First-person shooters offer the fast-paced, visceral thrill of entering a carefully crafted map and dashing about, all while blasting your enemies from a first-person view. But plenty of shooters now attempt to incorporate elements of strategy, tactics, team-based operations, and even role-playing. This is due in no small part to Half-Life: Counter-Strike, a game that was originally a fan-made modification, or "mod," for Valve Software's groundbreaking 1998 shooter Half-Life. The mod was eventually converted into a full-on retail product (it's still on store shelves) and was later added to Valve Software's online game-downloading network, Steam. Counter-Strike lets you play on a team of terrorists or counterterrorists (CTs) so that you can take on team-based objectives, like rescuing hostages or planting bombs. However, the game also has an intriguing equipment feature that lets you earn cash for scoring objectives and kills. You can then use a "buy mode" feature to purchase better equipment, like new weapons, body armor, and grenades. If you do well in the game, you can amass enough cash to be even better equipped the next time around. This feature, along with Counter-Strike's distinctive pacing, which attempts to strike a balance between fast-paced fun and highly realistic weapon-firing characteristics, has helped the game sustain its remarkable popularity over the years.
In case you hadn't heard, Valve Software is updating Counter-Strike by using its proprietary Source engine, which powers the developer's highly anticipated game Half-Life 2. We recently had a chance to play Counter-Strike: Source ourselves, though we did have to wait a bit for our turn. That's because Valve is currently recruiting members of online clans--hardcore Counter-Strike fan groups that play together on a regular basis--to visit its offices, try out the game, and provide feedback in advance of the upcoming beta test. Beta testing is planned to initially run in Internet cafes that have signed on with Valve; it will then be opened to fans who purchased the single-player Counter-Strike: Condition Zero game, which was released earlier this year.
At this time, Valve is currently trying to ensure that Counter-Strike: Source remains true to the original game with regard to its pacing, gameplay, and technical features. At present, Valve plans to bring over the most popular maps, including Dust, Aztec, and Italy, so that it can test them extensively to make sure they hold up. Dust and Aztec, the maps we were able to revisit, do seem to remain true to their original versions, though the Source engine provides a number of visual and audio additions that add to the experience. For instance, Aztec's shallow water splashes about, as featured in the E3 demonstration movie, while Dust's angled corridors and open courtyards are littered with barrels that not only provide cover but also can be knocked over by continuous gunfire, which compromises cover and makes a loud enough noise to attract attention.
All of Counter-Strike: Source's maps will be powered by Havok physics, which provide for rag-doll death animations and full-physical weapon modeling. As we witnessed, it's not uncommon for player characters who get torn up by rapid fire from the heavy-duty M249 PARA machine gun to tumble in one direction while their weapons go flying in another. The game will also feature enhanced particle effects for its explosions and heavy gunfire, which should make intense gun battles all the more exciting--though, like with the current version of Counter-Strike, these settings can all be dialed down or turned off. Counter-Strike is currently enjoyed by many hardcore fans who play the game at 800x600 resolution with all detail settings turned down just to make sure that they have the best performances and frame rates available. The new game will let you do this, if you so choose, and it will feature scalable graphics options that should even allow it to be played on lower-end systems.
The Valve team also apparently took the opportunity to visit a firing range to not only record each weapon's distinctive firing sounds but also to record the way each weapon kicks and launches bullets. Like in the original Counter-Strike, weapons with a high rate of fire, like the Ingram MAC-10 submachine gun, are great for suppressing enemy movement, but they become less accurate the longer they're fired. Short, controlled bursts still seem like the best way to exchange fire, and, with most weapons, aiming for an enemy's head is usually the quickest way to neutralize him. Counter-Strike: Source currently features the gameplay modes featured in the original Counter-Strike, like bombing run and hostage rescue, but Valve has plans to consider exploring different gameplay types after Source is released. In the meantime, Valve's current plan is to include basically everything featured in Counter-Strike version 1.6 (the most recent version), with as many good features from Condition Zero as possible (minus the features that simply weren't working out too well, like the riot shield--a handheld item that defended players from gunfire). At this point, Counter-Strike: Source seems every bit as fast-paced and exciting as the original Counter-Strike, but it's a whole lot better-looking. The game itself is planned for release along with Half-Life 2 (whenever that is)--so you'll get both games in the box.