Developer: Minh Le (Gooseman) and Cliffe
Counter-Strike is one of the most beloved and popular first-person shooters that has ever been created. Thousands of players at any given moment continue to play the game, despite its relatively outdated graphics, because CS is the closest thing to actually being out there as it gets. Its lasting popularity is all the more amazing considering that Counter-Strike was originally developed as a mod, and is still available for free to owners of Half-Life.
When you're a skilled player and you get in the zone during a match, it's like the computer monitor disappears. While it might sound a little spacey to someone who has never experienced it, your mind literally fills in the rest of the world around what you're shown onscreen. This spatial awareness that comes from playing the game a great deal lets you not only know the maps, but also gain an intuition for opponents' locations, based on the amount of time that has expired in a round. For the skilled player, the mere sound of gunfire off in the distance offers a great deal of information, which you can interpret by the volume of fire and the relative distance, timing, and distinct timbre of the weapons. The fact that such skills can be honed speaks a lot for the quality of the game design. Ultimately what Counter-Strike does so well that makes it the most popular first-person shooter to date is that it forces very few restrictions on you in terms of strategy and play styles. Counter-Strike offers the most compelling experience of terrorists versus counterterrorist operatives that currently exists.
Mechanically, one of the main reasons Counter-Strike has become the most played online first-person shooter in the world is its realistic damage and gameplay system. Before Counter-Strike, getting shot and shooting other players in most other FPS games didn't really have any consequences since the deceased simply respawned and started all over. Counter-Strike introduced the concept of having only one life per round, which made getting killed seem like a bad thing, while at the same time it made taking someone out all the more satisfying. This setup was even further strengthened by the fact that players who won got more money to buy better weapons and body armor. Make no bones about it: Counter-Strike helped invent the first-person tactical shooter as we've come to know it today.
What's also been unique for CS and why the game has been able to retain its popularity over the years is that it's constantly evolving. Over the years Valve has issued countless updates that have ranged from invisible bug fixes to drastic overhauls. The most recent update, CS 1.6, has in fact been one of the most dramatic updates to date and even included new weapons and a fancy new user interface.
In addition to the sanctioned updates provided by the developers, the community surrounding Counter-Strike has also been a huge factor in sustaining and growing the game's popularity by creating countless custom maps as well as new character and weapon models. These assets have helped keep the game interesting over the years for even the most dedicated player. Every new map offers an entirely new world to explore, full of surprises and new challenges at every turn.
We'll have to wait and see what lies ahead for Counter-Strike, which is especially exciting right now with Half-Life 2 on the horizon. Conventional wisdom dictates that a sequel to CS would most likely use the Half-Life 2 engine. Whether the story of the game that started as a humble modification so many years ago will end with a sequel or simply continue to evolve, Counter-Strike will always be one of the greatest FPS games ever created.