wnloadable mod for Half-Life, Counter-Strike is a team-based action shooter with heavy emphasis on realism, co-operation and strategy. Where contestants of games such as Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena are able to rocket-jump tall buildings and take shotgun blasts to the face, Counter-Strike participants are dead if they catch a sniper's bullet or fall off a roof. Although such unbending realism will piss you off at first, perseverance is the key.
Each Counter-Strike map has a specific goal for both teams, and each team has different weapons and equipment at their disposal. Some require the terrorists to detonate a bomb in a designated area; some require the CTs (counter terrorists) to rescue hostages; others involve the terrorists trying to assassinate an escaping president while the CTs do their utmost to protect him. The winning team is awarded a pot of cash to buy new weapons, equipment and ammunition during the purchase stage at the beginning of the next round.
Remarkably, players on both teams work furiously to achieve their goals with little or no encouragement - very rarely do you find individuals playing the game as though it were a death-match and the only score that mattered was their own. One of the major downsides to Counter-Strike is that many matches will pass with neither team making any real advances. All too often, your team is dug in back at base instead of pushing forward.
The game is painstakingly realistic. If you fall even four or five feet, you stumble. If you fall further, you wince and hurt yourself. Misjudge your drop or come off a ladder and you'll break an ankle and be out. Bullets don't just strip you of health, they cause you to recoil in pain, and there are no medi-packs to boost you back up again. Not only that, but once you're dead, you're completely dead, and out of the game until the next round. And don't think about cowering in the next room, because the powerful guns slice straight through wood doors, plaster walls and corrugated metal.
Almost without exception, the maps are simply magnificent. All are based on real surroundings and feature a mix of paths, avenues, houses, gardens, sewers, ducts, passageways, stairwells, warehouses, streets, office blocks and corridors - one even centres around rescuing hostages from a full-size Boeing 747. Detailing and layout are universally superb, with every level exuding an attention to detail that makes you forget this is the work of hobbyists, not professional designers.
Perhaps that's exactly why this game works so brilliantly. Rather than being constrained by targets and shooed along to meet deadlines, the Counter-Strike ieavn has suckled their baby lovingly, and with little consideration for anything but the gratification of those who play it. The result is a game worthy of its own box on retail shelves, and with Valve having bought into the project, that may actually happen. But until then, watch out for beta version 6.5, which should be out now, and includes new maps, weapons and smoke effects.
Jesus. What on earth can you say about Counter-Strike that hasn't already been said on 87 per cent of the world's gaming websites? And in 94 per cent of the world's gaming magazines. And in nearly 100 per cent of the world's gaming offices every single lunchtime since civilisation's favourite Half-Life mod first appeared back in the long, slow winter months of 1999. (Although true CS veterans maintain that it only achieved playable status several versions down the line, when it blossomed - ugly duckling-style - from a clunky amateurish mod to the Best Game In The World.)
Especially when you consider that there isn't exactly a world of difference between this and version 7.1, and that it's only being covered now because it's finally left the unofficial 'beta' stage and has now gone 'legit'.
Which, basically, is a fancy way of saying you can pay money for it in your local gaming emporium - providing your local gaming emporium is located in Wyoming, Indianapolis or New Jersey. 'Merkins' are getting the full damn game, boxed to the nines, available for around 30 of their Yankee-dollars. It comes complete with manual, training level and a collection of other Half-Life mods, including Redemption, Opposing Force and the gunslinging Wanted.
I can see you now... your firm brow furrowed in curiosity. Why should they bother paying money when it's available right there on the Internet free of charge? There, behind those Teen Fisting sites and Star Trek mass debate forums (you heard).
Well, my puzzled little monkey man, the retail version is a standalone jobby. Pay money for Counter-Strike and you won't already be needing a copy of Half-Life nestled on your D: drive next to the illegal MP3 folder.
All of which is pointless detail to you, though, our dear upstanding and, above all, British readers. We still have to download the 82Mb installation file ourselves (or the 20Mb update for version 7.1 owners) and won't get any of the extras. Sierra's official line on this is that it felt it would be a bit of a cheek charging money for something that's available free, and it's not like there isn't a single one of you reading this that doesn't already own Half-Life, is there?
But what exactly is new in v1.0? Not a heck of a lot is the simple answer. The biggest change is with the player skins. When we first saw them we couldn't quite believe what was on the screen. Certainly they have a little bit more detail to them, but they seem to, well, how do I put this politely... they mince rather than run. At times they look as though the tension has got to them and there were no available toilets nearby. Apparently, from what we gather by reading the newsgroups, this is because the chap known as 'Gooseman', who was behind the lovely v7.1 skins, had nothing to do with these official ones. We can only hope Gooseman returns soon.
Also new are the weapons. All the usual guns have been given slightly different names and are joined by a brand-new counterterrorist pistol, a terrorist sniper rifle and a general-purpose machine gun. They won't drag you away from your favourite Steyer Augs or M3 Carbines, but more guns are always welcome.
The only other real difference is that several of the old favourite maps have had cosmetic tweaks here and there, with a few new doors and ladders where once were blank walls. On the plus side, the single best CS map ever made, Dust, has reverted to its original, non-altered layout. Never mess with a classic, we say. Apart from that, there really isn't all that much to say about the new version. No doubt we'll see a v1.1 patch sometime soon that will correct the skins and add further tweaks, but to be more honest than a Frenchman at a smoking contest, Counter-Strike has really been taken as far as it can go. All we will ever see from here on in are nips and tucks -and the occasional new map.
Anyway, my lovely, lovely children. What interests me more is why we're still playing the thing. Look at the alternatives. Both Strike Force and Tactical Ops tor Unreal Tournament do the team-based, real-world tactical thing and have better graphics to boot. SWAT 3 recently released a multiplayer version and takes the counterterrorist teamwork aspects to whole new levels.
If you take a step back for a moment and come at CS with an objective eye, you'll see that in many respects it looks like the poor second cousin of the online, squad-based combat genre.
And yet... as five minutes to six in the evening creeps into view like a jungle predator sizing up its prey for the night, the nervous trigger-fingers start twitching and the furtive eyebrows start darting from desk to desk to see if anyone else's hands are moving into the 'WSAD' configuration. Slowly, but steadily, the Word files are saved and closed, the familiar 'clunk, click' of the loading screen starts to be played out across the office and the beast is . fed once more.
So why is this? Why is it still as popular today as when we first came across it? In truth the answer is a simple one. The evidence is that as the CS sessions begin in the office, you'll always see the PC art boys leaving their sanctified little enclaves and start migrating towards whichever PCs happen to be free that particular day.
For art boys, you see, work with Macintoshes. And while Quake III and Unreal Tournament can both be found lurking on the Apple variants, the Half-Life engine remains solely a PC affair. Which is just the way we like it.
The trend for online PC gaming, certainly where deathmatch-style games are concerned, is that where we lead, the other machines eventually follow. But by the time they catch up, we've usually found something better to concern ourselves with, which keeps Mac owners in their rightful second-class state. Unfortunately, we always know that no matter how much we enjoy a particular game, eventually it will be embraced by the heretics and that pains us so. In Counter-Strike we've finally found something that is tours and ours alone. Not only is it fun to play, but it reaffirms our position at the top of the gaming evolutionary tree.
So, basically, what we're saying is that above everything else, above the simplicity of the game, the intuitive nature of the controls and the surprising fluidity with which it plays online, CSS true genius - its greatest feature it you will - is that it pisses off Mac owners like you wouldn't believe. For which it must be applauded. Counter-Strike, we take our hat off to you, sir.
Long may you reign.
What we thought
"Above everything else, above the simplicity of the game, the intuitive nature of the controls and the surprising fluidity with which it plays online, OS's true genius... is that it pisses off Mac owners like you wouldn't believe."
What you said
- Well you finally did it. Your constant ravings about Counter-Strike made me decide to play it, and I have to thank you very much, as after some initial disappointment I am now enjoying this game a great deal. But I do have a couple of points to make. I think that the best thing the game designers could do to improve the gameplay is to disable jumping. I know that this is a major part of people's tactics, but without it the game would become much more realistic and I think would improve. I think it looks absurd seeing all those Special Forces soldiers jumping around the screen like ballerinas. I'm sure that a lot of people will probably disagree, but tough, that's just what I think. I have terrible visions of military training bases all over the world teaching the devastating new tactic of jumping.
- Just to let you know, Counter-Strike is available in the UK, mainly in Gameplay's new retail stores. I managed to pick it up in the Half Life: Generations compilation and am hooked. Thank goodness for flat rate Internet access. This is a fantastic game that has bags of playability, atmosphere and tension. My only i gripe is that if you have a poor ping you generally have no chance of survival or killing anyone. Right, back to my perch with the sniper rifle.
- I have to say that when I first decided to move away from manic, free-for-all FPS's and give Counter-Strike a go, I hated it. I couldn't seem to get the weapons I wanted and ended up getting mowed down in seconds. Seven games and no frags later, I decided to call it a night. The following afternoon I had the strange urge to play again, this time managing to plant the occasional bomb, free the occasional hostage, drive the occasional APC-load of troops into an enemy base, running down terrorists on the way. And believe me, once you get into Counter-Strike, it's out of this world. From the second you see that first enemy hit the ground you become a slave to the game. In fact it's I so addictive that I changed my ISP to Internet just , to dodge some of the call k charges (BT is fast A enough to be used on Wireplay and you get free off-peak time). The only problem is that you can lose yourself for hours while playing. I have tons of work these days so I had to ban myself from playing curing the week. It's not easy, believe me.
Goatmaster, your self-discipline is enough to make a Buddhist monk blush. Counter-Strike is the most addictive, entertaining and compelling online shooter ever, and with the exception of one dissenter last month, we've had no other letters of complaint about it whatsoever. With Internet charges getting ever smaller, and access rates ever faster, more and more people will be spending more and more time on this game. The world will grind to a halt. Agriculture will dwindle, the stock markets will crash and people will shrivel in their chairs as they refuse to eat or drink for fear of missing the next game. But for a game as good as this, surely it's a small price to pay. And on a final note... I see what you're getting at Stuart However, I don't think disabling the jump option would improve the game, in fact I think it would make it less enjoyable. For starters, how would you get into vents or climb over crates? Even though it's a very realistic game, you have to remember that these jumping special forces soldiers are being controlled by human players, and that's just the way they play - probably to make themselves harder to hit, and I'm afraid their balletic prances are just something we all have to put up with.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Counter-Strike Screenshots and Media
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