It’s difficult to look at the free-to-play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – Danger Zone without reverse-engineering the business logic that birthed it. After all, game studios have been watching the battle royale genre expand in its reach (and profitability).
It makes sense that Valve would want to tap that market using an intellectual property of their own. But does CS: GO Danger Zone have the capacity to operate on its own terms and come out on top?
From the word go, Danger Zone plays to audience expectations where battle royale games are concerned. Players drop onto an island map littered with abandoned buildings and hiding places, broken up by the odd crate or cache of weapons and other useful items.
The island is surrounded by an life-sapping energy field which shrinks inward in set intervals, further limiting the play space. Over the course of a match, the assembled group of up to 18 players must battle one another until one player — or a team of players — is left standing.
What quickly starts to emerge when getting into the heat of Danger Zone matches is a sense of genre familiarity. The mode pulls the weapon purchasing system from the base Global Offensive experience, carrying over the need to eliminate other players in exchange for currency to attain weapons, ammunition and miscellaneous equipment. Like other works in the genre, Danger Zone’s maps never have precisely the same items stashed away from match to match, thanks to loot randomization.
Also borrowed from its competitors is how matches tends to break down in two distinct directions: either players get a tense string of firefights that rapidly close out in chaotic fashion, or they experience a lonely slow-paced affair inevitably cut short by an unexpected ambush.
It’s hard not to feel one’s enjoyment of the game get undercut when a particularly drawn-out match ends in unceremonious death, let alone the frustration that comes when one’s play session is swiftly halted by an unfortunately well-timed assault.
The randomization of item placement within the game’s maps only exacerbates this issue. Many times a match went poorly because of a string of unlucky weapon pick-ups.
One of the larger issues threatening Danger Zone’s longevity is how superfluous its action feels, even by genre standards. Why are the fights taking place? What is the “experiment” alluded to in the announcer’s end-of-match remarks? Is this at all still tied into the Counter-Strike franchise’s usual “terrorists-versus-counter-terrorist” central conflict, or is this its own solitary thing?
These are questions Danger Zone never meaningfully answers nor even begins to engage with. It’s something which wouldn’t be an issue if not for the game struggling to engage in other ways.
The mundane look and design of the maps don’t help alleviate such frustrations. Instead, they reinforce how second-rate Danger Zone feels. The initial map Blacksite has a notable lack of flair or unique identity to it, both in the context of Counter-Strike and in the broader realm of action games.
It does have some specific sections distinguished by theme, like a warehouse zone and a ruined military base. But all the locales are rendered in a tiresome quasi-realistic aesthetic that has permeated first-person shooters for years.
Added in April 2019, the second map Sirocco is certainly more interesting in its mix of desert plains and large fortress hideaways. But the downside is players have to cross a lot of empty space to get into the heat of battle.
Then there are the more pronounced technical issues which more blatantly impede play. Even while playing on a PC capable of running the game at moderate-to-high settings, Danger Zone still suffers from troublesome amounts of slowdown.
At one point the decline in frame rate reached the point of rendering the game outright unplayable, necessitating a decrease in visual settings. The game does offer a fair number of options in tweaking how it runs, but still the situation proved infuriating.
If there’s to be a saving grace here, it’s in the minor and incidental details. The gun variety is solid, each firearm and tool looking and sounding as they should. The option to select an additional item before matches, akin to Call of Duty’s perk system, offers a decent bit of aid during matches. Danger Zone controls well enough. And the actual moment-to-moment feel of combat, especially in the speed and deadliness of firefights, is sufficiently engaging.
As stated upfront, it’s understandable what Valve sought to accomplish with Danger Zone. They wanted a quick, easy addition to Global Offensive that would match, or even surpass, rival games.
The trouble is striving for such success without the willingness to put in the work to craft a fulfilling experience. Such a fate appears to have befallen CS:GO Danger Zone. It embodies the notion of half-measures and half-hearted productions in every facet. Even for players accepting of battle royale shenanigans across the board, this one’s a hard sell.