Do you think video games are too easy? Do you miss the bygone days of blurry textures and lower triangle counts than a snack size bag of Doritos? Do you hate yourself? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then Counter-Strike might be for you!
Created as a mod for the original Half-Life, Valve’s Counter-Strike has evolved into a titan of competitive eSports, delighting fans since its release in 2000. Most players have since moved on to the 2012 sequel Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. But the original version, known as Counter-Strike 1.6, still has an active player base reliving the glory days. For fans of Counter-Strike, this trip down memory lane offers some unique insights into the history of the series. But new players should definitely steer clear of this rough-around-the-edges relic.
Valve has created multiple versions and iterations of CS since the game’s debut. But the same rock solid core gameplay remains largely untouched. Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists in teams of five compete to complete objectives in different game modes. Bomb defusal, the premiere game mode of CS, tasks the Terrorists with planting a bomb on one of two bomb sites. Meanwhile, Counter-Terrorists try to stop them and defuse the bomb. In hostage rescue, the roles reverse with Terrorists defending hostages as Counter-Terrorists try to save them. When all members of a team die or complete their objective, the round ends. The victorious team earns a point, playing first to sixteen points.
In lieu of a more modern loadout or class-based system, teams receive money based on their performance in the last round. They use it to buy guns and equipment. Managing your team’s economy offers another level of depth and strategy. It creates an ebb and flow to the rounds. One moment, your team can afford fully kitted loadouts. But the next round, you might only have the cash for pistols.
Rifles offer clear advantages, with the AK-47 granting one-hit kill headshots even against enemies with full armor. This incredibly low time-to-kill makes each round extremely volatile. Counter-Strike prioritizes positioning and strategy rather than run-and-gun arcade action like Call of Duty. Laser accurate guns promote aiming skill. But moving or jumping makes it hard to hit the broad side of a de_train. Spraying and praying also reduces accuracy. But each gun has its own set pattern of recoil. This means skilled players can control their aim even when unloading a clip.
The sum of these specific gunplay mechanics make a game of Counter-Strike feel more like chess than a first person shooter. But only if chess gave you heart palpitations from stress. One does not simply play Counter-Strike for fun. Instead, CS requires determination and effort for you to improve.
Unlike other titles in the series, Counter-Strike 1.6 offers no shiny gold star for winning a game, no loot boxes, and no XP. The only reason to play and win is to play and win. It’s a concept that feels incredibly foreign in this market of games as a service. There’s an unmatched sense of accomplishment with personal progression, from initially feeling like the first toddler allowed to join the Counter-Terrorist unit to being a trained killer that dispatches an entire team with just five bullets.
Of course, more often than not you’ll be on the receiving end of a slaughter, especially in CS 1.6. The game has no dedicated matchmaking or ranking system. The people still playing today probably haven’t stopped since 1999. So, finding a fair match using the server browser can be a real challenge. Not to mention how many servers don’t operate under vanilla CS rules, introducing tons of community-made mods and maps into the equation.
Regardless, as someone who
wasted devoted 1000+ hours of free time in high school to CS:GO, I eventually regained my bearings and started fragging with the best of them. I found myself wishing some of the mechanics exclusive to CS 1.6 were present in CS:GO, like the insanity that is wallbanging:
However, for the best Counter-Strike experience there’s really no reason to turn to 1.6 outside of nostalgia. While other options exist with their own peculiarities like Counter Strike: Source’s bunny hopping, Counter Strike: Global Offensive takes the crown with the most players, dedicated matchmaking and servers, huge tournaments, constant updates, and radically better graphics all for the low, low price of free.
Hopefully my thesis dissertation on the core gameplay of Counter-Strike has inspired you to pick up the game, as it offers a sense of personal satisfaction from winning that few games can bring. Counter-Strike certainly isn’t a game for the faint of heart, but for those that invest the time and effort into improvement, your patience will be rewarded. Just don’t bother with Counter-Strike 1.6 unless your graphics card is a three of clubs.