It seems like Counter Strike has been around forever. It defined online gaming as far as a lot of people were concerned. A tight, extremely balanced game that pitted counter terrorists against terrorists over a very simple set of objectives, it was immediately compelling. The game quickly became the most popular online FPS ever, a title it still holds. The anticipation for Counter Strike Source then, was very high.
Counter Strike: Source isn't a new game. It's the same levels, the same weapons (mostly) and the same missions. The big difference of course is the Source engine. The source engine is Valve's new baby, and the framework for Half Life 2. If you don't already know, it boasts realistic physics, shader-based rendering and advanced character animation. But what, if any, difference would this make to Counter Strike?
We had a chance to play the beta version of Counter Strike recently to get a feel as to what's changed. Upon starting the game, it's extremely familiar. You'll be flying through the weapon select in no time, memorizing all your favorite weapons key press combinations, just like old times. Currently, the only level available is the CS classic, Dust. A good choice, especially considering how familiar any counter strike veterans will be with this level. The changes will be very evident.
The most immediately striking thing is the weapon models, most noticeably the knife. Running along with it, your character will run his hand across the blade and the graphical difference really hits you. It does look incredible. Its recognizably Dust, but it just looks so much more detailed and realistic. The character models look great too, moving far more realistically and slumping against walls when they die. Great stuff.
Obviously, it's the injection of the physics engine into Counter Strike that should have made the biggest difference. Though, this is where the decision to make Dust the sample level may not have been the best idea. You see, Dust is mostly sand and walls. Not many places to experiment with the new realistic wood effects or the like. The developers have thrown in a few barrels, crates and burned out cars, but after you've seen the effect of shooting them for a while it's back to killing Counter Terrorists/Terrorists as usual.
At this stage, Counter Strike Source really just looks like CS with a make over. Whether other levels will make more use of the physics engine remains to be seen. It's still a great game, but mostly for all the reasons it was a great game previously. The full game is due to be released with Half Life 2 and its bound to get many people playing CS online again. It will almost certainly enjoy the success of its predecessor, but will it really bring anything new to the table? The jury is still out, but as a free pack-in with Half Life 2, we can't complain.