Counter-Strike and Battlefield
These games represent the zenith of tactical shooters. Counter-Strike has done more for team-based gameplay than any other shooter, and Battlefield has perhaps reaped significant rewards from this. Both games are set to realistic scenarios, with Battlefield first using a World War 2 environment, and the latest version being set in a modern era.
It's appropriate to start first with CS. The game was originally a mod for Half-Life, created by a couple of enterprising gamers. The first few versions - early code was labelled as beta, with 0.4 being perhaps the first truly playable version - created a significant interest in the game. It's perhaps fair to say that CS has no real heritage in gaming terms, since it was arguably the first online shooter of its type. However, it clearly owes a lot to early Tom Clancy games with the stealth scenarios, including bomb defusal and hostage rescuing, appearing similar to single-player experiences in the Clancy genre. The game realised success by tapping into that SAS trooper in all of us, and by giving that fantasy a realistic place to play out. This was not a world of aliens, outrageous rail guns and crazy worlds: this was a world of terrorists, fantastically trained officers and realistic guns. This was an alternate reality to become engrossed in.
Battlefield came out of the popularity of single-player war games over the past few years. Medal of Honour, Call of Duty, Flashpoint and others all fuelled enthusiasm for realistic wargaming experiences. At the same time, the team-based gameplay of Counter-Strike was dominating the online gaming market. What hadn't been done was a fusion of the two, and this is where Battlefield originally succeeded. CS led a revival in team-based gameplay, which also took hold with Team Fortress, another Half-Life mod, after the primarily 'one man for himself' deathmatch play of Quake. Battlefield took this teamplay to a new level with player classes inspired by TF and vehicular combat inspired by Halo, the first FPS to integrate vehicles well with combat.
Defining a tactical shooter can, to some degree, be done by suggesting that it is everything that an arcade shooter is not. This, however, would be to create a clearer line between the two than actually exists.
Previously, we mentioned that tactics are a large part of tactical shooters, as one might expect. In an arcade FPS, weapon domination and reflexes are perhaps the key attributes of a successful player. Here, an intimate knowledge of the map you're on can trump both those attributes. Knowing key throttle points on a map, understanding the best way to protect or fulfill objectives and working as a team can be the best weapons available. Weapon domination in CS comes not through being in the right place at the right time, but through constant team success, which gives you the cash required. However, the best CS players can win with nothing more than a Desert Eagle.
Perhaps a downer on the CS experience is that many people tend to play the game as team deathmatch, especially on public servers. This can ruin the feel of the team-based gameplay. The optimal CS experience is to play in a clan with other like-minded individuals: it is through cooperation and teamwork that the most success will arise.
Battlefield capitalises on this, by making team deathmatching more rare - it's hard for one person to win on his or her own. This is emphasised even more in Battlefield 2, where points can be won purely for assisting others, rather than for one's own kills or captures. The additon of vehicles to the mix in Battlefield means that a lone soldier cannot survive without the support of his mates in a tank, or his buddy in a plane. Perhaps one of the biggest differences between the two tactical games is that in CS, a single player can hold a choke point or objective, thus winning the game. In Battlefield, the maps are so enormous that no one player can do everything, and teamwork is essential if you want to win. The map size and the consequential forced teamwork are perhaps one of the master strokes of Battlefield's game design.
Updates and changes
The move from the last release of CS - version 1.6 - to the Half-Life 2 version in Source has proved a difficult one. Along the way, things have changed - the weapons, the maps, the hitboxes, and some would argue that the feel of the game is also different. This has led to something of a schism in the CS community between those who play CS Source and enjoy the newness and the gloriousness of the graphics, and those who stay true to the hardcore vibe of 1.6.
Interesting, Battlefield hasn't seen this kind of reaction, with players of 1942 happily accepting that it's time to move on and enjoying the experience of the latest incarnation. Perhaps this is because the Battlefield community is a little less fanatical about the game than CS players. CS players, many of them, have grown up with the game, and have grown up and seen the game progress from nothing to this huge phenomenon. Many feel a sense of ownership because of their involvement from the beginning. Anyone who sees something they feel they belong to change is going to be worried and/or hostile about the effects.
CS is played in more professional tournaments than any other game, we'd warrant, as befits its status as the number one big-boy in online gaming. Quake and other arcade shooters delight spectators with thrills, spills and fast action. CS delights with tactics and with tension - with two teams down to a man each, stalking each other through the map, or with the slow dawning of the realisation of a new game-winning tactic from a particularly enterprising outfit.
Battlefield is a more spectacular game to watch and to play in. The combination of footsoldiers with vehicles and planes gives the whole thing a movie-like epic feel. Seeing a well-played game can get close to a cinematic experience.