PC Game Review: Counter-Strike: Source
Counter-Strike has long claimed to be ‘The world’s # 1 action game.’ Is this update worthy of the title? Kyle Stegerwald has been playing the game since its release, and he shares his thoughts here.
I won’t regale readers with an extended history of how Counter-Strike, a modification for the shooter Half-Life, clawed its way to the top of the online game heap a few years ago. Suffice it to say that from the amateur mod scene, the game became so successful that its creators were given jobs at Valve Software, where they released an official version of Counter-Strike. Counter-Strike is arguably the most successful and most popular online action game ever. No one, including such smash hits as Unreal, DOOM, Quake, or Castle Wolfenstein, has been able to overtake or even draw abreast of it, not in terms of players, popularity, or even sales. So, when Half-Life 2 was announced a year and a half ago, rumors swirled about an update to Counter-Strike on the way, using the incredible Source graphics engine behind Half-Life 2 and also incorporating the same physics. The rumors turned out to be true, and last month Counter-Strike: Source was released over Valve’s Steam network to those of us broadband-enabled souls that pre-ordered Half-Life 2. So, is it worth it? In a word, yes. Counter-Strike: Source retains its vaunted position at the top of the online action game heap.
Before I proceed any further, let me say that the new version has not changed much in terms of gameplay. There are still two sides, terrorist and counter-terrorist, there are still the same objectives (bomb defusal or hostage rescue), and there are even the same guns and some maps return from the previous version of Counter-Strike. Those gamers who played the previous versions of Counter-Strike will not be thrown off by this new release; I was comfortably playing Counter-Strike: Source in minutes. The changes that have been made only enhanced an already stellar game.
The first thing I noticed when starting a game of Counter-Strike: Source was the graphics. Despite anonymous skeptics on many forums, the graphics in this latest update of Counter-Strike are nothing less than stunning. Dust blows in the wind, feet splash in beautifully reflective water, and I found I could spend an entire match just gazing at the incredibly detailed player models and textures. In fact, I spent my first ten minutes in the game not playing online but rather walking around one of the maps and drooling over how incredible it looked. Weapon effects, such as muzzle flash, bullet holes, and even blood on the walls are so good that, in the middle of an intense fight, gamers may not even notice they are sitting in front of a computer. Extras such as inspirational posters in the ‘office’ level, moss growing on Aztec ruins, and even sand piling up against a wall, all contribute to the game in a way they didn’t before. The effect isn’t mind-shattering, but it makes this update of Counter-Strike a much more immersive and real experience. Seldom does a game’s name include the graphics engine that it runs on, but in this case it is justifiable. The graphics are the biggest and most important upgrade in Counter-Strike: Source. I really can’t say any more - look at the screenshots to see the whole story.
Another major upgrade also comes courtesy of the Source graphics engine: the physics in Counter-Strike: Source are some of the best that I have ever seen. Many of them have very little application in the game, outside of blocking the occasional doorway with filing cabinets or shooting away barrels that an enemy is cowering behind, but they are a very nice addition nonetheless. When someone is killed, their body slumps to the ground and their weapon drops beside them in a ‘realistic’ manner. Sometimes, if the kill is particularly powerful, bodies can be shot out of a window, blown down a hallway, or smashed into a wall. It definitely adds a more frantic feel to the action, and amplifies the realism that already seeps from every pixel of this game. There are some instances of the ‘rag-doll’ physics system acting up and making some strange death sequences, but overall, the physics system does its job.