Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - First Impressions and Screenshots

Counter-Strike is a popular series of first-person shooter games from Valve (Half Life, Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress) and the fall of 2012 saw their most recent release in the series, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive [CS:GO]. This past weekend was a Steam Free Weekend and I took part in the global offensive and had a great time - that is, once I was able to install and connect with the game. It must have been a jam-packed party because this error came up more than once at first:

After installing, I maxed out the settings and dove in. I played the original Counter Strike in 2000 ("Terrorrissss WIIIIIIIIINNN") but didn't play the remake, Counter-Strike: Source in 2004; but from what I've seen of screenshots and gameplay videos from that edition, CS:GO is yet another graphical step up in visuals.

Just outside an office building in the 'Office' level/map, an example of graphics in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. 

The core gameplay has the opposing sides, Terrorists who attempt to plant bombs, maintain hostages and take out their enemies, the Counter-Terrorists, who are trying to disarm bombs, rescue hostages (via follow-the-leader actions) and take out the Terrorists in general [are these terms flagging this blog now? haha].

The category of "Classic" gameplay is bomb planting/disarming and hostage dealings. There is also a "Demolition" game type, with bomb planting and defusal; but where you cannot pick your gear when the round starts. Instead, you are awarded the next, 'pre-chosen' weapon as you get kills with your currently-assigned one. There is also "Arms Race", where everyone starts out with the same weapon and each kill immediately awards the next weapon in a progression through [what seems like all the] weapons until finally a Golden Knife, where the first team to have someone reach this level and get the knife kill wins the match. In Arms Race, spawns are instant for each side.

The graphics are definitely a step up from Counter-Strike: Source. Models are updated and there is higher polygon usage throughout. Although still looking slightly dated compared to other recent first-person shooter games (the graphical Source Engine is about 7-8 years old, but constantly updated) CS:GO still holds its' own with dynamic shadows, anti-aliasing, motion blur, area wounding and HDR rendering. Some maps, such as 'Dust', could have used more poly love, especially on the environment (buildings, cars) but perhaps since it is a remake map, they didn't want to 'change it too much'. (It did have a nice amount of 'things on the ground', though). Office was an instant favorite and I spent most of my time there. Italy was beautiful, but suffered from over-bearing street cleaners, who apparently don't like to leave many boxes, crates, barrels and other miscellaneous (interactive or not) items on the ground [the ground seemed far too clean].

Textures were the Main Attraction in the update, in my opinion, as most were upgraded, sharp and detailed. Cement had clear pits/cracks and rug patterns were clear, clothing was textured sharply and metal had those little speckles in it. Almost all textures were crisp, except for what seemed like some 'leftovers' from past maps, such as the books in 'Office' on the shelf or some that just remained blurry at any distance despite having Anisotropic Filtering on maximum. Most however were greatly detailed, faces had stubble and pores. Wood Grain Everywhere. Polygon count for the important models (players and guns) were decent, even though the environment and objects (cars, sandbags, etc) on most maps could have used more complexity (I assume keeping the polys low were done so the game could be released on consoles and run better on older systems).

The actual gameplay itself was smooth and fast, but still felt somewhat 'mechanical'. I hate hate hate hate [insert many more here] things like head-bobbing or the entire frame pitching and rolling as I move, but without some sort of effects like these during movement I felt like I was playing Tactical Ops (think Counter Strike mod for Unreal Tournament) from 1999. [Hey, don't get me wrong I loved TacOps and feeling like I was playing that game wasn't a bad thing at all, in fact it helped me enjoy this game!] What I mean is the movements of the models and the player felt distinctly 'middle-school' (as opposed to 'old-school') as we all glided around the map and saw somewhat limited character animations. Perhaps that is a limitation of the Source Engine itself as it shows it age; but don't worry, the gameplay is still plenty action-packed and enjoyable as Valve does a great Makeover/Customization on the car that is the Source Engine. Bodies fly with rag-doll physics, crouching increases accuracy, headshots do critical damage,  teammates take damage (in Competitive Mode), blood splurts and marks walls and distinct sounds for each gun cracks and echoes throughout the map. Yes, there is still much fun to be had here, especially if you are a fan of the gameplay in the Counter-Strike Series of games.

For beginners, (those new to Counter-Strike, or those new to any first-person shooting games) there are very helpful text-based and obstacle-course types of tutorials within. One explains the heads-up-display and what the different parts of your screen is telling you, as well as the game modes and how to play them. The other runs you through the basics of shooting a weapon, aspects of the environment, and gives tips for better gameplay, like increasing your accuracy or going for headshots. There is even the ability to play against Bots only (computer-controlled characters) for practice and to get used to the mechanics of the game. You can even select various difficulties of Bots to play against to work on Achievements! I know that this alone will convert many people to purchase the game, especially when compared to other shooters that don't even give you the option to play with Bots at all *coughBF3cough*.

A practice shooting range on the Weapons Course, a training tutorial within the game.

For you Achievement Hunters, there are a ton of achievements, with various categories and ranking medals to show off. Want recognition for how many people you killed? It's in there. Want an award for playing as a team, whether it's diffusing the bomb or handing out free guns like a gun-crazy socialist Canadian? [I Am Canadian lol] It's in there. Want achievements for sneaking around the entire match or wiping out the entire enemy team yourself? It's all in there. Over 150 achievements are yours for the taking - now get in there and start earning money, because only about a dozen people have earned the 'Earn Fifty Million Dollars Total Cash' yet! 
[Stat source: Steam Max Players (50k), Steam Global Achievement Stats for CS:GO (.03%) at time of writing]

And now, more Screenshots!

Overall, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive looked better and 'still felt like Counter Strike' while being a lot of fun to play. If that was the goal of the developers; Mission Accomplished! 

See You In The Games!