This 1001 list is quite the rollercoaster recently, isn't it? We've just had Half-Life 2, the shooter that was the very definition of a solid first-person shooter (understatement, perhaps), and now, with a swanky new Source engine update, comes Counter-Strike: Source, the shooter that is the very definition of a solid multiplayer first-person shooter.
There is no way you've not heard of Counter-Strike. Originally a mod for Half-Life, the team-based multiplayer game took off like a rocket. Remade and rereleased, the rocket went ballistic, but I've only played all of 3 hours of Counter-Strike: Source.
I've watched a lot more. Quite a lot more. I know my skill ceiling, put it that way. Let me show you how low it is...
Counter-Strike: Source is perhaps the greatest playing multiplayer FPS of all time (until CS:GO, maybe). By that, I mean that it feels phenomenal to control. Buttery smooth and responsive, it's nothing like I've been used to in my life before or since.
The multiplayer FPSs I played extensively were on the PlayStation 3. Killzone, Battlefield, MAG... They were weighty and sluggish to give a sense of realism. Well, less so in MAG, but all these games were designed with controllers in mind, and it's the keyboard and mouse where the FPS shines.
Spawning into a match full of bots as the Counter-Terrorists, I feel it first hand with every little movement. You're a speedy operative. You don't need to worry about what your body is doing at any given moment, you just need to get into position, point your weapon at the enemy and shoot them before they kill you.
Round one, my goal is to eliminate all the terrorists before they plant the bomb at one of two designated sites. If they plant the bomb, naturally, the goal becomes to defuse it. In general, however, the first team of 5 players to wipe out the other will win.
The bots I'm up against are set to the Normal difficulty, but whether you're up against bots or humans, you need to be aware that your health will drop rapidly if you're hit. One shot, one kill is often the order of the day, whether it comes from a pistol or rifle.
Obviously, I need to shake some rust off. Though I have just played Half-Life 2, which has to be similar. I must just need to think a little more. Sneak up on my opponent. Check my corners. Slice the pies. Don't rush in and see these pop-ups...
Round two begins, and hopefully, you've gathered enough money for something better than a pistol. You've got just a few seconds to hit 'B' to enter the shop, then jab around the menus for something you can afford. I suppose you could sit and shop until you were ready, but the threat of the game beginning near immediately, with Terrorists charging at you, makes you rush a little.
You could hit 'F1' to auto-buy, but who wants to rely on that?
The worse you do, the harder it'll be to get the weapons you want. While you can always pick them up off the floor from downed combatants, you shouldn't rely on this. You ought to focus on the map and think about where an enemy may be lurking, and where they might be heading.
The maps of Counter-Strike: Source are near-legendary. de_dust2 here has a silly name, but it must go down as one of the all-time greats. Multiple routes, multiple choke-points, numerous opportunities. Not even the spawn points are safe, as teams push and flank and wrap around each other, trying to get the drop on their opponents.
To see a team navigate these arenas, calling out targets and co-ordinating strategies on the fly is a sight to behold. Just stop and watch the professions for a single game, you'll be amazed.
I'm not a professional. Not by a long shot. I'm putting myself into the danger zone far too often and getting absolutely stomped by Normal bots. Normal difficulty bots. For all the fun I'm having moving around the map and watching the action unfold, I am a bullet magnet - usually the first to die, even if I'm the first to shoot.
It's annoying to have to watch each and every round from the spectator's seat, but the action is generally so quick that you're not sat there too long. Because the gameplay is so damn good, you're itching to get back into the thick of it to try again, and hope you're better this time.
I never got better. The Terrorists were wiping the floor with my team and me. I've got to change this up. I've got to drop to easier bots.
Further Fun Times
Would you look at that? Switching sides and tackling easier bots, I dominate the first round. Well, I at least make it through alive, on the winning team. Things are looking up. Games are always better when you're winning. I even have money to buy other weapons and actually make use of them.
It took brain-dead bots to get there, but if you didn't know that, you'd think I was competent at the very least. I'm enjoying it, even if I'm just hitting sitting ducks. I even manage to plant a bomb in one round.
It was then I realised it was something like 15-1 in the Terrorist's favour, which is disappointing. I'd prefer a tense tug-of-war where you're not too sure who's going to get the win, but easy bots are too easy and normal bots are too hard, so I'm stuck, really.
I've not just played Dust II endlessly, but that's pretty much all of Counter-Strike: Source that I've played. I've not touched other game modes (why bother when the default game is brilliant?), and I sure as hell don't fancy my time with randoms on public servers.
And that's the problem I've got with the game. It is amazing. It does it all right. It controls well, the map design is remarkable, failures are punished, death is instant, teamwork essential and skill is required to get the most out of it.
But watching someone with far more skill than you play it instead is just better. Sure, taking part in an epic contest with equally skilled opponents can get the adrenaline flowing, but to get there - to get 9 other roughly similarly experienced players, to get the teamwork going, to get voice chat setup... it's just not going to happen for someone in my position.
I am more of a solo player. I can enjoy multiplayer games and can see their value and their impact on gaming, but to get the most out of them requires a mentality that I no longer have. I'd love to get into another multiplayer FPS, but where do you begin these days? Do you get stomped on by pros in a classic like Counter-Strike? Do you get overwhelmed by what's going on, and how the meta is in something like Overwatch? Do you go for a staple like Call of Duty, even knowing that the player base may move on in just a year or so?
Counter-Strike: Source is so good that I can't really explain it. It is simple, but it is oh so sophisticated. It is straight to the point, but how you get there requires planning and preparation. To see it at its best requires teammates you know and trust.
It is a game I'd love to get into but almost dare not to - not until I can hold my own against standard bots, at least...
You owe it to yourself to play it, even if it's just to get a feel for it. Then you'll have a smattering of context for when it comes to understanding what the pros are doing.
Competitive players said the skill ceiling had been lowered in this version, compared to Counter-Strike 1.6. Certainly didn't put people off playing it at any rate.
Counter-Strike: Source, developed by Valve, Turtle Rock Studios, first released in 2004.
Version played: PC, 2004.