The best Counter-Strike 2 alternative comes with a catch

With CS2 splitting the community, seeking out an alternative game to play was hard, but I eventually found it in the place I least expected.

Three guns held by offscreen characters aiming at a clown in Pavlov.

Finding a solid alternative to Counter-Strike 2 wasn’t easy. Perseverance, however, has led me to discover a game that just gets the mechanics, action, and competitive spirit of Valve’s FPS – and, for me, eclipses CS2’s current version in some ways. That game is Pavlov Shack, which is first and foremost a team-based multiplayer shooter with realistic weapon handling and a decently high skill ceiling. The caveat? It’s a VR game.

While only time will tell whether Pavlov Shack earns a reputation as one of the best VR games, one thing is for certain – its 5v5 search and destroy mode is one hell of a Counter-Strike alternative for anyone who hasn’t been able to make the switch to CS2.

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Change isn’t always received well, and the community is split on CS2, although player numbers might suggest some have made their mind up and decided to wait for improvements to arrive. Despite this lingering feeling that things aren’t quite where they should be – a sentiment echoed in our Counter-Strike 2 review – CS2 still often pulls in over one million concurrent players every day.

As someone who adored CSGO, the move to CS2 hasn’t been kind to me. Outside of the missing features and fresh bugs, the new engine’s graphical bells and whistles are impressive yet still to win me over, as I long for that ol’ CSGO aesthetic.

In searching for a way to scratch the Counter-Strike itch, the last place I thought I would find a solution is on VR, or more specifically, my Meta Quest 3. Pavlov Shack is a Swiss army knife in that it contains so many game modes that there is something to suit everyone, but it’s the search and destroy mode where I found my CS2 alternative.

It’s scarily faithful to the feel of classic Counter-Strike, despite the fact Pavlov itself is clearly still in need of ongoing support and improvements, much like CS2. Jumping into the game brought back a wave of nostalgia on a level I wasn’t prepared for. If you had asked me whether or not Counter-Strike would work in VR, it’s safe to say I would have rubbished the idea instantly, given its hyper-competitive nature. Oh how wrong I was.

First-person view of a sniper rifle aiming at enemies in a building.

Thanks to Pavlov Shack’s weighty, precise gunplay, the search and destroy mode works beautifully as a Counter-Strike alternative. There’s a round-based economy, sound is crucial to understanding enemy movements, and physically planting and defusing the bomb is better than any ninja defuse I ever managed on PC.

I feel more in control when playing Pavlov Shack than I currently do when playing CS2, and it’s a big advantage that’s kept me going back for more. There are even weapon skins to collect if you’re so inclined to personalize your weapon collection.

If you’re lucky enough to have a few friends who all have Meta Quest 3, 2, or Pro headsets, buying Pavlov Shack could be the best $19.99 you spend all year. Not only is there the Counter-Strike alternative that brought me hours of fun, but you also have the standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, gun game, and one-in-the-chamber modes.

First-person view of a submachine gun aimed at enemies standing on the other side of a tube track.

As for other adventures, there is a 1v9 asymmetrical mode where you either play as a monster who escaped captivity or join a team tasked with hunting it down. There is a murder mystery game with various player roles, and – finally – there are over 300 modes made by the community that offer exciting new ways to play.

Pavlov Shack has been around for quite a while now but finally reached its official release as a paid game on November 14. Whether like me you’re looking for a way to fill a Counter-Strike-shaped hole in your life, or you just want an incredibly tight shooter on VR, Pavlov Shack isn’t one to miss.

If you’re on the hunt for fresh games to play on your shiny new VR headset, then check out the best Meta Quest 3 games for the crème de la crème of premium experiences, or the best free Meta Quest 3 games if you want to see what’s available without spending any cash.