Friday saw the sudden news of a brand new, all-formats Counter-Strike game, which in PC gaming news terms is probably the equivalent of simultaneously swearing in a crowdpleasing new president and announcing a world war. The coming months will be characterised by both excitement and rage, I don't doubt. What we don't know is much about it, other than that it's broadly going to be CS with new stuff. Turns out, Valve have been quietly showing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (I don't know how long it's going to be until I stop initially typing 'Global Agenda') to pro-gamers to get their thoughts on how it's shaping up. Craig 'Torbull' Levine from ESEA is one of the lucky few, and he's shared a few details on what to expect from a game Valve are claiming will fit alongside, rather than replace, CS 1.6 and CS:S.
Craig summarises CS: GO as "a multi-platform team based FPS similar to its predecessors, Counter-Strike 1.6, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, and Counter-Strike: Source. It is designed on the updated Source Engine, but is not built off of Counter-Strike: Source and due out in early 2012 with beta access beginning this fall. It will maintain the traditional de_ and cs_ map types and would not include new game modes. Valve was keen on hearing the input from top CSS players to make CS GO an e-sports title and that is reflected by the game featuring both casual and competitive game modes with a built in match making system and support for dedicated servers."
He was pretty taken with how the thing looked: "The maps look beautiful, the player skins and animations are smooth, and the gun models are cool! We got to play dust, dust2, inferno, and nuke with confirmation that other CS classic maps such as train and likely some new ones will be included in the release. Visually, the game looked a lot further along than pre-beta."
However, he noted that despite similarities it was on its way to being a subtly different game to its predecessors/peers: "It didn't feel like 1.6 and despite being built on the Source engine, it didn't feel like CSS. By design, Valve wanted to create a game with a different feel, and overall it was really smooth."
The various pro-gamers in attendance grumbled somewhat about creative liberties taken with the weapons and a suggestion that all players start with full kevlar body armour (thus potentially undermining CS' classic money system), and also noted that "headshots were difficult to score and came at a premium." From Craig's account Valve are very interested in getting the pro-gaming scene to return to CS, so these things may well change following feedback.
Also new were two particular items: "molotov cocktails, an expensive $850 item, which can be used to slow down opponents and re-route opponents through AOE damage" and decoy grenades which "can be thrown to emit gun sounds and give the illusion of there being a player. The decoy grenade currently produced an AK / Glock when thrown by Ts and M4 / USP when thrown by CTs." Craig's thought was that experienced players wouldn't necessarily fall for decoys, but they might buy their user vital split seconds if used wisely.
He seemed halfway between excited about dubious about the changes, but repeatedly observed that Valve were taking their pro-gaming testers' thoughts very seriously, so there could be plenty of change between now and when it launches. He also adds that "By their own words, CS GO is a new game not meant to replace 1.6 or Source. Is this simply a political statement to help fend off unrealistic expectations?"
Or, perhaps, to stop the existing CS community feeling they're being strong-armed into moving to a new game - no doubt Valve have learned a lesson or two from the Left 4 Dead 2 fandango.
Much more of Craig's thoughts, in some places including an eyewateringly precise level of detail, here.
Oh - and if you see a CS:GO trailer doing the rounds today, don't fall for it. It's an old one from the Asia-specific Counter-Strike Online, with new words added by some mad fan/hoaxer.