Counter Strike: Source saw a major overhaul a few days ago with the release of its long-awaited Mac patch. Now Mac gamers can join in on Counter Terrorist vs Terrorist battles in one of the most popular multiplayer games to date, but this update did a lot more than merely add Mac support.
It would appear that Valve is trying to push CS: Source in the direction of more recent shooters. They’ve added a lot of new features to the game such as achievements, lifetime statistics and a domination and revenge system. More importantly, several fundamental elements of CS: S gameplay have been reworked and even the graphics have been improved.
So I’ve been playing some Counter Strike: Source during the last couple of days to see how much the game has changed with this patch. Not all of it is good, but it might lure back some gamers who moved on to newer games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
That Valve is targeting Modern Warfare 2 is immediately obvious from the reworked radar. Counter Strike: Source always had a radar and it still displays your teammates and any spotted enemies, but it’s now presented in a clear and concise format. The background is now a small representation of the portion of the map that you’re on and it clearly displays when allies or enemies have perished by means of fading red and blue crosses. It doesn’t sound like much, but it definitely changes how the game is played.
Another thing I quickly noticed was that Valve has incorporated many elements from their other multiplayer shooters. There are now over a hundred achievements to give players something else to aim for than merely scoring kills and winning rounds. A nice touch to lure in the casuals, whereas their lifetime statistics for player performance should be a very welcome feature to the more hardcore crowd that cares about kill/death ratios and accuracy percentages across all the matches played on their account.
More Team Fortress 2 influences can also be seen in the domination and revenge system, which clearly indicates when you’re being killed consistently by the same player. A freezecam has also been added, which displays the player that killed you upon death, but this has already been disabled on most servers because it changes the gameplay too much. This all combines for a more newbie friendly experience and modern touch to the game, without requiring a re-release or major graphics overhaul.
The graphics have been improved slightly, but not to the extent that you would think that you’re playing another game. Some HDR lighting improvements and engine updates is mostly the extent of it, with the most exciting improvement coming in the form of multicore rendering which should improve game performance on systems with multicore processors.
More interesting are the statistics shown at the end of rounds. A small window pops up which displays the MVP, who gets a pretty star behind his or her name in the new scoreboard. It also displays an interesting fact about that round, which can be anything from a player making a lot of headshots to someone jumping a dozen times in a row.
This brings us to the new scoreboard, which isn’t an entirely positive change. The fact that players are now listed by their Steam names and with avatar icons is good, but the new layout is too cluttered. There are a lot of fancy graphics, like stars for MVPs and skulls for dead players, that stand in the way of providing a clear and concise score sheet. It’s not a gamebreaking fault, but it could use another good look and some retouching to make the things that matter, like kills, deaths and round wins, to come to the forefront.
All of that pales in comparison to the most influential and least obvious change in this patch: a fixed tickrate of 66. What the tickrate does is represent the frequency with which the server handles player input, with higher values representing more frequent calculations and thus more strain on the server. Valve apparently decided that they want to unify the community under one tickrate, which is understandable, but has done so by fixing it to a lower tickrate than was previously the norm, for competitive players and decent servers at least.
The result is a game that doesn’t feel quite the same as it did pre-patch, with everything from weapon handling to door opening having slightly different responses to what most players should be used to. I’ve never played much CS:S and certainly not with any consistency, but even I noticed how the game handles very differently and a lot of experienced players are struggling to adapt to this curious change.
It’s understandable that Valve would want to unify their game under one tickrate, which should provide a much more consistent gameplay experience. Newcomers who might be attracted by the new community-oriented features should have an easier time of it with servers running at identical tickrates. Still the 66 tickrate may be nice for keeping 32-64 player servers playable, but the input delay it represents is not a positive change on servers with lower player counts. It feels more like Modern Warfare 2 now, where players can run straight through your shotgun headshot because the server didn’t register it in time.
In the end it’s still Counter Strike: Source and while the tickrate and radar changes have altered the way the game is played to an extent, any returning players are sure to recognize the same old game. The new features are a nice touch and might be a good way to lure in some of the Team Fortress 2 crowd that is already used to achievements, statistics and domination systems. But without actual new content such as maps, game modes or weapons I doubt that it will be as successful as the average TF2 update is in drawing in new players.
It’s still not really a game I terribly enjoy, but it has gotten a much needed breath of fresh air and is well worth a look for any who may have abandoned it in favor of a more modern shooter experience. The patch may be a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s still more overwhelmingly positive than negative if you look at it from a casual point of view.