• Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Review - Microsoft Xbox360

    Counter-Strike: Global Offensive marks the latest instalment in the multiplayer-focused first person shooter franchise, releasing simultaneously on consoles as well as the PC. The Counter-Strike series has always been famous for its harsh learning curve, a system that over time sees initial frustrations give way to an appreciation of its incredible intricacies, rewarding both tactical play and quick-fire reaction times. In the past Valve have always managed to balance these two elements of careful planning and arcade sensibility with great aplomb, neither dominating the other. But in the case of Global Offensive, the balance has been pushed in favour of the trigger happy camp and, while it may look and sound like a Counter-Strike game, the feel of play is noticeably different as a result.

    Visually the game is pleasing, though not a huge step up from Source.
    Visually the game is pleasing, though not a huge step up from Source.
    For those unfamiliar with the series, play is based around two teams fighting over a small number of rudimentary objectives on asymmetric maps. Each player has only one life per round and, if they die, must re-purchase their weaponry at the start of the following round, using money earned during the match. Thankfully, as with its forebears, Global Offensive eschews any degree of in-game persistence across matches, ensuring that each provides a fair and level playing field. That said, it is disappointing to see that, for the core modes on offer, only a subset of the series' previous maps were included, with nothing new brought to the table. Most of these have very little in the way of significant differences to their layouts found in earlier titles. The only new levels provided here are a number of very basic, small-scale designs which feature in a couple of the more lacklustre spin-off modes.

    The tweaks that were made to these layouts aren't particularly momentous and certainly don't cast a new spin on the previous iterations. While PC gamers will presumably still be well served by community designs, it's a real shame that the developers have not taken the time to create some original maps and, beyond a minor graphical overhaul when compared with 2004's Counter-Strike: Source, there's little to provoke much interest in the series' fans.

    The new levels are uninspired and basic.
    The new levels are uninspired and basic.
    That said, in spite of their ageing familiarity, the quality of the levels still shines through. All are based around three key routes to two sets of objectives with a variety of interconnections providing solid layouts that not only require players to develop their own strategies but force them to adapt on the fly to what the opposition is doing. The key ingredient to the games' success over the years has been the sheer variety that different groups of gamers can bring to the mix and in that context nothing has changed on this outing. Brief sessions can still evaporate into hours as match after match flies by and rivalries build between your compatriots. The re-playability is incredible and Valve don't have to rely on statistics or unlockables to keep the player base interested, it's all about the simple joy of embedding bullets in your opposition's bodies.

    The one area where things have changed significantly is in the gun mechanics department. Arguably sequels can and should vary things up a little, but change for change's sake is never a good thing. With the move from Counter-Strike 1.6 to Source, Valve made a number of alterations to the recoil model that some saw as a deficit to the game by adding in a higher degree of randomised bullet spray placing harder limits on burst control. With Global Offensive the designers have dialled this back somewhat, lowering the recoil spread pattern. However, at the same time they've also reduced the affect on recoil that is caused by movement and made the hit boxes significantly smaller. When combined these elements result in a system whereby a higher emphasis is placed on running and gunning than the careful, measured progress interspersed with hectic firefights that is the hallmark of the franchise.

    Cs_Office, now with added circle strafing!
    Cs_Office, now with added circle strafing!
    This change is further propagated in the console space where the smaller hit-boxes combined with the natural controller inaccuracy (which is thankfully still without auto-aim) actually makes for a far more chaotic style of firefight. On these platforms the old style larger hit-boxes would have actually gone a large way to mitigate the difference in controller behaviour, while still retaining the more measured pace. As it stands these alterations have led to a situation where long range kills are made harder to get and short range spray and pray has increased in damage output. It places a glass ceiling on what a player can accomplish with their skills, so even if you out think and outmanoeuvre an opponent you are more than likely going to take some damage in response, regardless of their ability level. That's not to say player skill has been completely taken out of the equation; it's just that decent players will find they can usually manage only around three kills per death in the majority of circumstances, a limit which never existed before. By reducing the gap between the best and worst players the designers have put an artificially low barrier on player development and Global Offensive marks the first Counter-Strike game where circle strafing can be considered a viable tactic. The caveat here is that the PlayStation 3 version does support mouse and keyboard inputs, a decision that really leaves DualShock users at a massive disadvantage. Although in this case the above changes do still affect people using PC-style inputs, just to a slightly lesser degree.

    The changes to the physics have, however, cast an entirely new light on the maps included. Whereas in past games the defenders have usually had an easier time of things, able to quickly get to choke points and keep them covered, now the tide has turned in favour of the attackers, who are able to close distances faster and make dashes round corners without fear of instant death. Arguably this has actually reversed things a little too far, with most match ups now being soundly dominated by the attackers, and it has stripped a lot of the tension from playing on the aggressor team. Nevertheless, it's the one thing this game does that actually offers something new and makes a change for series veterans; it just doesn't feel like a change that will retain interest in the long term.

    The inclusion of bots is a nice touch.
    The inclusion of bots is a nice touch.
    There are a couple of new modes brought to the table, borrowing heavily from concepts introduced in Call of Duty's Gun Games playlists. Both see players stuck with particular guns which change as kills are racked up. One is a single-objective based match, the other a straight up race through the catalogue of weaponry. They actually make a serviceable, if brain-dead diversion from the main game and can work well as something of a warm down, letting you switch off and just focus on your aiming. That said, particularly in the form of the objective system they feel somewhat half formed, with extremely basic, sometimes even symmetric, map designs and a feeling that the gun changes aren't actually tied into the level layouts in terms of viable strategies. As with the rest of the game these can be played with bot support but it feels a wasted effort that time was spent on creating such uninspired assets, even including their own art and texture work, when it could have been utilised to provide more fleshed out, original designs elsewhere in the package.

    There are also some issues with the user interface design. Rather than providing a server browser, Valve have incorporated matchmaking with a small number of playlists. Counter-Strike is a title where more than anything your enjoyment is determined by the people in the room with you, and as such can be ruined by troublesome players not adhering to the spirit of the game. Say you find yourself in a match with teammates who like to shoot at each other, it can take multiple rounds of backing out to the main menu, searching and loading before you manage to be placed in a different game, which is both time consuming and cumbersome. Then there's the fact that when selecting a playlist you have to also specify whether you want to play on Bomb based or Hostage based levels. This arbitrary split is frustrating in the extreme, particularly given that there are only two Hostage maps in the whole game. So should you find yourself in a really good group that you don't want to leave, you can end up stuck playing these two levels back to back continuously, with no ability to switch out to the others.

    Doug would be ashamed...
    Doug would be ashamed...
    There was no need for such restrictive a setup and it shows a surprising misunderstanding of their user base that the developers felt the need to separate these out. Meanwhile there are no playlists for very popular rule restrictions found on the PC titles such as the plethora of servers which ban the overpowered sniper rifles. While thankfully the AWP, with its one hit kill playstyle, has been heavily mitigated by the controller inputs, the auto-sniper has seen a substantial boost, making it almost impossible to travel some areas of the maps after the first couple of rounds. In addition there are severe problems with getting groups of friends into the same match, all of which could have been avoided by providing a simple server browser with a modicum of the server settings available in past releases.

    Overall Global Offensive fails to deliver as a sequal. It's more of a variant, a tweaked and altered version that does little to stand out from its predecessors, which, given the large number of years that have passed since Source hit, is pretty underwhelming. Much of the core magic is still there but the changes to the gunplay mechanics aren't for the better. It's still a fun game but it gets by on the elements created in previous Counter-Strike titles rather than anything it has brought to the table this time around. While enjoyable enough, players are best served by sticking to any of the previous offerings on the PC.
    Counter-Strike: Global Offensive boxshot.
    First person shooter
    Valve Software
    Valve Software
    Xbox 360
    - Still solid map design.
    - Muted graphics still pleasing.
    - No online ranking system.
    - Immediate gameplay.
    - Nothing new.
    - Artificial skill ceiling.
    - Lack of game options.
    - Terrible matchmaking infrastructure.
    Score: 5/10

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