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Counter-Stike: Source (featured), CS 1.6, CS: GO

I’ve played hundreds of hours of Counter-Strike: Source and the vast majority of those have been spent running around the narrow corridors and snowy courtyards of cs_office. It’s a minor miracle that each round remains engaging, especially as the starting conditions are exactly the same each time around. “Surely there’s only so much of one map a person can play,” the uninitiated might argue. It could appear to some that Counter-Strike devolves into a kind of Groundhog Day scenario, filled with lab rats scurrying through the same motions time and time again. Every round begins with the shattering of windows and the chucking of grenades, as the Counter-Terrorists assault the office the Terrorists hold yet again, with all the predictability of a tidal movement.

However, after spending so much time in the snowy climes of this small, dense map, little intricacies and mini stratagems begin to reveal themselves. You refine your runs; you learn which spots are the best for sniping, which are the best for ambushes, which routes lend themselves to rushes. Every round plays out differently, be it in major or minor ways. You begin to master the maze the more you run it, filling it with memories and personalisations, little tricks or spots that other players seldom use or check. The small ledge above the tiny garage courtyard that can be reached by a running crouch-jump off the snowy bin outside the windows, letting you sneakily pick off everybody below you, like some kind of bastard vulture. The large dumpster in the middle of the garage with a space under the ceiling just tall enough to squeeze into, a nearby light fixture offering some small cover. The exit sign right over the office entrance that can be sat on by a Terrorist if he runs hell for leather to it right after the round begins, before the area quickly becomes flooded with CTs and transformed into the main battleground.

You begin to make the most of small advantages – for instance, the tiny hollow provided by a small set of descending steps gives you the cover needed to fall back to and snipe from if the Terrorists overrun the CT spawn. The section of wall at the end of the long gauntlet-like corridor that shields your body enough to make it viable to camp at. The line of filing cabinets that can be knocked over in just the right manner by a precisely placed grenade, forming a ramshackle barrier right in front of a crucial doorway. The way the elevator doors let out a soft beep when a player passes by, broadcasting their position to a nearby enemy in the silence of a tense end-game stalking match. The initially generic barrel tucked in beside a doorway near the garage entrance, which you later find to be perfect for masking your silhouette whilst preparing for a last ditch ambush. The sliver of an angle that lets a player peek into the main corridor from the T spawn, just wide enough to gun down any would-be hostage rescuers and still have ample cover. The double doors on either side of the Terrorist spawn entrance that often hide a plucky knife-wielding enemy, hoping to get a one-hit kill on invading CTs. The sniping gallery along the bottom of the map, filled with hopeful marksmen straining to nab a headshot on a passing enemy.

Little features unique to the map stand out in your mind as nostalgic landmarks to be fondly remembered. The small hat-wearing snowman sitting out by the quietest corner of the map, who is inevitably beheaded almost every round by a passing CT. The faux motivation portraits, sitting framed on the wall, with single-sentence quips about topics like camping or spam. The computer appliances and projectors that are usually trashed and decimated by round’s end.

There are many user-made variations of cs_office – some mess with the layout or extend it to include whole new suites of rooms or working elevators, others give it a new lick of paint and a different appearance. However, for many players, the original will always remain in their mind as the first, and the best.

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