No clue why they got Walter White mean-mugging you on the title screen

It's beyond debate that CS:GO is a quality game. The fact that it is now the world's #3 or #4 esport (behind the big two MOBAs and maybe Overwatch or Fortnite) is a testament to its balance, design, longevity and ability to engage players.

So there's not much point to some sort of an attempt at a bird's-eye objective review of the game at this point. If you like competitive online FPS with a modern military theme, this is one of the best in the business. But what if you're basically the anti-demographic for this game? Say, for example, you ...

  • Don't dig on "Soldier Man" fantasies or really anything military-themed
  • Don't like playing with strange randos online
  • Don't want to have to be in a headset/mic situation with kids screaming slurs
  • Don't want to have to play some rigid role on a team and basically do homework to learn the game

As you might have guessed, I tick all these boxes. So what does CS:GO have to offer someone like me?

I've ignored the game for all these years now because I could see just fine from a distance that this is Not For Me. Some recent developments piqued my interest, however. One was it going F2P, and adding an entirely offline bot mode. Another is the growing "skins" economy, digital items you get for free as you play and can either sell or take to various sketchy gambling sites.

This review is tailored to folks in my boat. Now, I knew coming in that the standard mode of play - the coordinated squad-based mode seen in esports - was absolutely not something I wanted to do. But there are a bunch of alternative modes of play I was willing to explore.

I eventually settled on Deathmatch and the new battle royale mode (Danger Zone) as the two that looked like they suited my tastes the best. With Deathmatch, you're nominally on a team of five but really it's everyone for themselves trying to rack up the highest possible score. And the battle royale game is, of course, everyone for themselves.

First, though, there's getting adjusted to the game in a nice safe space free of screamy troll children. There is a basic "weapons course", but I didn't find it particularly helpful. More helpful is the new ability to play just about any of the game's modes offline with teams of nothing but bots. There are several difficulty settings for them - at the "easy" setting they do some dumb non-human things but are still a fair enough challenge for a beginner, and they can get pretty nasty at the higher settings.

While this is definitely helpful to acclimate, you really don't get adequate guidance on a few elements. Most notably, the "buy mode" in which you get a tiny window of a few seconds to upgrade your weapons (either at the start of the match or after a respawn, depending on the game mode). Not only does this kick you into a sprawling weapons menu that is initially confusing, at best you have like 10 seconds to go through it and figure it out ... often, loading issues cut that time down to only a few seconds once online. I really don't know of a good way to explore this menu and come to grips with it other than these infrequent bursts of a few seconds at a time.

Fortunately, this isn't too big a deal in deathmatch and Danger Zone. You do have the option to buy in deathmatch for a few seconds after respawning, but you also get a random weapon (often a quite good one) tossed to you after each death so it often isn't necessary. And in Danger Zone, you can access a tablet with a weapons menu at your leisure - the only issue being another player coming across you while you're browsing it.

While the game's setting is modern and emphasizes realism, the gameplay is anything but and has its own little hinks to come to grips with. Since it's an evolution of the now-ancient Counter-Strike and was meant to run on much more modest systems than are commonly available now, the gunplay is not the most accurate or refined around. There is a bit of a "random number generator" element to gunfire; targeting your enemy =/= hitting where you point in all cases. If standing or kneeling it's fairly reliable, but shooting when moving makes the RNG go all wonky and some guns just have inherently random spray patterns. The RNG also gets less favorable the farther you get from an opponent; each gun has a listed effective range so you have an idea of exactly how far.

Thanks to the inherent randomness of the gunplay, juking and jiving and Euro-stepping is a core component of the game that you'll see people doing online all the time. Instead of gunfights centering around using cover wisely, you'll often see the more experienced players rush right in and use their Dancing Queen powers to overwhelm players who are less experienced with the game's little nuances. Not that I care much about Soldier Man Aesthetics, but this also makes a lot of gunfights in the game look totally silly. "MAN DANCE '92!"

Headshots are also emphasized to the point that you may as well not try to do anything else. Headshots kill you straight off in most cases, whereas it can take a ridiculous amount of pecks to the torso or anywhere else even with the stronger guns. This also kinda feeds into the "rush in and disregard cover" play style, at least for more experienced players who feel confident in landing headshots on the fly. They might as well, as there is virtually no consequence to eating some torso shots on the way in. More often than not when I got killed in a face-to-face gunfight, I had the drop on the enemy and landed the first shots but I put those in their torso; my natural inclination is to do what you would do in reality, which is aim for that big center mass to stun/disable and then walk upward toward the head. That will just get you killed quick here as there's no stun element and not really enough damage to dissuade people from just eating bullets in their chest or limbs while lining up their BOOM HEADSHOT.

So the gameplay is definitely for fans of headshots and capoeira dancing in the middle of a gunfight, at least in the modes I was playing. If you're cool with that, deathmatch is actually pretty fun. Matchmaking online fills any open slots with bots, so you usually won't be in a situation where you're that one noob that everyone steals on.

The battle royale is also alright if you're into that sort of thing. The randomness of it helps to even things out between players of different skill levels (although you also tend to feel that kills were just a matter of bumbling into a gun then bumbling into someone from behind rather than any skill on your part). I liked the strategic tradeoff of being able to order weapons via drone delivery from anywhere once you scrounge enough creds, but then the incoming drone can blow up your spot and reveal you to other players as it has kind of an unpredictable delay in arriving. "That'll teach you to sign up for Amazon Prime delivery!" - Jeff Bezos, probably.

The final thing I wanted to tackle is the skins economy. Though the game has gone F2P, you still get free drops for playing ... not many, though. In as far as I can tell, you get two items each time you go up a level (you get EXP depending on length of time in each online match and performance). There's a cap of two of these per week, however. Interbutts information indicates you might also get up to two more drops per week entirely at random, but this never happened to me personally. Again, all of this is for online matches against other people - no EXP or drops for offline bot matches. Each drop could very well be one crummy skin worth five cents and one graffiti you'll never use, though ... so as far as using this to get paid to play the game, not very likely.

So, before CS:GO went F2P, you had to pay around $19 or so for it ... so how did Valve reconcile things with the legions of people who already paid good money for it? Well, those who paid for it get automatic "Prime Status", which puts you in an exclusive matchmaking pool with the other VIPs and makes you eligible for exclusive drops. You appear to get this for free when you reach profile level 21, though, so I would imagine longtime players feel at least somewhat ripped off by all this. If you're new and don't want to level-grind, you can also purchase Prime for about what the game used to cost ($15).

For me, deathmatch and battle royale were a decent experience but not enough so to be worth the time. I was hoping there was some money-making potential with the skin drops, but they're too infrequent and there are too many lame ones for that to be an incentive to play something I'm not otherwise particularly interested in. I appreciate and respect how well-made the game is, but if you're not into modern military FPS you won't find much to work with here. If you ARE, however, you can sink thousands of hours into this learning its intricacies.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video