It is hard to think of a game that has been a staple to the mass of PC gamers over the last ten years. Growing from a simple Half-Life mod, to becoming a stand alone wing in the Orange Box, Counter-Strike has been in the forefront of gamers’ memories for some time now. Now, Valve and Hidden Path are reaching to bring Counter-Strike right out in front of our eyes again with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. At this stage though, what could CS:GO bring to the table that hadn’t already been done in the past? Well, the answer isn’t really that clear.

If you aren’t familiar with Counter-Strike by now, I’ll give you a quick rundown. You have two teams composed of Terrorists and Counter Terrorists. Both have their own goals depending on the faction, ranging from rescuing hostages, bombing target sites, or eliminating the other force. Standard games consist of balanced teams fighting each other until one team is left standing or the objectives are met, most importantly, with no respawns: when you die, you sit out for the rest of the round. All of this plays out in a variety of different modern day settings like office buildings, train stations, and even back allies and dust bowls and fought using modern military weaponry, such as AK-47s, P90s, and Desert Eagles. As you saves hostages, kill opposing forces, or win a round, you gain funds to purchase different artillery. In a sense it is a modern military take on capture the flag that came well before Call of Duty or Battlefield.

So what exactly is changed over the previous iterations with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive? Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot that is different. The game itself received a graphical update over the stand-alone Counter-Strike: Source. Models are smoother looking with more fluid animations. Textures have been reworked to show more detail that more current hardware can handle. The lighting has been changed to reflect more of what would be perceived, including better shadows. The selection menus within the game, such as the buy menu, have gone radial. This is a visual improvement, but doesn’t add any overall value to the system. Weapons are left mostly unchanged outside of a few substitutions in the rifle department (most notably the Scout is missing).

Other upgrades include reworked bots that are actually more of a challenge than could be previously generated in servers. The pathing for maps has been improved for them as well. This leads to more efficient routes and smarter actions on their part. The bots also play another role. Whenever a game doesn’t have a full compliment of players, bots will fill in the empty spaces. On the part of the team selection, it is a much more fluid process. Again, while not much of a change, it just doesn’t seem to bog down once a decision has been made.

Two new modes have been added to CS:GO as well: Demolition and Arms Race. Players of Counter-Strike Source will knows these modes by their previous mods name of Gun Game. Demolition is a version of the standard Gun Game (respawn with next weapon at the end of a round), while Arms Race is Gun Game Turbo (instant change of weapon, instant respawn). The idea between these modes is to gain kills with a weapon in order to move up to the next level. For example, if you get a kill in a round with the FAMAS results in gaining a M4A4 rifle the next round. The only thing missing thus far is running Arms Race in reverse, ending with pistols before the knife in the final round rather than starting out with them. That happened to be the preferred mode to run it in this reviewer’s perspective. The maps that are generated are fun to play multilevel compact style maps. Some of the classic Gun Game maps would have been appreciated such as the four building/courtyard styled Italy map, or the ultra compact killing frenzy map made with the Dust texture set. Getting into these modes, or any multiplayer game in fact, is just as simple as selecting a mode and being matched up to a game. It is very similar to the way that Modern Warfare presented quick match games.

A touch of customization was removed as well. While new skins were added to CS:GO, players could no longer select which skin setup to use. This means that you couldn’t select between SAS or US skins anymore. According to the map, you are simply assigned a skin. While this allows for minor variations, it isn’t anything like what was available before. Sprays (wall tags) are missing as well. This was a staple that had originally carried over because of the usage of the Half-Life engine. Little touches like this leave CS:GO missing a little character of its previous iterations.

Where Counter-Strike: Global Offensive ends up is in sort of an odd place. It is still the same game that players love, but at this point one would have expected some more changes. Those lack of changes are what hold is back from being an even greater game. The new modes were appreciated, but they existed as mods already. The graphical update was something that is welcome, but it isn’t a change that was necessary to the life of the existing title. However, by doing this update now, it will extend the life of the franchise. For that, we should feel fortunate. Even though the game might not have changed at all from its core, it is still a game worth playing.

Editor’s Note: Valve provided Front Towards Gamer a review code for CS:GO.