Counter-Strike 2 Review

Screenshot of map Ancient from Counter-Strike 2
Ancient is the spiritual successor to the Counter-Strike map Aztec

Quick Info
Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Release Date: 28 Sep 2023
Time played: 13 hours

Team! Fall Back!

Where to start when talking about Counter-Strike? For those that have been living under a rock for the past couple of decades, let me explain. Counter-Strike started off in 1999 as a mod to Valve's critically acclaimed breakout success, Half-Life. The game had you playing as either a Terrorist or a Counter-Terrorist. The objective of each game was to eliminate the other team (or complete other objectives such as bomb defusal or hostage rescue). The game was played over a series of rounds and each time your team won a round, you would be rewarded with cash you could use to buy better weapons in the next round. The mod was extremely popular, even during its beta days and Valve eventually took interest in it, to the point where Valve acquired the IP and released a retail version of the game in 2000.

Since then there have been a few different versions of Counter-Strike such as 2004's Counter-Strike: Source, a remake of Counter-Strike on Half-Life 2's Source engine, and 2012's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

The original Counter-Strike features at #5 on our Choicest Games Top 100 and with good reason, since the game sold millions of units, helping Valve become a commercial success. The game is also the de facto First Person Shooter when it comes to e-sports and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in recent years often had more than a million concurrent players playing at any given time. In fact, thanks to the Counter-Strike 2 beta, the game's peak of concurrent players sits at just over 1.8 million… that's a lot of players!

So, Counter-Strike 2 has some big shoes to fill, and despite it continuing to be really popular (it's the most played game on Steam at the moment), is it actually any good?

Screenshot of map selection screen in Counter-Strike 2
Counter-Strike 2 currently has 10 maps as part of their rotations

Hold this Position!

I must first inform you readers that despite me having played Counter-Strike since the beta days (even before the knife was added as a weapon i.e. beta 3) I can only be classed as a casual player, especially with the recent iterations. I have vivid memories of playing the original Counter-Strike and Counter-Strike: Source at net cafes and LAN parties (does anybody even know what those things are anymore?) but by the time CS:GO came around, I had moved on to other games and franchises (such as Battlefield).

CS:GO wasn't a bad game, but it wasn't particularly ground-breaking either. Gameplay was pretty much the same, graphics were improved only slightly as the game used the same engine as its predecessor (Source), so despite a few new weapons, some in-game music and a couple of new game modes, it wasn't terribly exciting. There wasn't something that could hook you in to playing it over and over again. Well, that all changed in 2013.

I wasn't playing CS:GO in 2013 but this is when they introduced the "Arms Deal" update. This is when the game would randomly give you the chance to earn cosmetic items or "skins" that you could show off on your weapons. Some people would pay a ridiculous amount of money for these skins, tens of thousands of US dollars in some cases, and "skin gambling" and a black market for CS:GO skins was born (I thoroughly recommend watching the People Make Games documentaries on this very subject).

Anyway, provided you're not the sort to get involved in black market deals, I'm assuming that in CS:GO and indeed this latest iteration of Counter-Strike, that you'd be able to pick two out of four free weapon skins each week provided you've levelled up (I am simplifying things here since sometimes you can choose to receive a lootbox which requires a key to unlock it or spraypaint with limited uses). Some things are apparently only available on the Steam Marketplace such as really neat music packs you can apply to the game which not only change what you hear but what others hear if you happen to be awarded MVP for a round (it's very quiet and only a few seconds, so it's not like you have to listen to a 15-minute prog rock song on full blast).

Okay, so now that we know what was already available in CS:GO, how is CS2 different?

Screenshot of Weekly Care Package screen in Counter-Strike 2
If you level up each week, you're entitled to two free rewards

Regroup Team

For starters, CS:GO is gone and has been completely replaced by Counter-Strike 2. Some speculate this was done to ensure the Counter-Strike community doesn't fragment with the playerbase being split between the old version and the current one. Consequently, if you don't like what they've done with CS2, there's no way you can go back to CS:GO, so it's just as well then that changes to the gameplay have been very minor. The game, more-or-less plays exactly the same as CS:GO and in fact, is still similar to the early days of CS: half the team camps the map, sniping with their AWPs, while the rest hunt the opposition down with AK-47s and M4s. Players are quick to abuse or vote out idle players or ones they simply dislike. On voice comms, you'll often hear players sharing their favourite taste in music or broadcasting tantrums directed at their parents (thankfully there's a mute all voice comms option which is a godsend). There's even quite a few classic maps in here such as Office, Italy, Nuke, Inferno, Vertigo (although I am disappointed you no longer scream when falling of the building) and, of course, Dust 2.

What has changed is that the game now runs on the Source 2 engine and the graphics have improved as a result. Not by leaps and bounds mind you, but it does look slightly better. What is the single coolest feature to have been added though is the way smoke grenades work: smoke looks more realistic, filling out spaces the way you'd expect it to in real life, and the smoke can actually be pushed aside by firing through it or throwing other grenades into it, offering new tactical opportunities.

Screenshot of how smoke grenades react to explosive grenades in Counter-Strike 2
An explosive grenade was thrown to the right of this smoke grenade causing smoke on the right side to temporarily dissipate


If you're a Counter-Strike fan, you've already got the game so this review isn't for you. If you're like me, a casual FPS player that has been playing since the beginning of the genre, is it worth returning to this franchise? Well, yes and no. Counter-Strike 2, just like its predecessors, is a no frills, back-to-basics, multiplayer FPS that's hugely popular and it's free. So, there's really nothing preventing you from giving it a try.

I'm however already bored with it. I prefer First Person Shooters like Rainbow Six Siege or Battlefield 2042: they're nowhere near as polished as Counter-Strike 2 but working as a team seems more rewarding in these games, and the weapons, vehicles and gadgets on offer encourage creative solutions for achieving victory.

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