Bells and whistles and then some...
Arguably one of the most popular first-person shooters, Counter-Strike can be found in households, cyber cafes, and college dorms across the country. But what makes it so popular? Years ago, the game was created as a mod to the already then outdated Half-Life engine. While the engine provided the perfect environment for such a project, the graphic capabilities were rather lacking. However, that didn't hurt this team-based shooter which quickly became one of the most widely-played online games ever.
With Half-Life 2 roughly six years in the making, having just been released last week, comes the highly anticipated Counter-Strike: Source. This chapter in the game utilizes the highly powerful Source engine developed by Valve.
The Source engine includes a realistic physics system which allows players to move almost any object in the game. Barrels can be shot or pushed over, rolled down hills, used as cover, etc. Grenades cause bodies to go flying across the room while bricks fall from the ceiling during the blast. Players' bodies fall and move with very realistic rag doll physics. Dying models will fall realistically, limbs will go in several positions, and bodies can even hang over ledges or eventually fall to the level below. No more of the handful of pre-made model animations-everything reacts to believable force equations.
Graphically, the models are cleaner, smoother, and have a nice high poly count. The environment looks spectacular, with sunshine showing glittering dust particles in the air, or causing realistic reflections off of stone floors. Smoke grenades, which previously caused massive amounts of system lag, now provide a realistic and strategic effect. When out of the smoke, your vision is completely obscured beyond the thick black cloud. When you move in, your vision slowly adjusts and you can partially see through it. I was especially impressed with the flash bang effects, which cause your screen to go completely white momentarily, then burning the image onto your view for a few seconds until you recover. Even noises around you will fade and become muffled until the flash bang effects wear off.
The interface is relatively identical compared to the original Counter-Strike. There are some changes to the interface graphics, but they didn't try fixing what wasn't broken. One small complaint I have is that they have removed the ability to set two different keys for each action. This seems to be simply set within the engine as the single-player portion of Half-Life 2 has the same issue.
The game play has been changed very little. Many will be glad to hear that they have gotten rid of the controversial riot shield. You can now also pick up grenades that players drop when they die, as well as body armor. Other than little changes such as these, game play mechanics have not changed. Overall, the game runs much smoother and more fluid, making it seem like an interactive action movie. Fire fights are much more interesting to watch as blood splatters on walls and bodies fall this way and that in a glorified fray. While many objects are movable and interactive now, there is little strategic value to using these fragile and unsteady objects as cover. Moving a barrel to a strategic position to provide cover may seem like a good idea, but a few well placed bullets from the opposing team will cause that barrel to go flying and you to become exposed. Nevertheless, you will find yourself spending a few rounds just shooting objects around the map or bursting watermelons in Italy's marketplace.
The game shipped with only a handful of maps. These maps have been balance tested for several years and are extremely even for competitive play. They include cs_italy, de_dust, de_aztec, de_cbble, cs_dust and a few others. Fortunately, the maps' actual layout has been preserved, with a few additions such as ledges that allow quicker access to certain areas. The levels have been beefed up with smoother curves, detailed textures, and various little additions that give a much more realistic feel to the maps. There are also lots of interesting lighting effects put in, such as a shiny stone floor added in the central hallway in de_dust. In the center, a large dome towers overhead with several oculars allowing light in. Light dances through the room and bounces off the floor, players, guns, and even dust particles in the air. Suddenly, a grenade bounces in and explodes, causing your ears to ring from the echo and several of your teammates to go flying against the back wall. Due to the explosion, their guns have also gone flying, and litter the room. Bricks fall from the ceiling around you. Already, players have been releasing new maps now that the utilities have been released by Valve. Look for old favorites like platform and inferno.
The Source engine has made Counter-Strike much more fluid, smooth, and incredibly immersive. The most popular team-based shooter has only gotten better and will most likely keep its title for a long time. To get a hold of Counter-Strike: Source you must purchase a copy of Half-Life 2 either at a store or through the Steam distribution system. Even without the single player campaign of Half-Life 2, I'd say the new Counter-Strike mod alone is worth the box price. For those expecting an entirely new game, or a sequel to Counter-Strike, you will be disappointed. This isn't a new game; it is merely the original Counter-Strike with some changes, ported over to the Source engine. However, with this change, the game has become much more immersive and fun to play. For the first few rounds I simply ran around the map looking at reflections, shooting bottles, rolling tires, etc. Counter-Strike: Source has successfully brought a very old favorite into today's advanced gaming world.
|Reviewed November 28, 2004 by Nathan Swyers|