One of the most engaging aspects of Counter Strike: Global Offensive and previous iterations of Counterstrike has been its emphasis on balanced and interesting level design. CS:GO is perhaps the game with the most iconic and sought after levels from a game design perspective. When you look at some of these Counterstrike maps, you start to understand the depth and level of detail that goes into every decision, from where the pots are placed to more high level design concepts. I’ll try to explain some of these as I go along, but a lot of these aspects are more subtle and are best understood on a subconscious level when actually playing the map. With that, here’s the Top 10 Best CS:GO Maps of All Time:
Santorini came out only recently. Created by one of the contributors of Cache, ”FMPONE”, this map boasts a pristine Mediterranean setting with an emphasis on clarity and close combat. The overarching theme is a blanket of white Greek houses interspersed with teeming blue rooftops. Not all of the map is a cozy wash, however, as there are broken brick layouts, missing doors to peek through and multiple stairways similar to Cobblestone to provide angles vertically, and not just horizontally. It’s a great map for shotguns, SMGs and surprisingly, AWPs, as both the A and B sites have great peeking positions that can either be advantageous, or punished. This map needs a lot of polish before it can be introduced competitively, but it’s a fun one to play.
I love playing vertigo. There’s something about the looming threat of your teammates just being able to walk into elevator shafts or over the edge of a building and sudoku themselves that’s quite exhilarating. What makes this map fun is the double storied levels, similar to Nuke. There are open spaces for rifle and AWP fire as well as ladders and stairwells to punish long range. This is one of the few maps from CS 1.6 that made it straight to CS:GO. Again, it’s probably not competitively viable, but Vertigo is an amazing map to mess around with friends on.
Zoo is a great looking map. The attention to detail put into this map is great, with the signs and animal displays making you stop and stare at them instead of focusing on actually killing the enemy team. Zoo was introduced in CS:GO through Operation Bloodhound, and a few weeks after release all people would do is stare at the fish. The aquarium section seems to be loosely based on the Pittsburgh Aquarium. It’s very well made, with glinting tanks of water and animal noises near the Zebra striped Jeep. There’s lots of Lion King references to be made when playing Zoo. Although this is one of those maps where the limitations of Valve’s Source Engine stops it from being even better; the lack of dynamic lighting or interactive models for animals doesn’t subtract anything from the Counterstrike experience, but if they were there, it would definitely be a pleasant addition. Volvo Source 2 when?
Italy was a fan favourite in CS 1.6 thanks to its textures and theme-fitting music. With the updated graphics in CS:GO, other maps have gotten a lot better, but so has this cozy little Italian village. Some iconic locations and scenery, including the plaza and tunnel, find similar adaptations in Inferno, but there’s a special feel to it when you start out in the CT side and are faced with a choice of moving left or right through this Italian piazza.
The deathmatch treasure. Office has been around since the original Counterstrike, undergoing several changes along the way. It has always remained one of the more balanced hostage situation maps due to its wider pathways and roughly equal distance between the meeting point of Terrorists and Counter-terrorists. The winter themed office scenario features an outside area, a parking garage and of course, an office with a variety of entry points through large glass windows. There’s a lot of different ways to play this map for both teams, and the balance despite the variety is what makes Office so interesting.
Train is an old map, but one with an interesting history. The scenario being played out is a battle between SEAL Team 6 and some Balkan forces, who are looking to bomb the nuclear payload on a couple of trains in a trainyard. When added to CS:GO, Valve made a ton of gameplay changes to reduce camping and make it a more versatile map. In its current iteration Train features a few spots to play the AWP position, and although these positions are well known and easily countered with smokes, the AWP continues to be a powerful weapon due to the length of the bombsites. It’s a very fun map to watch in clutch situations, as there are a lot more accessible angles and positions in a 1v1 scenario. This is a map with a limited number of strategies, but with a very high skill ceiling, which is what makes Train in CS:GO so interesting.
Mirage, in many ways, is similar to its more popular counterpart Dust 2. Both feature a dusty, Middle Eastern setting and both feature a four loop level design as well. Basically, there are four viable loops all intersecting in mid, in around Connector, for both CTs and Ts to move around. This makes Mirage incredibly versatile and unrestricted in movement. Either team can rotate around the map in a variety of positions, whether it’s through apartments or the aptly named palace, through tunnel or connector, you are sure to end up with an interesting scenario in every round. All guns are viable, all kinds of pushes are viable, and there are a ton of smokes, flashbangs and boosts to literally boost your gameplay.
Nuke is so different from Mirage in its game design execution and yet ends up being just as versatile as the latter. With Valve majorly redoing Counter Strike: Global Offensive’s Nuke in 2016, giving it a new look and making a few changes in and around the bombsite, the map is more interesting than ever. Featuring a two storied nuclear reactor, with both bombsites directly on top of each other, its three dimensional gameplay is Nuke’s USP. The ladders and vents have you going up and down instead of just sideways like other maps, and this makes Nuke, well, not flat. It’s strange to see a map where both teams start outside a building, and then enter the building only to meet in cramped spaces, tight corners and a gallery of ladders and vents leading into very Half Life-esque bombsites.
Oh dear, Inferno. This map was recently removed from the competitive pool due to stale strategies and a lack of innovation, but it still continues to be one of the most hotly contested ones. The setting is similar to Italy, but slightly more open. There aren’t many ultra-long vantages for snipers to camp, and both bombsites have places to sit and camp with two open directions for a take or retake. But what makes this map special is its emblematic locations; Banana, being known mostly as a frying pan for terrorists to get molotov’d, and the omnipresent bell tower that makes it easy to tell exactly where on the map you are. The fish pond, the apartments, the chicken hut and skybox all have a place in the pixelly trophy room of CS:GO map design.
1) Dust 2
Of course it had to be Dust 2 at number one. No other level in any game ever has been as influential to competitive gaming as a whole than Dust 2. Even the original Dota map had more revisions and changes than Dust 2, signifying the balance and integrity of this map. It’s the most played level in Counterstrike by far, and anyone who plays Valve Public Deathmatch would know, it’s rather difficult to find any other map being played (along with Mirage after the selection changes).
The palatial spires, the boxes, crates, doors, tunnels, and walls, combine to create a perfect amalgamation of pure Counterstrike. There are very few places on the map that can’t be countered, even fewer OP boosts or smokes or other tactics that detract from gameplay, and finally, there are just so many strategies available. Defending either bombsite from the three different angles is just as hard as pushing into one.
What makes a map great is not just the aesthetic and optimisation, but the largest variety of available rotations and strategies with the ability to outplay your opponent. The best CS:GO maps all have this in various aspects, and Dust 2 is just the perfect blend.