In a way, the monumental Counter-Strike: Global Offensive update that launched at the tail end of 2018 shouldn’t surprise anyone. Its battle royale mode was rumored for a very long time. And the game’s free-to-play shift was foreshadowed by its free, offline version in August. Still, the double trouble of the Danger Zone update — which added battle royale and made Counter-Strike free across the board — severely changed the lay of the land. Even so, the the core Counter-Strike audience didn’t react well to the new mode.
On the surface, the battle royale concept doesn’t mesh well with CS:GO. Its incredibly fast gunfights, a low player count, and many short rounds in a single match (instead of one massive brawl) all seem anathema to the loop of something like Fortnite or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. With that in mind, the developers at Bellevue made quite a few drastic changes to the format. In the process, they created an experience that is certainly unique, while still fairly familiar.
This is Danger Zone’s greatest strength and major weakness. CS:GO was a major victim of the rise of battle royale. Its active player base took a notable dive as the genre soared. And starting so late in the race for those fans, Counter-Strike already has a mountain to climb. The new mode’s quirks might make Danger Zone more appealing to existing battle royale enthusiasts — those tired of the same old thing. Not to mention the free-to-play shift removes a significant barrier to entry.
But this is still a sideshow next to the standard five-on-five competitive play where Counter-Strike excels. It’s not much more than a novelty for those who fell in love with the original gameplay. Nor does it have everything a battle royale purist might want.
Danger Zone maintains the base game’s smaller scale. The number of players on a server is restricted to 16 or 18, depending on whether you queue alone or with friends. It also features a map that, while fairly large by CS:GO standards, is multiple magnitudes smaller than what Fortnite and PUBG offer.
This is actually pretty understandable. The gunplay practically demands it. Danger Zone still lacks bullet travel time and drop-off, just like in the main game. Player hit points are also incredibly low. The play space needs to be somewhat constricted to ensure the rifles that dominate competitive game modes only come into play at the tail end of a match.
Blacksite (currently the only Danger Zone map) does set up natural, yet labyrinthine locations with a wide variety of short-to-mid-range battles. From lighthouses to docks, a radio tower or an abandoned construction site, the different starting locations and hotspots feel unique. You can easily identify them all after only a few rounds of play.
“Go 4 The Kill” – The CS:GO Battle Royale Prototype
You may not know it, but a full-fledged battle royale mod for CS:GO made the rounds as early as 2017. Titled “Go 4 The Kill,” it was a much more faithful rendition of a dedicated battle royale experience. It was originally based on H1Z1: King of the Kill — just like PUBG. It even included gunplay very similar to PUBGs and made some pretty impressive changes to core CS:GO.
“Go 4 The Kill” included inventory loadouts and a map four times as large as the biggest one available in the engine. The mod was basically superseded by Danger Zone and has been stuck in limbo for months now. Even so, many of its fans consider it the superior Counter-Strike battle royale experience.
The Truth of the Tablet
One of Counter-Strike’s core gameplay propositions – that superior positioning makes up for most other inadequacies – also plays into Danger Zone. That’s thanks to the “tablet” — perhaps the most interesting innovation Danger Zone offers.
The nifty little device divides the map into smaller hexagonal areas. These give you a general idea what’s happening where, since each hex gets highlighted if you or an opponent are inside one. Of course, this information is available to all players. That gives everyone an opportunity to loosely track their rivals. You don’t know exactly where everyone is, but you always know whether your immediate surroundings are safe or not.
The tablet also speeds up the latter stages of each match. The information it provides eliminates many potential angles you’d normally waste time checking. Not only that, its upgrades (Drone Tracking, Zone Prediction and most importantly, a higher resolution) provide an underappreciated edge over your adversaries. A deeper understanding of their location often makes the difference between surviving and taking a headshot from behind. The ability to drop your tablet, or to pick up someone else’s, also adds a bit of complexity.
And yet, it’s tough to recommend Danger Zone in its current state; it simply doesn’t offer enough.
The mode is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It provides the option to play a few minutes of CS:GO when you don’t really want to commit to CS:GO. That’s a fairly odd proposition for the die hard fans of this particular hardcore FPS. Gone are the set strategies, teamwork, economy management, and other things that made Counter-Strike so immensely popular. Instead, you get a much faster-paced battle royale experience than usual. Except it’s one that sacrifices all the scale, building mechanics, and the vehicle-related shenanigans displayed by the titans of the genre.
Sure, Danger Zone offers a few interesting perks. It actually reminds me of Heroes of the Storm, more than anything: a game that tried to find a casual niche in the over-saturated MOBA market. And just like Danger Zone, HotS launched off back of a powerful IP that didn’t really fit the mold in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, there is potential here. I just doubt it will go fulfilled while the standard five-on-five experience is (understandably) at the forefront of the developers’ minds.