Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
Not Global Offensive. Not Source. I’m talking the original Counter-Strike. The Half-Life mod; the game that was more popular than its online competitors combined; the game that in many ways pioneered both games as services and games as playable alphas; the game that spawned two follow-ups but which even right now, as I’m writing this, has 20,211 concurrent players through Steam.
In the late ’90s it wasn’t unusual for popular online game modes to come from community work, but Counter-Strike grew larger and more quickly than anything that had gone before it. It’s remarkable when you look at the timeline now: beta 1 was released online on June 19th 1999, and Valve’s retail release followed November 9th 2000. That’s 18 months to go from “why do the character model’s arms not really connect to their torso?” to “This is one of the most popular games in the world.”
I was a big enough Half-Life fan to be trying every mod I could get my hands on when Counter-Strike started to gain in popularity, and I ran up enormous phone bills playing it – and downloading its patches – on a 56k modem. The classic maps and weapons remain popular now, but I also have a soft spot for those maps that were cut before the final retail release, such as John Attea’s cs_foption and cs_zoption, and the ever-imbalanced cs_mansion. Many of them represent routes not taken in the game’s development, perhaps most significantly in the knockaround vehicle fun of Jeepathon2k, which hinted at ideas that developer Minh Le would revisit years later with the messy, free-to-play Tactical Intervention.
Yet it’s testament to the weapons, maps and mechanics that the development process produced and settled on that its followups Source and CS:GO are as much remakes as they are sequels. Counter-Strike may outlive us all.