Review by mikecullerne

"It makes addiction cool."

It’s likely that you have heard of Counter-Strike at one stage or another. It is recognised as the pinnacle of the online gaming community offering first person shooter gameplay like no other. This Half-Life modification has been around for around five years and even today it is still growing in popularity with more and more gamers playing on servers across the world. But what sets Counter-Strike above the rest? Why is it so popular? Well this can be attributed to a few things. Firstly it’s built on the number one single-player PC game ever, Half-Life. Secondly, Counter-Strike is 100% free to play if you have a copy of Half-Life or if you don’t have a copy of Half-Life you can still buy the full version off the shelf. And finally, Counter-Strike offers gamers exactly what they want, a squad based shooter that rewards both teamwork and individual performance.

In Counter-Strike you choose to play on one of two sides – Terrorists or Counter-Terrorists and your objectives will vary depending on which side you choose to battle on. Once you have decided on your team the game will begin and at the start of each round you can purchase weapons to assist in taking out the opposition. Everyone starts out with very little money but as the game progresses you can earn money by killing members of the opposite team and/or completing the primary objective of the map. Be warned that you can also lose money if you kill your teammates or any unfortunate hostages that you accidentally kill (well, lets hope it happens on accident). There are a variety of weapons in the game, pistols, shotguns, sub machine guns, rifles and sniper weapons are all available for purchase. Each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses and buying the right weapon for the right situation is important. On top of the weapons available players can buy Kevlar, grenades, flash bangs and other items to help in their crusade.

With weapons in hand your team will move out and the battle wins. The developers of Counter-Strike have made this title as realistic as possible and as a result once you are killed you have to wait until the start of the next round until you can play again. While this may seem harsh, rounds generally last less than three minutes so you won’t be waiting around for long and if you stay alive you won’t be waiting around at all. The round will finish when one team is completely wiped out or the objective is met by one of the teams. There are two main types of play – hostage rescue and defuse. In hostage rescue the counter-terrorists must collect the hostages from the terrorist base and then bring them back to the rescue point. With defuse the terrorists must plant a bomb at one of the bombsites on a particular map and then defend it until it explodes. So with hostage rescue maps the counter-terrorists are on offence while with defuse maps they are on defence and vice versa for the terrorists. Both of these modes are enjoyable and for the objective to be met it takes a certain amount of teamwork. Of course a team can also win by taking out everyone on the opposite team and this is just as rewarding. Once a round is completed players are returned to their teams starting point with the rest of their team and a new round commences. On most servers a game consists of ten to fifty rounds depending on the server set-up. Each game takes place on one map and at the end of game another map will be loaded and a new game will begin.

My personal belief is that Counter-Strike is so good because of the balance between weapons and the well designed maps. While players can spend a stack of cash on the most expensive sniper rifle they can still be killed by a player with a standard pistol. Therefore no matter how little cash you have you can still kill the enemy and if your team works together. Each side also has access to a slightly different line-up of weapons. The result is a simplistic compliment to the game, adding a whole other dimension in the tactical department. It should also be mentioned that throughout a round players can pick up and a drop different weapons and any guns carried by players that are killed can also be gathered by those still alive.

Some of the maps in Counter-Strike are utter genius. I say some because at last counts there are about 20,000 maps available for download designed by various Counter-Strike fans and there are plenty of rotten eggs amongst some real gems. The most popular maps seem to give each team an equal opportunity of winning and also throw up plenty of different ways to move through a level offering a huge amount of ways a team can move in any one round. For reference the most popular maps seem to be cs_assault, cs_italy, cs_office, de_aztec, de_cbble, de_dust, de_dust2, de_prodigy and de_train. Some levels are based on realistic counter-terrorism situations like cs_office where the counter-terrorists must storm an office block and bring the hostages out safely. Throughout each of the maps there are plenty of areas for long range sniper fire or close combat and the better levels tend to offer a balance between both.

The importance of teamwork means that communication between players is crucial. You can talk to your teammates if you have a microphone by holding down the designated key. If you don’t have a microphone you can just use the simple chat interface to either talk to everyone playing or just those on your team. Of course playing Counter-Strike online with other people means that the quality of the experience depends on those you are battling with and therefore that human element can make or break a game of Counter-Strike. If everyone works together, co-operates and gives everything a fair go Counter-Strike is fantastic. However if even a small minority of players decide to wreak havoc they can easily do so by killing members of their team, camping (not moving around the map), not going for the objective or even those that hack into the game itself and cheat (auto aim cheats, wall hacking etc). There is a massive community out there and most of these practices are frowned upon but you have to be aware that there are those types of players out there. Thankfully there are plenty of servers available for play, even in New Zealand, so if you don’t like what is going on you can just up and leave.

Technically speaking Counter-Strike is brilliant mainly because it is running on the brilliant Half-Life engine, re-skinned and reworked for this realistic counter-terrorist simulation. Therefore visually this mod is very sound and it really depends on your computer as to what level of detail you can get out of the game. The standard weapon and player models are technically great but they aren’t exactly cutting edge. Thankfully there are plenty of extra weapon and player skins available for download. Thanks to the size of the Counter-Strike community there are plenty of third party supplements and downloads available, you just have to find them. As with the visuals the sound effects do the job they are supposed to in supporting the gameplay. Probably the most intuitive sound effect is the footstep. While it doesn’t sound that exciting it is very important as you can track down enemies just by the sound of them running past in an adjacent corridor or in a tunnel underneath you. Apart from the weapon and player sounds there aren’t very many ambient effects and there is no music to speak of.

Counter-Strike is a very difficult game even if you have a stack of experience with other Half-Life mods or Half-Life itself. Weapons act as they would if fired in the flesh with realistic recoil and general weapon physics. This is not Quake, Doom or any other typical first person shooter. To be accurate players must be either standing still or crouch as it is very hard to hit anything at distance on the move. Holding down the trigger is as anything more than a 3 bullet burst will make the gun impossible to handle thanks to the dynamic built in recoil system. For these reasons it takes a long time to learn the basics of each gun and even longer to be a true gunsman. Initially Counter-Strike will frustrate first-time players (affectionately known as newbies) but oddly it will encourage them to play more and become a better player.

After playing this game for only a few months on and off I can easily say this is the best online title I have played and I have been through a few. Counter-Strike gives players exactly what they want in an online game – a great game, a huge community and plenty of add-ons and extras for those that want them. The gameplay balance is brilliant and once you understand how the physics of the game work with aspects like recoil Counter-Strike comes into its own. If you already own Half-Life you can download Counter-Strike for free from http://www.counter-strike.net or you can pick up the retail version from gaming stores around the country. Hopefully I’ll see you on one of the many New Zealand servers, I promise to take it easy on you.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/05/03


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