Your reward for landing a Raylan Givens-level headshot in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s new game mode? A weapon downgrade. Yes, Valve and Hidden Path have finally shown us something original in the CS:GO beta, delivering an all-new map, called Lake, and a game type that removes the buy menu and gives players progressively weaker weapons after each round they score a kill. Meet the Bizarro Gun Game mode, Arsenal.
It’s been a long time coming. Valve promised new modes and maps when it announced CS: GO last year, but in the three months since the beta began, updated visuals were the only things added to the now 12-year-old Half-Life mod. Finally, on Friday, Hidden Path rolled out something new, and I haven’t been this excited about Counter-Strike since Clinton was president.
The New Map: Lake
Remember the boat house area at the end of the original Left 4 Dead’s Death Toll campaign? Take out the swarming, flesh-hungry undead, replace moon with sun, and you’ve got CS:GO’s new map, Lake. It’s a small but terrific addition to the tight-knit family of Counter-Strike maps, and it plays bigger than it looks thanks to some varied and well-placed design elements.
Lake combines an open area dotted with cover (a boulder-strewn yard featuring a small construction project on one side and a one-car garage on the other) with the verticality and close confines of a three-story lake house. The lake house sits smack in the middle of the map, and that’s where the Terrorists must plant the bomb — there’s no B location here. As a result, Counter-Terrorists know exactly where the Terrorists are going, and at first I thought this would tip the balance heavily in favor of the CTs. After playing a number of rounds, though, I discovered it actually helps create exciting seesaw battles open to a number of different offensive and defensive strategies.
My first instinct was to race to the lake house to plant the bomb right away, but that required some Terrorist teammate coordination. The X marking the spot where the bomb goes boom is in an open room lined with the non-bulletproof variety of windows, so I had to make sure my guys were covering me. Next I tried hanging back and wait for my squad to take out a few bad guys before going for the plant, but I had to carefully watch my back, because the yard surrounding the lake house is rife with flanking opportunities.
Conversely, when playing as the Counter-Terrorists, I always made sure a teammate or two rushed to the house immediately to prevent the quick plant while others covered the yard (and your backside) from flankers, simultaneously pushing to flank the enemy. Battles also play out on each floor of the house, where multiple doorways and staircases require multiple offensive and defensive strategies. And then there’s the coveted roof of the lake house, an area both sides try to lock down to gain a huge high-ground advantage.
Like the best FPS multiplayer maps, Lake is one contiguous area with varied, identifiable parts. Skilled players will have to become familiar with them all to survive and thrive in Arsenal.
The New Mode: Arsenal
A perennial favorite of CS players, the original Gun Game is a mod that does away with the buy shop and awards kills with progressively superior weapons. A traditional Gun Game mode is coming to CS:GO as well, Valve has confirmed, but that’s old news. The new and interesting mode is Hidden Path’s inverse take on that mode, Arsenal.
(Editor’s note: as some of you have already pointed out, Arsenal is not an entirely original CS mode. The concept was created in a Counter-Strike: Source mod for the Gun Game mod, Reverse Gun Game.)
I started with an assault rifle (the M-16 for Counter-Terrorists and AK-47 for Terrorists), but each round I killed an enemy or successfully detonated (or disarmed) the bomb, my weaponry was downgraded — first to the P90 SMG, and finally to the Desert Eagle handgun. Surprisingly, Hidden Path took a great mod and made it even better.
Fact: better CS players score more kills. In Gun Game, that means they get better weapons, giving them a better chance to peel back even more caps. That’s not so good for less-skilled players, who were at a disadvantage before they were outgunned. Arsenal, conversely, acts almost like an auto-balance system, where the skilled players are knocked down a notch with each kill. The same is true team-wise: if one side scores a lopsided win, they’ll be armed with weaker weapons the next round, giving the losing squad a better chance the next time out. After playing multiple rounds of Arsenal, I can confidently say it works, and it’s fun.
It’s also challenging and rewarding — as odd a word choice as “rewarding” might seem in this case. Running around with a handgun (really a hand cannon with the Desert Eagle) and still managing to pull off kills against more heavily armed foes is a rush. And you do get a little something for the effort: grenades and flashbangs are awarded when you’ve reached the bottom of Arsenal’s arsenal.
I’ve been waiting years for something new in Counter-Strike, and Valve and Hidden Path have delivered with Lake and Arsenal. The map and mode are a blast, and a fresh challenge for skilled CS players to adjust their strategies on the fly while providing a built-in balance system for less-skilled players sick of being bullet magnets. Still in beta, there are frustrating connection and frame rate issues, but I fully expect Arsenal to become a favorite when Counter-Strike: Global Offensive finally launches.