Recent History – Counter-Strike
I chose Counter-Strike for today’s post for several reasons, but the most important one is that it is simple. It is not a very complex game, and I posit that finding a more bare-bones online FPS is nigh impossible. I also chose it because I have a lot of experience with it, and because I think it makes a nice contrast to TF2 as a whole. Comparing it to TF2 is like comparing an apple to a masterfully prepared turkey: both are good, but one is significantly more complicated. I didn’t choose Halo, or Battlefield, or Call of Duty, or any of those others for this reason, because while they may be less complex than TF2, they are still more complex than Counter Strike.
Counter-Strike has been around for over a decade, and even though ostensibly I am talking about Counter-Strike source, almost every aspect of CS gameplay is constant throughout every iteration, the graphics are really the biggest changes.
Anyways, Counter-Strike is a simple game, your team goes against the other, and you have one life per round. Rounds usually don’t take much longer than 3-5 minutes, and you win by completing the objective or killing the entire opposing team. The objective varies based on the map, but generally terrorists will try to plant a bomb, or counter-terrorists will attempt to rescue hostages or escort a VIP. You receive money based on how you performed in the last round, which you then use to buy guns, ammo, and various equipment at the start of the next round. There area lot of guns to choose from, but only a handful that people use with regularity.
Players can’t take much damage without dying, and getting the drop on someone almost always leads to victory. However, even new players can score lucky headshots or stick with more experienced teammates to survive, and every map offers both sides places to hide and ambush from, with multiple routes to each objective. This means that even though you will often find yourself dead early on in a round, your team might continue to play for several more minutes and score a win, through skill or luck. Counter-Strike often plays like a stealth game, especially when there are less players left alive, and I found this to be pretty unusual for online FPS games back when it was new. It’s common to be sneaky now, but looking at say, Goldeneye or Quake or Doom, running and gunning was more effective at the time.
The basic point is, though, that everyone was basically on equal footing, leaving the advantage up to the experienced and skilled players. Each player can have the exact same weapons and often does, but it still makes for a fun game, except when you got killed early and have to sit out for 5 minutes. I understand the need for this structured model and wouldn’t change it for Counter-Strike, but I must say that I prefer the variable respawn times in TF2, which are usually no longer than 20 seconds. It’s fun to watch the better players duke it out, but it’s more fun to be in the action, at least most of the time.
I still characterize Counter-Strike as the boilerplate standard for an online FPS in my head, because it all seems so simple and robust: kill the other team or stop them from completing their objective (which is accomplished by killing the other team). Uncomplicated guns, balanced but easy-to-comprehend maps, and two basic game modes. You look at any online FPS now, and there’s multiple classes, myriad objectives, kill chains, nukes, air strikes, super speed, bullet time, lasers, charging, and 18 different game modes. None of that is bad, and it’s good to see more ways to play. I only want to say that Counter-Strike has always been the same, and while I do want some innovation in future games, it’s nice to have something simple and fun, against which you can compare all newcomers and pick out what new things are good or bad.
TF2 is probably the most varied online FPS that I have experience with, and I think it stands in stark contrast to Counter-Strike, which are both fun but totally different. I spend a lot of time looking for things that are new, and Counter-Strike was new for the time. It hasn’t changed much, however, but it lets us see how TF2 has taken such a well-defined genre of games and shaken it up. In fact, TF2 has gone so far from the established model than I can only think of one game even LIKE it (aside from blatant Chinese ripoffs), and that would be Brink, which was, in general, a watered-down TF2 wannabe. So maybe more companies should try to change up the FPS market instead of making the same thing over and over.
I guess this all reads like Valve fanboyism, and I confess that I do love their games, but only because they set such a high standard. This doesn’t need to be a post on why Valve is good, they can speak for themselves, and it’s definitely not my job to defend giant companies who have never heard of me, no matter how much I like their products. I guess what I’m really saying is that innovation isn’t dead in online FPS, and even the simplest of models can still do things that are interesting and fun. I’m gonna go play Tf2.