The Legacy of Counter-Strike – By Sam Accardo

With Counter-Strike: Global Offensive coming out in just under two weeks, Sam takes a look at why Counter-Strike is one of the best shooters for the PC (and soon for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 as well), and how it influenced every first person shooter from its inception through today.

I didn’t play “Counter-Strike” when it first came out. I was only nine when the “Half-Life mod” surfaced on the internet in 1999. But when “Counter-Strike: Source”came out with “Half-Life 2” in 2004, I was quick to get both of the games. I had heard of ‘CS’ for the first time when I saw a review for the port of it onto the original Xbox in 2003. At the time I had no idea why the review made it seem like such a big deal. It just looked like another game with another set of guns where you could kill people. I didn’t even have an Xbox back then either (that came after I discovered why Halo was the killer app for Microsoft in a video game club at my middle school), so I didn’t really pay too much attention to it. I didn’t even play PC games until I got into high school and upgraded my aging computer with some more RAM and a fancy graphics card. (Although I cut my teeth on Descent after I found it bundled with my dad’s Apple computer years before.) Since I’ve always been a huge fan of the series, the first modern (at the time) PC shooter I played was Doom 3. And it wasn’t until I started hearing news about Half-Life 2 being consistently delayed that I actually learned about Valve and the Half-Life series.

I first started playing Valve games when I bought the Half-Life Platinum Collection in 2003. It came with Half-Life and pretty much all of the mods at that point (Counter-Strike, Opposing Force, Blue Shift, Ricochet, Day of Defeat, etc.). And while I enjoyed playing Half-Life, I was never able to finish the game due to it making me nauseous pretty easily. And unfortunately, since I didn’t finish the game, Valve hadn’t yet earned the rank of my favorite developer (sorry Naughty Dog) that it now has today.

Valve didn’t sweep me off my feet until I finally played Half-Life 2 (and its beautiful Source engine) in 2004 from start to finish. But with CS: Source, I actually didn’t really play it too much at first. I never had the nostalgia factor from playing 1.6 before it, and I got consistently frustrated from being instantly killed from countless headshots. But eventually I learned how to play the game and how to safely navigate a map. And that’s when the game’s hooks got into me.

For anyone who didn’t play CS or CS: Source, the multiplayer only shooter, here are the basics. It has a simple premise. There are two teams in every match: Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists. The weapons and maps are all set in the modern era of warfare, which was a setting few other games followed at the time (the key phrase being “at the time”). The objective of every match is to be the last team standing. But it wasn’t just a simple death-match. There were hostages that the Counter-Terrorists had to rescue from the clutches of the Terrorists, or the Counter-Terrorists had to place a bomb in one of two zones that the Terrorists had to defend. The game was extremely competitive because of its highly realistic nature and skill required to be an elite player. Another aspect that was done well by Valve was the ability to buy weapons at the start of a map. If you did well in the previous match, you had money to spend on the nicer weapons like an AK-47 or an M4A1. If you didn’t, all you could do is buy a pistol or an SMG and then hope to pick up a better weapon from the dead body of a fallen player. The buying aspect of the game is actually pretty genius. It encourages you to play better. If you keep losing, it eventually gets harder to win while the players around you start getting better guns. But despite other players’ advantages, it’s still very possible to score a kill with a well aimed pistol shot.

Counter-Strike is easily considered one of the best multiplayer shooters on the PC to this day. Many aspects in today’s multiplayer shooters originated from Counter-Strike. While deathmatch wasn’t at all new, the aspect of a repetitive multiplayer mode where you choose your objective based on which team you chose was entirely new. And outside of Capture the Flag (yawn), Counter-Strike was one of the only games to have a multiplayer where the way to win was not just killing everyone else. Its multiplayer was so strong that it was the only game that could compete with the popular Quake III Arena, which came out in 1999. And it’s still one of the most played multiplayer games online. The graphics were some of the best seen so far on the PC. The guns were realistic and actually felt like a real gun (as real as it can feel while using a keyboard and mouse). The SMGs felt light and the assault rifles felt heavy. In fact, two most popular weapons from Counter-Strike, the AK-47 and the M4A1, are still the topic of debate as to which is better.

Editors Note: The AK-47 is the best. No questions asked, just pure Kalashnikov style death.

Counter-Strike didn’t just have realistic gaming going for it either. It also had the modding community going insane with new maps and game-types. While modding wasn’t unheard of (thanks to Doom), it took on a whole other aspect when people started making maps for CS. Without the strength of modding Valve’s games, the many custom maps in other games that you enjoy today had their way paved for them by the modding community of Counter-Strike (and Valve in general). And to this day, I don’t know of another shooter that has any sort of a gameplay mod like surf maps. If you’re not sure what that is, check this out. It’s nearly impossible to explain in words, and surf maps have been often directly related to me staying up late until the sky starts turning pink, so I feel they deserve a mention even though they didn’t really transcend that game.

But Counter-Strike’s most lasting impression on first person shooters is that it made modern warfare popular. There had already been a few modern warfare (Spec Ops and Delta Force) games, but they weren’t nearly as popular as the World War 2 simulators such as Medal of Honor, Battlefield 1942, or the Call of Duty series. Counter-Strike: Source was still one of the first big shooters on the PC to do modern warfare right. And now that every shooter today has futuristic weapons, perks, and other modern doohickeys that the soldiers during World War 2 couldn’t have dreamt of, they are all still based on the idea of being a soldier defeating a terrorist. Sound familiar? That’s because Counter-Strike paved the way for it like no other game.

To be perfectly honest, it’s hard to trace exactly where some of the current trends in multiplayer gaming originated from. Game types like the popular Zombies mod and GunGame all have a strong footing in Counter-Strike: Source, but they also exist in other online shooters that allow mods. And while I want to say that Counter-Strike had the first ever Zombies mod, I had an immense amount of trouble actually pinpointing which game had the first ever Zombies mod. But to count out Counter-Strike and what it did for mods and the online community for shooters in general would be like overlooking Benjamin Franklin’s contributions to America’s independence because he wasn’t a president. Counter-Strike has a lasting legacy of about 12 years which is one of the longest compared to other games such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, or even Halo. But with the new Counter-Strike: Global Offensive coming out in 12 days, it’s a safe bet to say that Counter-Strike’s legacy won’t end anytime soon.

Sam Accardo is a writer for Hefferbrew. He loves playing shooters since they require minimum amounts of thinking when compared to RPGs, and because nothing is more satisfying that no-scoping some noob on a server with a scout just to see him rage-quit a second later. He is counting the days until the beta for the new CS opens up on the 14th. Follow him on twitter @samcar455.


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