You can’t have a conversation about first-person shooters without Counter-Strike. Its current iteration, Global Offensive (CS:GO), has captivated gaming and esports audiences alike since its inception in 2012, and continues to improve upon a winning formula. Now free to play (F2P), with a Prime option (more on that later), the game has a wonderfully simple premise – the terrorist team wants to plant the bomb and blow up the map before the counter-terrorists can stop them. Kill your opponents or win the map objective. You have the chance to play for both sides; first team to win 16 out of 30 possible rounds. Easy enough, right? Yet the nuances take years to master. It has arguably the highest skill ceiling in gaming and the learning curve ascends a balance between honing your twitch aim (make your shots or die) and tactical knowledge (positioning, timing; it all counts).
Ultimately, the addictive gameplay hooks people. Each two-minute round offers a new chance for you to make that highlight reel hero shot, and if not, well, just one more round…
Up for the challenge? You’ll need a Steam account to get started for the PC version which most people play. Recently Valve added a F2P version that pits you against other F2P opponents. You could consider this the beginner’s trial area. If you decide to plop down $15 for Prime, you can play with other Prime members. It also aims to attract PUBG and Fortnite players with its battle royale Danger Zone game mode, which came out at the same time as the F2P option. Either way you choose, the UI is easy to navigate and you’re presented with a dashboard. On the left hand side, you can choose to play CS:GO; set yourself as “Looking For”, which lets you notify others of your intentional game mode; Inventory where you which lets you customize your weaponry among other personal touches; Watch Matches and Tournaments for a built-in esports viewing capability; and settings. On the right hand side, there is your social tab that shows your profile, achievements, rank, and friends.
Now, let’s focus on the Play CS:GO tab and take a look at the game modes. Game modes:
• Casual: variable number of players pitting Terrorists vs. Counter-Terrorists across Defusal maps or less common Hostage maps. Defusal maps are the bread and butter here, and the focus of the competitive play. It’s the map type to master. On a Defusal map, the Terrorist team has one player with the bomb and the objective is to reach one of two bomb sites (called A site or B site), plant the bomb, and defend it in time for the bomb to explode. The Counter-Terrorists start on the opposite side of the map and must protect the bomb sites or kill the Terrorists. Terrorists have the advantage of being on offense and potentially all rushing to a single bomb site, while the Counter-Terrorists have to play reactively and defend both sites. This all leads to dynamic play. As a Counter-Terrorist, retaking a bombsite from defending Terrorists with the bomb planted is a treat. The game always tries to keep the number of players on each side even. There are 15 rounds of play before teams switch. First team to 16 rounds wins. For example, if your team scores a perfect 15-0 Terrorist side, you must win at least 1 Counter-Terrorist round to beat the game.
• Competitive: the same concept as casual, but teams are locked into 5v5. The matchmaking system does its best to match players with others of their skill level. This is what the professionals play.
• Deathmatch: uses the same maps as Casual and Competitive, but there is no defusal or hostage retrieval objective. There are no rounds. You spawn at random locations on the map with a chosen weapon and your only objective is to score kills. This is a fast-action mode with virtually no down time to hone your aim and weapons skills.
• Danger Zone: Battle Royale similar to Fortnite or PUBG for up to 18 players.
• Wingman: a scaled down version of Competitive that’s 2v2 and a single bomb site.
• War Games: three sub modes here of Arms Race and Demolition (kill enemies to upgrade your weapon) and Flying Scoutsman (less gravity and only a rifle and knife). No matter which you choose, understand that all game modes are played on a map. There are a dozen to learn, each with its unique layout and motif (desert, arctic, urban, and so forth). Map knowledge is critical to playing well. Often, success relies not on having the best hand-eye coordination but rather the best battlefield awareness. That knowledge of where to expect your opponents and the optimal path to a bombsite come with time. At the start of each round, players can spend money on their arsenal for that round. If you win, you keep your weapon. Part of the strategy in CS:GO is weapon mastery – each one has a weapon with unique firing behavior – and money management. It behooves any player to be lethal with a pistol as much as an assault rifle. If you lose too many rounds in a row, you can’t afford the best weapons.
So what’s it like to play?
In two words, difficult fun. It’s a game of precision that rewards pinpoint accuracy and detailed knowledge of the maps and weaponry. There are no rocket launchers and splash damage, so it’s hard to get lucky. But random chance having little bearing on your success makes your accomplishments all the sweeter. Valve has done a great job making the learning curve less daunting. The F2P option should stick you with other newcomers, and if you’re willing to try Prime, the matchmaking system keeps things approachable. If you keep with it beyond the noobie phase, you’re in for one of the best competitive games out there. Speaking of which, the esports angle makes it more than just a game. It’s a bona fide global sport you can follow with teams typically of single nationalities in a constant Olympic style battle with one another. There are dozens of league matches and tournaments on Twitch almost daily with many websites devoted to the game. Plenty of friends of mine haven’t played Counter-Strike in years but still tune into the occasional pro match. Some argue that it’s best as a spectator sport.
AlternativesNewcomers can consider a host of other FPS multiplayer games on the PC. Warface emulates the CS:GO formula by focusing on tactical modern military combat with 5v5 matches, but it doesn’t offer the same polish or nearly the same fan base. Overwatch is similar in objective-based maps and a focus on team work; however, it uses a character system, in which you choose a specific character with its own set of abilities. Learning these characters and a constant rebalancing act by the devs present a different set of challenges. It’s a Blizzard game, making way for plenty of investment, community, and an esports presence.
Is there a better alternative?
PUBG and Fortnite deliver on the recent, super popular battle royale game craze while the Call of Duty titles play more like an arcade style CS:GO.
Where can you run this program?
Supported SystemsPredominantly a Windows game with Mac support that plays through the Steam platform. There is also a PS3, Xbox 360, and Linux version.
Our TakeAwesome game once you get the hang of the mechanics. It plays so differently than most first-person shooters – no power ups, no rocket launchers, no flight – so it may feel clunky and alien to new players. Give it time, at least a few days, and use the F2P option. Play Deathmatch to get a grasp of the basics and move onto Casual to experience the tactical dynamics. If you do get hooked, prepare to spend a lot of time refining your skills and getting involved with arguably the most storied and global competitive video game on Earth.
Should you download it?
Yes if you’ve never played it and have a remote interest in checking out one of the most time-tested video games of all time. The new F2P option gives you all the tools necessary to learn what it’s all about and have fun in the process.