Set in various locations around the globe, players assume the roles of members of combating teams of the governmental counter-terrorist forces and various terrorist militants opposing them. During each round of gameplay, the two teams are tasked with defeating the other by the means of either achieving the map’s objectives or else eliminating all of the enemy combatants. Each player may customize their arsenal of weapons and accessories at the beginning of every match, with currency being earned after the end of each round.
Counter-Strike is a first-person shooter game in which players join either the terrorist team, the counter-terrorist team, or become spectators. Each team attempts to complete their mission objective and/or eliminate the opposing team. Each round starts with the two teams spawning simultaneously. All players have only one life by default and start with a pistol as well as a knife.
The objectives vary depending on the type of map, and these are the most usual ones:
- Bomb defusal: The terrorists must carry a bomb, plant it on one of the designated spots and protect it from being disarmed by the counter-terrorists before it explodes to win. The counter-terrorists win if the time runs out with no conclusion.
- Hostage rescue: The counter-terrorists must rescue a group of hostages held by the terrorists to win. The terrorists win if the time runs out with no conclusion.
- Assassination: One of the counter-terrorists is chosen to act as a VIP and the team must escort this player to a designated spot on the map to win the game. The terrorists win if the VIP is killed or if the time runs out with no conclusion.
A player can choose to play as one of eight different default character models (four for each side, although Counter-Strike: Condition Zero added two extra models, bringing the total to ten). Players are generally given a few seconds before the round begins (known as “freeze time”) to prepare and buy equipment, during which they cannot attack or move. They can return to the buy area within a set amount of time to buy more equipment (some custom maps included neutral “buy zones” that could be used by both teams). Once the round has ended, surviving players retain their equipment for use in the next round; players who were killed begin the next round with the basic default starting equipment.
Standard monetary bonuses are awarded for winning a round, losing a round, killing an enemy, being the first to instruct a hostage to follow, rescuing a hostage, planting the bomb (Terrorist) or defusing the bomb (Counter-Terrorist).