Global? Perhaps. Offensive? Likely

While the title might read like a description of my column it’s actually just we’ve hit that time where we have to get writing about Global Offensive. It is almost upon us with the open beta going live in just a couple of days. I myself have finally managed to have a dabble with it, the press pack version having done the rounds prior to the exhibition match that I commentated on live from the i44 finals with my Swedish colleague Christopher “Helblinde” Nilsson.

As I sit here trying to organise my thoughts I am, of course, trapped in two minds and unsure what is the best course of action. It is imperative that the game succeed if we are to have any sort of team based FPS title that is e-sports ready as we move into a very uncertain future for the genre. Equally, there are two already fine games in existence that are going to come under great strain with its arrival – one that has incredible mechanics but looks like the dumb kid who eats crayons in class has thrown up in the sand pit, the other that has more bugs than third world tap water but looks on the money still. The former has a community that are borderline insane, desperate to milk the last from the game they’ve enjoyed playing for many years and the majority are faced with the prospect of upgrading to technology they have been unable or unwilling to so far. The latter has a community that routinely disappears into whatever new game is going and only returns when there are sizeable, and more importantly, easily achievable carrots being dangled left, right and fuck me ragged if they’re not in the centre too.

Marry all of these considerations to the great big fat wife that is the game being in pre-alpha and the relationship of all this information sits far from harmoniously in my brain. With great power comes great responsibility said Uncle Ben. Not the guy who made the rice. The other one. Any home spun philosophy from the forefather of boil in the bag perfection would have likely resulted in a sound horsewhipping and having to sleep in the stables for the rest of the year.

So, I’m left with the rather uncomfortable task of having to inform those who might want to hear different that Global Offensive needs a lot of work and my gut tells me that it’s not likely to be the answer to any of our e-sports praters, however much we might want it to be. Even at pre-Alpha it’s clear the game is going to have some issues that can’t be “ironed out” because they are at the heart of the game itself, the core on which it is built. In the same way that 7 years of development still sees perfect hit registration beyond CS:S, we’re likely to encounter some similar incurable problems with this new title. Are the various Counter-Strike enthusiasts, of all levels, finally ready to do what they never have and adapt to something new and imperfect?

It’s unlikely although there are some promising signs… The 1.6 community, content to further cement their position as the most irrational and illogical of all gaming sects, seem to be more welcoming of Global Offensive than they ever were of Source. This seems odd given that the game looks and feels far, far different from the original Counter-Strike. It has little in common with CS:S from what I could detect, so it seems impossible to me that they could find anything to like in a game that is primarily aimed at consoles, will be cross platform and has all the look and feel of a console port.

Further to that point if Valve continue down this road of desperately trying to appease a community that has openly rejected all their fine work, then the Source community should rightly feel aggrieved. 1.6 players do not go out and play the likes of Left 4 Dead 2 – they simply aren’t able to play it, nor do they want to. Source players, by contrast, will always jump on the new Valve titles and hope they become competitive if for no other reason than they secretly acknowledge that the CS:S experiment failed once it lost money men forcing the agenda. I don’t want to get bogged down in that though so let me instead tell you about the way the game works, how it is different from the versions you might be used to.

What I noticed first of all as I was playing was the way the crosshair responds to mouse movement. It seemed to lag ever so slightly behind rather than feeling as fast as the other games. There wasn’t a lot of scope to tweak set up so it’s impossible to say if this is something that will be an issue as the game goes forward but all the players I spoke to after the exhibition match complained of the same thing. Well, VeryGames did as they were the only ones taking it seriously. Such a sluggish response is counterproductive to what makes FPS titles on the PC so superior to those on the console but it isn’t implausible that this drag factor is perhaps a way of addressing the disparity in performance when the game goes cross platform.

Then there’s recoil which is about as unforgiving as a Puritan father of twelve. Any desire to tap shoot seems pointless as the crosshair jumps and shakes around your screen as if the game was taking place in Haiti… Spraying seems to yield mixed results, the supposed single recoil pattern having more than a few facets to it as far as I can tell. The rate of fire doesn’t feel akin to anything we’ve seen before in the series and ultimately even the most adept player in either discipline is going to have to accept they are starting at zero as they learn this game.

Somewhat inexplicably, despite having sworn to keep in close contact with the CS:S “pros” (a term that always raises a chuckle) Valve and Hidden Path have paid them little heed. There’s talk of the private forums having nothing but virtual tumbleweeds rolling across them and parts of the game that were absolutely abhorrent to competitive players have been left in despite them trying to point out the inherent stupidity of their existence. The randomly assigned two defusal kits might well generate some new form of tactical thinking but ultimately what is the fucking point in having it when it only serves to turn the existing community off and offers absolutely nothing to new players?

I’m no player and haven’t been for some time so maybe there’s something I’m missing. The only positive thing I could find to say about this pre-beta version was that there was a skill of sorts in being able to get that first shot off accurately. Outside of that, it seems way too random to actually be a genuine competitive game as things stand. However let’s assume I am missing that vital something, as I sat there on the main stage of i44 there was definitely something I wasn’t missing and that was the game’s viability of being enjoyed by spectators.

We’ve talked at length about the failings of companies when it comes to make games that allow spectators, especially casual ones, to follow the action with ease. Global Offensive feels extremely regressive in this regards. The palette of the game is pretty washed out and isn’t easy on the eye… Shades of grey and green collide to make a sepia tinged FPS title that is meant to be ahead of the curve. The maps are cluttered and some have inexplicable features, like the comedy cartoon toxic barrels on the re-imaging of de_train. The models seem difficult to tell apart and even if the movement animation is improved it ultimately doesn’t matter with spectators struggling to figure out who is who in a cluttered firefight.

Source got where it is by virtue of being workable for mod teams. One thing that is likely going to have to be considered is that if this game is indeed to be cross platform that it’s not going to be changing as often as the standard PC title. It’s never going to be bombarded with updates in that manner, which makes this beta stage absolutely crucial. There’ll be no Zblock team tinkering with this iteration of the game at their leisure in order to make it work, not unless the whole cross platform thing being a success is low priority and Valve, along with Hidden Path, are content for the PC version and the console version to become distinct and separate animals, which does beg the question why the posturing in the first place?

The game’s development is as muddied and confused as it looks currently. It’s billed as the next instalment of the series in the promotional material, yet in interviews Valve’s staff deny it is a sequel. It is being touted openly to both 1.6 and CS:S communities, their feedback being not just invited but solicited, yet they say they don’t care if they make a successful e-sports title or not. It’s billed as being a console focused game, yet a signifcant part of the build up to release has focused solely on the PC, not least of all big showcase matches like the one I commentated on. It aims to be all things and so far it is ultimately nothing, a collection of ideas and features that have yet to be squashed together into a cohesive whole.

Maybe that’s what betas are supposed to be but Valve are usually a hell of a lot smarter than this and I’m starting to think they don’t see the game in the same light as they do the other ones they seem to enjoy developing and have huge advertising campaigns for. Should any of us PC e-sports enthusiasts be excited at all? What if it really is some cynical way to get a share of the console FPS market dominated by Activision and EA?

For the first time I really have no idea about the future in this area, no idea what games will succeed, what we’ll be all playing and watching. I don’t like it and I don’t like having to keep my fingers crossed and hope that CS:GO can actually come good despite my initial impressions. What else is there to do though? Valve have got us over a barrel… After all, we need the game to succeed a hell of a lot more than they do.