This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of L.A.I.D. Magazine.  Published online February 28th 2003, edited September 15th 2003.

Counter-strike is one of the true game success stories of the last decade. Two guys wanted to modify Sierra’s Half-Life to make it a terrorist versus counter terrorist. They chose Half-Life because the developers of the game, Valve Software, released tools and information on the net. And so Counter-strike was born, and the term “mod” became common vocabulary for the gaming community. It’s so successful that Valve has taken the helm and is working on the title in house.

It’s a success for two reasons: it’s a free mod that basically gives you a new game from your existing Half-Life install, and it’s multiplayer only online or on a network. New versions roll out a few times a year, fixing bugs and adding new maps and features. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Counter-strike is a counter terrorist versus terrorist game. There are a variety of maps available, with three game types. Counter terrorist rescues hostages, terrorists plant a bomb, or counter terrorists escort a target. Each side begins at opposite sides of the map and rush towards each other. Missions last five minutes or less, and the action is fast and furious.

Once you find a server and log in, you pick a side. When the mission begins you can buy your equipment, consisting of firearms, grenades and body armor. You earn money by your performance the previous mission and your teams performance. Firearms available are varied: pistols, sub machine guns, rifles, machine guns, shotguns. The firearms and ballistics are modeled fairly well, and there is a good balance overall.

To describe a typical mission is easy: you run around trying to kill the enemy before they get you. Knowledge of each level is key, so you know the choke points and sniping hiding spots. When you first start playing try out all the weapons and get a feel for what’s going on, run around the maps and understand the game and what takes place.

To be good you’ll need “skillz”, quick reflexes and the ability to drop your opponent with one shot. Easy weapons are the auto shotgun and MP5K sub machine gun; lots of spraying power to hit your enemy with at least some of your spent ammunition. As you progress the really good players can drop you with a single shot from a pistol.

Of course Counter-strike is about one side versus the other; if the enemy is moving and playing as a group and your team’s scattered all over then it’s an easy win for them.   That’s the beauty of it all; team play enhances the game immensely, but you can go it alone and still win. And since it’s a five minute mission, you can do better next time. For more information on gameplay check out www.ebabble.net/html/counter-strike.html.

Early 2003 saw the release of Steam 2.0 and the Counter-strike 1.6 beta. It was available officially for two days before Valve closed the beta and withdrew the download. A Google search will get you the steaminstall.zip file, which gets you in the door. Some controversy there, but it is a beta and not a final product.

Editor’s Update: Counter Strike 1.6 has been released and is out of beta. You’re required to download a new steam client at www.steampowered.com, register your email address again and enter a Half-Life our retail Counter Strike CD Key. Once that’s done you’re in business, after the 350 MB download that is.

Previously the mod was available for download and you installed it overtop of Half-Life. Now you had to use Steam to play 1.6, which is a double edged sword. I tried Steam 1.0 last year, and it was alright. Steam is a delivery system from Valve Software that allows you to play games without having to own the game. Counter-strike and other mods were available free; you signed up and selected the titles you wanted. Then Steam downloaded the necessary files and you were good to go, no Half-Life required. It was on the wall that one day you were going to have to pay for this luxury, just not yet.

Steam 2.0 has been greatly improved, as has the Counter-strike frame. I say “frame” because the gameplay is the same, but how you log in and find your server is a tenfold improvement. Starting up Counter-strike 1.6 brings you to a very nice interface that allows you to find a server, look for friends online, chat, and a whole lot more. It’s a window to the Counter-strike community, and the day is sunny indeed. If you don’t think it’s great load up Counter-strike 1.5 and do a quick comparison.

Not much is new for gameplay; one new rifle per side and a tactical shield for counter terrorists. A few map changes, and a new map. It’s not new features that bring players; it’s the quick action and desire to prove yourself against others. Leave it for a few months and come back; the skillz are still there, just a little rusty.