There's a game that has dominated our lives for so long we’d started to believe we would never stop playing it. Lunchtimes were the highlight of the day, not because we got to stuff our faces with overpriced sandwiches, but because the whole building would launch Counter-Strike and start shooting the hell out of each other. Then we'd go home and play it online. This was actually considered normal. But in the last six months our enthusiasm has waned to such a degree you’re more likely to catch the ZONE monitors displaying exciting games of Solitaire come 1 pm. Some people have gone so far as to uninstall Half-Life from their machines and go and sit in the park for an hour. This is now actually considered normal. It's not that surprising really. Although CS is still the most popular online shooter by far, it’s reaching the end of its long life cycle. And there's a whole bunch of titles snapping at its heels fighting to replace it, with Global Ops the first one out of the bag.
Masses Against The Classes
While the similarities with CS are obvious (it's no coincidence that developer Barking Dog was involved in the Beta 5 version) it’s the differences that will determine its success. And there are more than a few. The first and most obvious is that Global Ops follows the time-honoured tradition of that other massive Half-Life mod, Team Fortress, and introduces a class system. Choosing to be a demolitions expert, sniper, commando, medic, recon or heavy gunner limits which weapons you can buy and how you play the game, although the constraints are nowhere near as rigid as they are in Team Fortress. You can even pick up weapons belonging to other classes once you’re on the battlefield. There’s also the option to be a strategist directing operations as the Intelligence Officer, although, we’re not sure this idea will take off online.
Each mission is set in a real-world location, and brings along with it a pseudo-plot involving more diverse objectives than CS players are used to. While there are still a lot of hostage rescue and bombing missions, you also have to retrieve chemical substances or take command of a ship. You’re hardly encouraged to become engrossed in a story but each level has its own set of skins for both sides, making it easier to believe it's a real setting rather than one of Counter-Strike's anonymous sandboxes. This aspect also makes Global Ops one of the best multi-racial games around, since in missions in places like Uganda and Peru you play the local law enforcement or resident bad guys instead of a self-important Western force that sticks its nose into every foreign country.
Global Ops also features a single-player campaign, but you shouldn't go into this expecting Unreal Tournament or Quake III. The single-player game is very much like a training ground where you can learn the sometimes very large maps and the locations of key areas without making a fool of yourself in front of other people. Once you have learned the ropes though, you won’t want to stick around offline very long. Although the bots are programmed to carry out the mission objectives, the Al is nowhere near good enough to compare to a multiplayer game. You can give your team simple orders (like retreat or back you up, although they usually ignore them anyway). You can click on a couple of them to follow you like Half-Life guards, but stealth and tactics play no part in it. Both sets of bots just run wildly ahead and start shooting until they’re gunned down. Most of the time they complete the missions without you even knowing what’s going on or where they’ve gone, reinforcing the idea this is just a way of learning the levels, not a game in itself.
It helps that you don’t have to sit out a round every time you die. Taking a leaf out of the Return To Castle Wolfenstein book, there are reinforcement periods where you can return or, if you prefer, you can just lie on the floor writhing in agony until a medic comes and revives you.
It’s quite difficult to say at this early stage whether Global Ops is a real challenger - online games usually take a few months before either establishing themselves or disappearing down the pan. The LithTech engine doesn’t really offer much of an improvement over Counter-Strike in the graphics department and we’re not convinced the maps can compete with the likes of Dust, Militia and Italy. Besides, Counter-Strike is usually played as a team deathmatch - killing the other side being loads more fun than completing objectives - and Global Ops is very much an objective-driven game.
Expect a review update soon, when the whole thing kicks off properly online and the first mods start to trickle in. After all, this is just the beginning.
Download Global Operations
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
With so many free mods offering multiplayer team-based action, a retail game has to offer something pretty special to survive. I already said in my original review that it wasn’t a good single-player campaign that was going to make Global Ops stand out. Brainless bots and a bad structure saw to that. But what about online?
Well, you won’t have any problems finding a server to play on. Not because there are loads of them but because the dozen or so that do have people playing usually have spaces free. But. despite the replacement of real people for bots. Global Ops is far from perfect, and subsequently ends up being much the same as the single-player game.
Go Go Go
My main criticism of the bots (apart from their stupidity) was they just charged forward with no regard for stealth or tactics. It seems they were quite realistic. Whether it’s because of the nature of the gameplay or because no one is taking ft seriously, online matches are a fast free-for-all. This is partly the game’s fault. If you go sneaking around CS-style it doesn’t feel right. Plus you just get trampled by rushing enemies because the sound isn’t quite as integral to your awareness.
But GO is supposed to be all about teamplay, so it’s a shame that all the matches I took part in were pretty much team-free. Apart from the odd medic giving me health now and then, there was no attempt to work a strategy or have a balanced set of specialists. And. unlike CS, there was little communication between the players. You die, you respawn after a while, then run back into the fray. That’s it.
Still, the use of tear gas and thermal vision does make it a bit different, even if the extensive backgrounds to each mission make no difference to the actual shooting. It doesn’t matter why you’re fighting or which faction you’re supposed to be, it’s still just one team against another.Or rather it’s every man for himself, as most players go out for maximum kills. Considenng it’s an objective-driven game, most people don’t give a damn about the objectives. If you want to play properly join a clan.
Another problem is the lag. Version 2.0 solves some bugs but on the whole remains laggy. Considering the simplicity of the graphics and animations, there's really no excuse for that.
And as for Barking Dog's big claims about the impossibility of cheating, it’s still too early to say if it works. But hackers are hardly going to bother with a game only a handful of people play. With few servers and often brainless teammates, GO falls well short in the team-based online shooter stakes, and because of this deserves an even lower score than its single-player mode.
As I write this there are more than 63,000 people playing Half-Life across the Internet, 52,000 of which are playing Counter-Strike. It is of course the most popular mod, and consequently Half-Life is the most fashionable online action game in the world. Compare this to the second most popular, Unreal Tournament, with nearly 6,000 players currently fighting across deep space. If you go down the rankings you don’t need to be a maths genius to realise there are more people playing Counter-Strike than every other first-person shooter and their various mods put together. And the numbers are set to rise, as it’s only early evening here, the Americans have yet to join in the action - which isn’t surprising after turning up late for two World Wars. (Come back Stan Boardman, all is forgiven - Ed.)
While it’s true that Counter-Strike can’t hope to go on ruling the roost forever, it's hard to see anything dislodging it any time soon. Medal of Honor has a good chance, although you get the feeling it fighting it out for second place with Wolfenstein. Then there’s Verant’s massively multiplayer Planetside and its claims of being able to handle hundreds of people playing across the same map (compared to CS's 32). However, none of these are trying to out-Counter-Strike Counter-Strike, and while we have high hopes that the likes of Team Factor, Mobile Forces and Conflict Desert Storm will all build upon the success that Counter-Strike has single-handedly created, spearheading the assault is Global Ops, from turncoat developer Barking Dog.
Despite the counter-terrorist versus terrorist battles, CS has always felt more like a training exercise, even more so the further you become acquainted with the handful of maps the majority of players seem to stick to. While that’s no bad thing in itself, Global Ops aims to up the realism to unprecedented levels by setting its missions throughout the globe. The missions take place not just across dust and tundra,jungle and in villages, but in recognisable hot spots, from Mexico and Quebec - as seen in the recent beta version - to Chechnya, Africa, the Antarctic and Sri Lanka. Moreover the idea for each mission is to create a story around it, partly to enforce a greater sense of team spirit, partly just because it hasn’t j really been done before. In Mexico for example, the DEA are chasing South American drug dealers - in Quebec it’s rescuing hostages from the Canadian Embassy. Some would argue that Barking Dog has taken things too far, and while it wouldn’t I surprise any of us if the first fan-made level to be released is set in the underground caves of Tora Bora, no doubt the developer would have liked to have done it themselves. Seeing as they were pressured into dropping plans for a Northern Ireland mission last year due to pressure from UK gamers, it’s a safe bet that controversy will be left at the feet of third-party developers. Like it or not, Northern Ireland will j be back in some form, good guys versus bad, Britain versus the IRA, white hats versus black - no matter the shades of grey that colour reality.
Command & Conquer
Aside from the various maps, there are many more differences between Global Ops and Counter-Strike. Borrowed from pre-CS top dog Team Ubrtress, instead of simply choosing weapon, players will be able to select their character from a number lof pre-set classes. A sniper rifle here then does not a sniper make, for in Global Ops you must effectively choose your profession, and there are plenty of them. These range from medic and commando to heavy gunner and demolitions expert, all with the various levels of armour, speed and choices of primary and secondary weapons that you’d expect. One class you won’t have seen elsewhere is the intelligence officer and true to his rank, he’s the one behind the lines and safe from harm, sitting in front of his command console ordering everyone around.
Though he doesn’t get involved in any direct action, the intelliegence officer is an important member of the team, able to see through his team’s head-mounted cameras and set waypoints for each to follow. He can also guide reinforcements around the map, since unlike Counter-Strike, when you die the war is far from over as players are resurrected and thrown into the fray on the next reinforcement period, Wolfenstein-style.
In terms of the weapons on offer Global Ops has more than enough to keep even the most ardent gun nut occupied. There are more than 32 weapons in fact, most of which you’ll be familiar with - though with four heavy machine guns, various grenades and explosives, plus a LAW rocket launcher, the battles are sure to be a little more explosive than Counter-Strike. One nice little weapon is the tear gas grenade, and unless you have a gas mask, your character will start coughing and spluttering if you run into a cloud of the stuff. Flashbang grenades may well blind you for a short time, and deafen you as well. Best of all are the bomb/defuse missions, where after planting explosives, those trying to defuse can either take their time and make sure it won’t go off, or if time is running out, randomly cut one of the wires in the hope it’s the right one.
There are dozens of other small touches in the game that ensure most will feel they are in familiar territory, while at the same time playing a different game. The balance of the weapons is noticeably different, as is the damage model, and no doubt there will be plenty of changes as minor defects are ironed out over the coming weeks both before and after release.
Making The Switch
After initially disliking the game soon realised it was only because I had to get used to the new maps and the new features Global Ops offers over Counter-Strike, but it’s obvious there will be many who are reluctant to make the changeover. Some will argue what’s the point of paying $30 or $40 to play what is essentially the same free game? It’s a fair question. Whether you see Global Ops as a blatant copy or a worthwhile purchase will depend on a number of factors, the most important of which is whether you still find as much enjoyment in Counter-Strike as you once did. If you do, then why change things? If you’re getting sick of the whole terrorists versus special forces theme, then of course you’ll be throwing up before even getting the game home. If on the other hand you’ve been away from Counter-Strike because of the rampant cheating going on, then there’s a good chance you’ll find Global Ops a fairly safe hang-out. Barking Dog has made assurances that it will be nearly impossible for people to cheat or even run macros. There’s no iconsole for one thing, but it would be wrong to think determined killjoys won’t find a way around the security measures.
Lith Or Let Lith
Graphically, as you will probably already be thinking, Global Ops is far from spectacular. Though the LithTech engine does a competent job throughout, it lags behind the recent Quake 3 Arena - powered games like Medal Of Honor and Wolfenstein.
Next to CS, Global Ops has a meatier look and while the animation is very good, the graphics look a little washed out.
As a whole though, based on playing the beta online and the recent preview code, Global Ops looks like it’s shaping up to be a real contender. It’s difficult to gauge the game after just a few hours when we’ve all spent many hundreds playing Counter-Strike. Certainly the varied missions are welcome, offering many more tactical possibilities than CS ever had, and with the many small enhancements (like the class-based play and the Intelligence Officer in particular), there is far greater scope for organised teams. As to whether Global Ops ends up beating Counter-Strike, both in terms of popularity and in terms of the quality of the game, it will probably be the case that we’ll have to wait for a good few months to find out. And don’t forget, it took Counter-Strike a whole year to take over the world. We’ll hopefully have a full review in next month’s issue, by which time we’ll have a much better idea.