The launch of Counter-Strike 2 on September 27 is at once one of the biggest and least remarkable video game events of the year. It is a full-on numeral 2 sequel to what is unequivocally one of the most popular and influential first person shooters ever released, and at the same time, a game that you probably forgot came out this year or didn’t even know existed, even if you play video games daily.
The answer for how the game can be both things at the same time lies in how it is currently being negatively reviewed by users on Steam, pulling on more than two decades of Counter-Strike history, video game preservation, extremely specific grievances, and the fascinating statistics Valve’s platform can surface now that it’s been online for so long.
As Insider-Gaming first noted, Counter-Strike 2 (CS2) is getting dragged in Steam reviews at the moment. Insider-Gaming declared it is the “Worst-Rated Valve Game Ever,” which is technically debatable but definitely not far off.
Valve, which used to make more video games than it has in recent years, is responsible for hall-of-fame, genre defining bangers like Half-Life, Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead, Portal, Dota 2, and of course previous iterations of counter strike. All these games have hundreds of thousands of user review scores that Steam has averaged at between “positive” and “overwhelmingly positive.” The only previous exception is Valve’s card game, Artifact, which averaged at a “Mixed” reception from players. The biggest problem with it though is that very few people played it. Valve pulled it from the store entirely at some point, and that review average is based on just under 25,000 thousand user reviews since it was released in 2018.
CS2, on the other hand, has received an average of “mixed” reviews based on 164,040 recent reviews. Since Valve has done a lot of good work to curb review bombing, Steam now surfaces reviews that appear more legitimate, highlighting those that come from players that have actually bought the game and played it for a few hours. Brutally, because CS2 replaced the previous version of the game, the incredibly popular Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) first released 2012, Steam is surfacing negative reviews from people who have thousands of hours of Counter-Strike under their belt.
“**** cs2. Bring csgo back,” one review from someone who played Counter-Strike for 3,984 hours according to their Steam profile, says. “CS2 is garbage,” says another who played Counter-Strike for 1,163 hours.
Not to brag, but I’m Steam friends with the modder Sergeant Mark IV, creator of Brutal Doom, who first reviewed CS:GO in 2018, put 576 hours into it, and updated his review on September 28 just to say CS2 has had a “catastrophic launch.”
These are the type of blunt, kind of mean, and totally devoid of constructive criticism reviews that are common online and among video game players specifically, but it’s hard to dismiss a player as a troll when they’ve played the game for over 3,000 hours. These people obviously love Counter-Strike.
To be clear about what’s happening here: these players racked up those hours on CS:GO. When Valve released CS2, it did not create a new product on Steam with its own store page and community. It just replaced CS:GO with CS2, saddling the latter with the former's long history of reviews, playtime, and other baggage. This is why CS2’s store page shows that it has “mixed” reviews based on 164,040 recent reviews, and 7.6 million “very positive” reviews overall, despite only being released recently. The latter are mostly CS:GO reviews.
And therein lies the tragedy and probably a lot of the anger. According to my Steam history, I haven’t launched CS:GO since 2015, but the actual time I spent with the game was during its 1.3—1.6 era in the early 2000s, most of it predating Steam itself. To truly date myself, many of those hours were spent at internet cafes, which back then still had a huge advantage of LAN over slow internet speeds. Since that original mod for the Half-Life engine, the game has seen an incredible number of tweaks, and a few big engine changes, like Counter-Strike: Source in 2004, CS:GO, and now CS2. I launched it for the first time and played a round while writing this blog and it’s still basically the same game. It’s also what makes it a good esport. Like a real sport, it doesn’t change that much over time.
One obvious testament to how Counter-Strike refused to change over 20 years is that it doesn’t have “aim down sights” or ADS for short. This is the thing where if you press right click (left trigger for the console people), the gun comes up to the camera as if you’re looking through the ironsights, so you can aim more carefully. This wasn’t a thing when Counter-Strike came out in 2000, and it was never added to the game. Counter-Strike also has maps that are 20 years old, meaning people have built literal decades of map knowledge and muscle memory around them. Moving a box on one of those maps just a little bit is a huge deal. In fact, the biggest changes in CS2, which, again, is not just a little update but a full on sequel, are in how players get gun skins, more dynamic smoke from smoke grenades, and behind-the-scenes netcode updates that change how the game is synchronizing player action across the internet.
Surely, some people hate some or all of these changes with an intensity Sigmund Freud described as the narcissism of small differences (Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen). The more people are intimately familiar with a thing, the more likely they are to flip their lid at changes that an outsider wouldn’t even be able to recognize. If you’ve played CS:GO for 3,000 hours and CS2 suddenly changes a hitbox by a few pixels, you might fucking lose it. This is just how video games are these days. People spend a lot of time with them, and they get very upset when something changes. Often, they eventually get over it.
One thing I’m not sure they’ll get over is Valve’s erasure of CS:GO. This was consistently one of the most popular games on Steam for years. A game that, despite a bursting esports bubble, people actually went to see other people play in arenas. CS2 fully replaced CS:GO, taking its place on Steam, which is how some of these review shenanigans are happening and not something Valve has done with previous major updates to the game. This is what many of the reviews are complaining about. They just want to play CS:GO.
At the moment, there is still a way, albeit obtuse, to play CS:GO. As PCGamesN explains, you can go to your Steam Library, pick CS2, and then dig through a few menus to launch a “legacy version” of CS:GO, but this version doesn’t have official matchmaking, and next year Valve will stop supporting it entirely. It remains to be seen whether CS:GO players will manage to step in for Valve and keep it alive.