On the first day of PAX 2011, a confident booth in the middle of the convention's show floor claims to boast the longest queues of the show, and it's for a downloadable game rather than a mammoth AAA title. Isn't that a bit daunting for the staff manning its 10 demo stations? Apparently not - they say it's exciting. I'm inclined to agree: excitement is the right response when the developer is Valve, and when the game in question is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
It's hard to overemphasise just how significant Counter-Strike has been, but it's safe to say that all modern multiplayer shooters owe it a debt. For me, it was the shooter that got me into online gaming - I simply adored Counter-Strike at the turn of the millennium. I remember the agonising wait between getting home from school and the off-peak phone services kicking in; I remember my buy-scripts and bunny hopping, custom config files, and asking my mother for an ISDN line for my birthday so I wouldn't have to play with a useless 56k modem. As for the game, I even remember when the M4A1 had a scope.
The world is different now, of course, and since Counter-Strike hit 1.0 in the year 2000 we've seen the console become a viable platform for the genre and the rise of always-on broadband connections in the home. Provided your housemate isn't a copious pornography hound or BT aren't having a funny five minutes, you no longer need to fiddle with your cl_updaterate.
Valve's problem with Counter-Strike, then, has nothing to do with publisher or platform (it's being released digitally for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and Steam), but instead lies with deciding what to do with the mechanics of this cherished property, and proving to the world that there's room for Counter-Strike in 2012. But Valve has resisted throwing in traditional modern features for the sake of falling in line with the game's contemporaries.
It's telling, for instance, that there's been no addition of iron sights - the ubiquitous calling card of any shooter released this generation. Make no mistake, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is an absolutely vintage interpretation of the first-person shooter, mapped competently to a controller. On the 360 pad, the right bumper cycles through your weapons - primary and secondary weapons, and then the knife - with the left switching through your grenades. Yes, you still run faster with the knife equipped.
Rather than relying on analogue sticks to control speed, you use a dedicated button to toggle between walk and run states. You'll need to use it, too; weapons thrash like a mule and require careful burst firing, and plenty of new players will be thrown off by the degree of competence demanded by the unchanged arsenal.
While the veterans will feel right at home, even on a controller, one of Valve's biggest priorities is actually making Counter-Strike appeal to new players - players who've never even argued about which is the better map between de_cbbl or cs_italy. To accommodate for beginners, then, the game will include skill-based matchmaking, surrounding you with people at a similar level of play.