With the recent release of Valve and Hidden Path’s latest update of the excellent Counter Strike series; Counter Strike: Global Offensive, I thought it might be interesting to revisit each major installment in the series and recount my memories of them. In small ways I think they made lasting impressions on my outlook of gaming. I’ll say right off the bat that I never played any of the beta releases or even 1.0 for that matter and my experience with Condition Zero (CS:CZ from here on) was an hour of watching my friend play it so I won’t bother touching on these editions and instead I’ll focus on 1.6, CS: Source, and end on a review of Global Offensive.
I was very late to the counter strike party and indeed to the Half-Life phenomenon as a whole. In fact scratch that, I was late to online gaming full stop. See I live outside of any major city and consequently my internet connection has always sucked. Whilst it’s OK now and is perfectly adequate for online gaming, we’re always among the last places in the country to get upgrades and what not, so our connection is always behind the national average. Back in 2002 when broadband wasn’t yet ubiquitous in the UK and many people were still on 56k dial-up, this was an even bigger problem. We didn’t even get ADSL until relatively recently, relying on a shaky community run infra-red broadband system from about 2004-2006. Never the less, I’d been sucked in to Battlefield 1942 by some school friends who would go on and on about it the playground (this was year 9 of secondary school if memory serves). The notion of playing in a team with other people over the internet was still a huge novelty to me at this point. Battlefield 1942 was a great game and I had many fond memories of playing with friends, especially when the Desert Combat mod came out. We would often play at a local internet gaming cafe called Virtual Realm to avoid the connection difficulties I mentioned earlier. It was around this time that I became aware of Counter Strike (despite the fact that it had been out since 1999), I’d hear mention of it amongst friends and sometimes at lunch I’d wander into one of the computer labs and see people playing a copy that they’d somehow managed to install despite the network administrator’s best efforts.
However, it wasn’t until the spring of 2003 that I became properly exposed to it. I had just started training in Aikido with a school friend on Thursday evenings and as I lived outside of the city, I would go round to his house after school. We’d get back to his, fire up Windows 2000 and jump on the newly released Steam platform. He’d launch Counter Strike and I’d sit there by his desk just watching him play in what seemed like a fairly numbing fashion. Yet I couldn’t take my eyes off it, it has this trance like quality that you just don’t get in other FPS games. He would sit there without moving a muscle save for those in each hand, totally fixed on the game yet completely calm at the same time. He would storm through the streets of de_inferno firing in what seemed like an uncontrolled mess but in what I later learned were actually carefully picked shots. When it came to the end of the round with just him and one other player on the opposing team, he’d slow to a walk, listening out for footsteps before turning around and spraying a few bullets into a crate, and sure enough in the top right corner of the screen…kill confirmed. I couldn’t believe how skilled people were with this game. Needless to say when he let me jump on for a couple of rounds I was in and out of that chair inside of 5 minutes. Yes in the beginning, like most people I suspect, I sucked bad and found it a struggle to keep up with anybody.
Nevertheless, I decided to download a copy of Steam myself and promptly installed CS. I persevered with the game as best I could, finding preferred tactics and weapons, learning the layout of the various maps (I tend to favour the M4A1 Carbine, Famas and the AK47 with Dual Elites for backup if you’re interested) and gradually honing my skills. However, connection problems still plagued my online gaming and so I could only stand so many ‘disconnected from server: connection timed out’s before frustration got the better of me and as a result never truly got into CS 1.6 the way I got into the next installment, but more on that next time.
The thing though, that struck me most about CS 1.6 and to a slightly lesser extent CS:Source (besides the Herculean skill that players possessed) was just how community-made the game felt. There were a huge array of custom maps from fully skinned villas, to arenas made of nothing but untextured surfaces. Entire new game modes such as surfing where players simply had to survive getting from one end of the map to the next, and the now world-famous gun-game mod. Weapon skins, player models, sound effects, you name it, each server you went on managed to vary the game in some way and I found that fascinating. On reflection I realise you can do a large amount of that with any FPS, and indeed many do but none seemed to relish it and take it to such extraordinary levels as did the Counter Strike community.
Anyway, I’ll wrap this up now. To sum up; CS 1.6 introduced me to a whole new way of playing games and to a community I’d never known existed and it got me to, if not whole heartedly embrace, then at least dip my toes into new waters.
Next time: Counter Strike: Source