Counter-Strike 2 Gets Official Greenlight, Ticks Down To Explosive Launch

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Counter-Strike is one of the oldest and most-respected names in online FPS gaming. You may think of it as a thing of the past, yet Counter-Strike is anything but that. With hundreds of thousands of players on at any given time, it remains one of the most popular competitive online games, and one of the biggest eSports titles.

However, it's also been around in more or less its current incarnation for over a decade. Folks got real excited a few weeks ago when NVIDIA accidentally leaked the existence of CS2, and rumors ran wild, but all we could really do was wait, of course. Valve didn't make us wait long, though: today, the company announced the existence of "Counter-Strike 2" along with a "limited test" that is on right now.

Valve is a bunch of clever fellows, and they know not to mess with success. Counter-Strike 2 looks very clearly like an evolution of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive rather than a new title; in fact, it really does look more like a "2.0" release rather than a new game. It updates the title to the latest version of the company's Source engine, and as far as we can tell right now, it looks like that's about it.

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Smoke gets realistically lit by the lighting from above.

Not to say that that's not a humongous change, though, because it is. Source 2 is a fully-modern game engine with all that that entails, including bleeding-edge networking, physically-based rendering, and some pretty impressive visual effects. The showpiece are the new smoke grenade effects, which are particle-based and fully dynamic; smoke clouds interact with physical effects in the game world, and they both affect and are affected by lighting realistically.

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You can actually play with the sliders on the preview site.

In addition, Valve is doing a cleanup pass on every map in the game. There are three classes of map changes: touchstones, upgrades, and full overhauls. The "touchstone maps" are the most popular maps from CS:GO—the example Valve gives is Dust II—and they've received minimal changes aside from being updated from the darker and grittier CS:GO style to the brighter and cleaner CS2 look.

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DE_Nuke, in CS:GO on the left, CS2 on the right.

"Upgrade" maps won't see many gameplay-affecting changes, but they've been fully upgraded to the Source 2 lighting system, including physical-based materials with realistic lighting and reflections. The demonstration for this category is the classic DE_Nuke, which looks fantastic in the new lighting system.

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Overpass; CS:GO on the top and CS2 on the bottom.

Finally, some maps will get complete overhauls. These maps don't just take advantage of the Source 2 engine's lighting and materials systems, but in fact have been fully re-worked with all new assets that take advantage of all of Source 2's graphical features.

There are side-by-side comparisons on the preview site for the game, and it's clear that Valve is brightening up the maps to improve visibility and accelerate play. This decision will no doubt be controversial, but expect the art style changes will be less drastic than players think when you're actually playing.

More likely to be relevant to the gameplay experience is a new netcode system that is no longer based on a fixed discrete tick rate. Valve has offered frustratingly-little information on exactly how this works at a technical level, but apparently, CS2's "sub-tick update architecture" allows servers to "know the exact instant that motion starts, a shot is fired, or a 'nade is thrown."

This is very promising, as many players were looking forward to an update for the game that improved the tick rate (and thus the precision) of CS:GO servers. Instead, it looks like Valve has done an end-around on the problem in some way, and we are extremely eager to see how well the new CS2 netcode works.

Players with hundreds or thousands of hours in CS:GO don't have to fret over their massive collections of goodies, because apparently, every single item in CS:GO is being brought forward to CS2 with refreshed models and materials. Likewise, hit markers, blood decals, environmental effects, and even the game's UI have been totally reworked to improve both visual fidelity and gameplay impact.

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If you're keen to jump into CS2, you may be in luck—players are already being added to the limited test based on "a number of factors" including-but-not-limited-to recent CS:GO playtime, trust factor, and Steam account standing. To find out if you've been selected, load into CS:GO and see if you have an "ENROLL" button on the main menu. If you don't, you could be added later, but otherwise, you'll be stuck waiting until the Summer '23 release of CS2 like the rest of us.