I once asked a teacher of mine “what’s the longest you’ve ever spent thinking?” his reply was both surprising and relevant: “about two minutes”, he said. Two minutes is about the average CS:GO game; a game that requires a decent amount of concentration, and a lot of skill.

In 2012 it’s not uncommon for gamers to sit at their PC’s and consoles for five hour first-person-shooter sessions, blinded by artificial glare and dirt, spitting bullets everywhere, drooling out of the corner of their mouths. Our brains are off, but a small part of our cognitive ability is dedicated to swinging a gun around at anything that moves. For the most part, FPS has become a brainless enterprise, and knowing the best build is about the only thing that’s stopping you from being the best player.

In that vein, CS:GO is a damned well needed breath of fresh air. We all know it’s impossible to really concentrate for vast lengths of times, especially when it comes to entertainment, so competitive, balanced, skill based shooters have really sunk into the depths of games of past. The twitch shooter is tantamount to a thing of the past, and games like Nexuiz have launched as the next big competitive FPS then quickly and quietly disappeared without much hurrah.

Trust Valve to inject the market with a much needed adrenaline shot, and I’m glad they did because we got CS:GO – a game that, at time of announcement, felt superfluous and unnecessary because of games like Call of Duty and Battlefield, but after playing it, what really hit home was just how much we needed it back.

Crisp, clean and clear – CS:GO

At face value, the visuals of CS:GO can’t compare to the AAA titles of recent years. If this puts you off playing it: don’t play it. CS:GO is a competitive e-sports title that – whilst facing criticism from fans of past CS games – aims to please the hard-core competitive FPS scene. It doesn’t have artificial dirt on the visor; it doesn’t have glare or blur or movement shaking. You can’t aim down the sight and you can’t jump in a helicopter and take out an A-10. That’s not what CS:GO is about. Valve have stripped the genre of everything that might hinder your ability to aim and shoot, and left a clean, crisp and clear aesthetic that is both reminiscent of classic FPS, and modern to the point of polished. The visuals are nice, and whilst they won’t win any competitions, they ooze Valve’s ‘clean and clear’ Source releases of late.

CS:GO retains both Terrorist and Counter Terrorist teams, with four game modes: Arms Race, Demolition, Classical Casual and Classical Competitive. As well as these official game modes, Counter-Strike also retains the opportunity to join community servers which, as we all know, will probably have you downloading 93843 random files to alter the experience significantly.

The game modes vary in how they’re set up; for example, Demolition will grant each player a new weapon per kill, per round. Starting with an AK as the terrorists, your first kill will award you a P90. Next round, so long as you get a kill, you’ll move onto the next weapon and so on and so forth. Each of the game modes still have you waiting for the game to end if you get killed, with no respawns, but because the games are around two minutes, it’s likely you’ll be waiting something short of 30 seconds until the next round begins.

This outlines the uniqueness of Counter-Strikes core mechanic: each round has every player concentrating, aiding the team. If you mess up, or if you miss a shot, you’re dead for the round. Aside from killing the enemy, you need to either watch the bomb points or other objectives in order to sufficiently support the group. If you do mess up, it’s probably your fault, and in the 30 seconds it takes for the round to end you’re back on your feet wanting to try harder; no second chances, no 64 other players to take the heat off your back. You represent your name and your Steam account, and in a tight team of around 6 players each, that goes a long way.

That quality of gamer

As with past Counter-Strike games, the quality and maturity of the community is a factor in your enjoyment. Sure, there’s some anger and knee-jerk trash talking, but for the most part you’ll be relieved with the peace and quiet during matches; maybe some GG at the end of the match, but nothing close to the bitter racism of angry 12 year olds.

Ostensibly, the age of the game and style of gameplay doesn’t gel very well with younger games, used to the Call of Duty ethos. There aren’t any gadgets to speak off – aside from the addition of molotov cocktails and an incendiary grenade – so for those of you who want to unlock and develop your character and class, and earn new guns and rewards, you’re looking in the wrong place.

CS:GO focuses on decent balancing, and whilst the guns don’t exactly sound as good as DICE‘s Battlefield 3, it’s almost as if they harnessed the nostalgia of the original sounds. Each weapon is accurate and powerful, with subtle variables depending on the weapon. For instance, the Desert Eagle packs a punch, but it’s low fire rate and relatively low accuracy might mean that unless you’re confident, the Glock-18 might be a better choice if going for those all important head shots. One can, and will, argue that players will find and stick to a rotation of the three possible best weapons, but with Demolition mode forcing upgrades on you per kill, players are required to rotate between all the weapons. This isn’t true for other game modes, and whilst you might get annoyed at “the best guns”, the game is still more balanced than any other FPS on the market. This is due to the scale.

Counter-Strike: Go is a small, intimate game. Valve keeps an eye on tight control. The maps and routes are well calculated, well crafted and offer a good dynamic, with a fair chance for decent game-play on both sides. There aren’t 100 ways to make your way through the maps, rather, 4 small pathways/corridors and one very risky, wider path to follow down the middle each time. They maps don’t look necessarily too artificial, and with the old maps and some new ones, there’s plenty of variation in the map rotation between each of the 20 rounds. There are 18 maps in total, including 9 updated original maps; a huge amount.

Are casuals welcome?

If you’re a casual gamer, there’s plenty of room for you in CS:GO. The casual game-mode alleviates some of the responsibility and economy management – as you’ll remember original CS games asked you to purchase all your items at the start of every round. In casual mode, armour is free, where it costs money in competitive mode, for example.

Also, the long winded albeit sorely missed server browser isn’t the main option any more. Matchmaking, as in other titles, has taken the podium over the older manual server browser. This works based on player stats, offering you a competitive experience that matches your level. Another change is that hit-boxes and model sizes are much smaller – certainly smaller than Battlefield 3’s much larger models. This works wonderfully on PC, with an emphasis on accuracy or spraying.

There are some other interesting innovations in CS:GO, including the ability to assume the role of a bot if it is unused upon death. Aside from that is the ability to ‘save the moment’ when you’re killed, which gets rid of the HUD and takes a quick screen-shot of the character who killed you in the position he was in when he popped you. This uses the Steam in-game screenshot system and doesn’t take away from the game at all. Players of Counter-Strike will also notice that you no longer pick your user-skin or model when you’ve picked a side, in CS:GO they are more streamlined and set in stone; perhaps unfortunate, but I didn’t notice it until after I had played and started researching for the review – so I suppose I didn’t miss it all that much.

This bang-for-buck ratio is too damn high

CS:GO takes all that is essential to make a good, decent, well balanced first person shooter, without all of the gimmicks and frills, and ships it at a price that reflects the cost of producing it. At £11.99, Valve give PC and console gamers a competent, well made first person shooter, without all the gimmick and pretense of free-to-play crap. They don’t need to chant “it’s free, it’s free, just pay us if you like it” to launder you out of your money. Everything is included in the price, and without a 5 hour Michael Bay induced campaign to hold you back, the price is set at a good and proper, responsible amount. In fact, Valve have surpassed my expectations since the announcement of CS:GO (where they said it’d be cross-platform between PC and PS3 – it isn’t, thank god) with a decent game here, at a solid price.

If you’re a classic PC gamer who wants a skill based shooter on any system, give this one a shot. Objectively, it’s a great, well crafted game. It may not have many frills, but then Counter-Strike was never about that. It reminds me of simpler times, when gaming required concentration.