick up your weapon and carry it into the next round. The money system keeps teams in check, asking whether or not players should buy up each round but risk losing all their inventory should they lose the round.

This game has only one gameplay weakness and that its learning curve. At first, it's very hard to get used to what to do and how to not get killed every round. You may have to practice a lot to gain skill and this usually leads to lots of wanton frustration. But you'll be addicted anyway so you'll improve quickly if you get in with the right crowd.

And that's just it. Counter-Strike has built its own niche and will ask you plenty of questions. Should I camp? Should I run to this location and possibly be heard by the other team? Should I stick with my teammates no matter what? It's so popular that even to this day (2007), professional Counter-Strike teams from around the world play in an almost athletic fashion. If you want to, you can get in on the action by starting your own team of five players and joining a league and working your way up.

However, most of us will never be that good, nor do we want to invest that much time into a mere game. That's understandable, especially since Counter-Strike has a good social setting. Most people label this game as full of little kids, hackers, and knuckleheads. While that's true with pretty much every online game, Counter-Strike is very hospitable to those who want to hang out and play with friends. You can start your own server or play at an existing one, talk over your mikes, or even play music and say stupid stuff. Some maps even throw in a “rollthedice” feature, which when used, will grant you some unique ability or ailment every time. A few servers allow you to respawn after dying, which replicates that of Goldeneye and Unreal Tournament, which is a good break from the “you die, you're out” motif. Counter-Strike has some liberal server-side mods that give public servers some identity.

Another feature that isn't really present in most other FPSes is the ability to play from a vast library of custom maps. Plenty of the maps in-game, such as dust, inferno, nuke, and aztec are pretty neat and are suitable for competitive play, but they do get old after a while. There's tons of custom maps with different themes, such as a wild west town, Wal-Mart, goofy car maps, and The Simpsons world. You can download a free, easy-to-use tool called Valve Hammer Editor that lets you create from an unlimited amount of maps for any Half-Life mod. Though some maps aren't good and are clearly amateur's work, when you find some good maps, you'll want to play them over and over again.

The graphics are highly dependent on whether or not you're playing a custom map or have downloaded custom models. Since you'll most likely stick with the originals, they're pretty good. The texturing of the official maps is spot on, and while their geometry isn't very complex, you'll enjoy playing these maps frequently. The gun models are very slick and the manner in which they fire and reload are spectacular. Player models consist of eight different soldiers (four on each side) and their animations are good but not the best. The blood consists of some typical blotches on the ground and walls, and it's best this way because it's not reliant on being overtly gory to be visually stunning. This game can run very well on all but the oldest computers, as there's no apparent draw distance or drop in framerate, save the smoke grenades. A very good-looking game though it has aged over the years.

As if everything else in the game were spot-on, the sound is well-done too. Gunshots sound like they should—an AK-47 sounds overpowering while a silenced USP lets out a little “shoo.” There's a few radiocommands that you can use and they are okay but aren't very useful considering you can use a mike to communicate with your teammates. Funny groans come from deceased players. This game has no real “music” whatsoever and most of the SFX are recycled, but it's a typical flaw at best.

Counter-Strike is one of those shooters that does everything right. It's fun to play with friends and is insurmountably better than it's Source brother and it's Half-Life parent. You can buy this game off of Steam for $15, and it's worth every penny. If you are a fan of shooters, you should buy it.

Presentation: 8/10 – Counter-Terrorists versus Terrorists. No real intro or anything but this game doesn't need one.
Gameplay: 10/10 – One of the most fun FPSes I've played in a long time. Up there with the stuff of legends.
Graphics: 8/10 – Most stock maps and models are pretty good. Framerate is solid on most occasions.
Sound: 8/10 – Gunshots and footsteps are right on. Repetitive radio commands are somewhat useless but sound pretty cool.
Replay Value: 10/10 – It's an engrossing online FPS. Once you get hooked, you don't stop.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/19/07

Game Release: Half-Life: Counter-Strike (US, 11/08/00)


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