In addition to developing the sequel for the best selling first-person shooter of all time, Valve Software have been working on the porting of its more popular mods to the new Source engine to give players a mouthful of content that will make things worth the wait. Currently on the chopping block is the semi-private beta test for the new edition of Counter-Strike: Source, aptly named for the graphics engine it runs on. Apart from the obvious graphical changes, Valve has worked carefully on the rebalance of Counter-Strike in order to make it more enjoyable as well as fairer.
Counter-Strike: Source plays almost exactly like the original, and the same style of gameplay exists without any noticeable flourish. The guns have been dramatically redressed for accuracy; a player will no longer be able to pump a third of a magazine into an opponent at medium range. Now, the spray cone of weapons (especially rifles) spreads out at almost the same instant the bullets are fired; ensuring that aim is just as important as how fast you can press the fire key. All weapon classes have been changed in accuracy, some more than others. Rifles are more accurate for a few rounds, but it decreases quickly and drastically. Sub-machine guns only have a moderate accuracy, but they don’t spray all over the place like the rifles. Pistols have been reduced in power, especially against body armor, and now require stealth and a superb targeting aim to be as effective as they were in the original game.
Obviously, the biggest changes in Counter-Strike: Source are to be found in the graphics. The maps from prior editions of Counter Strike are ported brilliantly to the new Source engine and given dozens of flourishes, adding depth and atmosphere to the classic environments that sustained die-hard Counter-Strike players for years. Not only are they more complex in color and detail but some have even been flourished with some excellent bump mapping. The models and textures of the players themselves are the least improved from Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, and while they are acceptable they are clearly un-polished and could be better. Some of the gun models, while realistically shaped, are very plainly textured and offer no true life-like appearance – as if they just came out of a plastic mold.
Aside from the obvious textural improvements, the new effects that Source offers must be mentioned. Smoke, flashbang grenades, fire, water, and sunlight are all insanely good compared to anything from prior versions of, well, any Valve game for that matter. The smoke is blackish gray and its opacity varies on how far you are into it. Flashbangs are much improved, now creating the jaw-dropping effect of light being burned into your retina; as the image slowly returns, the orange of the Dust map begins to overpower the blinding white, and eventually your sight returns. Fire is demonstrated mainly in the video stress test, a benchmarking tool to display some of Source’s cool new features and give you an idea of how well your computer will handle it. The fire is certainly impressive and outdoes anything I’ve seen. The explosions in the actual game, for now at least, are not quite as good, but still nicely executed. Water is also in the stress test but, currently, full water effects are disabled, as they aren’t necessary for the beta in its present state.
In addition to the graphical effects, there are, of course, the new physics, which are impressive to say the least. Bodies flail convincingly with every live grenade that explodes near their lifeless cadaver. The ground of Dust is littered with oil drums, bottles, and cans that scatter all over the place from the bullets and explosions. Personally, my favorite effect is the physics included for bodies falling from a ledge, which look as though they were ripped straight out of an old spaghetti western movie – they are endlessly convincing and entertaining. The blood physics are also keen, with blood splattering on walls in vector with every piercing bullet. Getting shot up while backed against a wall? You’ll be transferred to observer mode just in time to watch your body slide down into the fetal position, revealing following trails of blood that smear their way to the ground.
The most disappointing thing at this stage in the beta is the stability of the netcoding (both client side, and server side). Lag has plagued most users in the form of either lengthy spikes that render you immobile, or an intermittent and sustained high ping. Though it improves with each patch, it is still present and inhibiting in some cases. But oher than the netcode problem, the game is relatively free of bugs, all of the dev console tricks are slowly being removed, and many exploits have already been removed, such as multiple bombs, and the dreaded skywalking trick.
Counter-Strike: Source is shaping up to be an excellent and long-living sequel to the most played computer game mod ever created. Not only are the visuals improved, but with a new-found balance and added protection against cheating, Counter-Strike has regained a user-friendly state that will erase the old clich