Valorant review – exacting, infuriating, sublime

At its best, there are few games that can get close to Valorant. This is a game made with impeccable clarity of focus and purpose, a dream team assembled from every competitive player’s wishlist of ideas. It feels, more often than not, quite wonderful to play, smooth and severe and millisecond precise. It can also feel like a nightmare, trapping you in mazy, winding corridors of pristine white and silent beige, the silence only punctuated by other players’ rage or deafening bursts of gunfire. The result is a game that leaves you oscillating wildly between love and hate, depending on the outcome of a round, the result of a match or just the makeup of your team, and that’s also how it gets you – or at least how it gets me. Play enough and you’ll push through the barrier of marvelling at purposeful design, or shaking your fist at its blandness, to find a kind of lovable monster, a white whale, designed not just to feel good and accurate and fair, but to be something you’ll be desperate to chase, and obsessed with trying to conquer and tame.

We’re well after release now, which means Valorant is a known entity to most people, but here are the basics: it’s Counter Strike with abilities. Two teams of five face off in rounds, with the first to 13 winning the match. There are four maps, one team attacks, the other defends, you swap after 12 rounds – half-way, if it’s evenly split – and the goal is to either plant a bomb (“spike”) and protect it until it explodes, or stop the other team from planting it and defuse it if they do. Or, you could just kill everyone on the opposite team. At the beginning of each round you buy your weapons, shields and abilities with currency earned from your previous round’s feats. Adding different characters (there are 11 at launch) each with four abilities (three plus an ultimate, naturally) makes the whole thing a simple, brilliant, and cohesive concept – which is almost inevitable, because its ideas, while they are fantastic, are also overtly borrowed from elsewhere, and so the question becomes almost entirely one of execution.