CS:GO Recoil Mechanics
This article attempts to explain weapon recoil mechanics in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. New players will find that recoil in CS:GO differs drastically from other first-person shooters, and even experienced players often suffer from critical misunderstandings about how it works. If you are just interested in the spray patterns themselves, skip straight to the bottom.
When you fire a gun in CS:GO, there are two essential factors that affect where your bullets end up hitting: recoil and inaccuracy. Learning to control both of these things is absolutely necessary to master the game.
In the above animation (click to play), I simply fired a full magazine from an AK-47 at a wall without moving my mouse. The primary effect of recoil is obvious- the bullets travel in an upward pattern and then from side to side. However, note that the bullets don’t necessarily land where the crosshair is pointed. Firing a gun affects both the direction your player is looking and the direction your gun is pointing, but the effect on the gun’s aim is much greater. This means that at the height of your spray, your bullets will always hit above your crosshair.
One of the first things new players learn is that they have to “pull down” to compensate for recoil. In fact, the recoil pattern for each gun is perfectly repeatable, and advanced players will also compensate for side-to-side motion in order to land more shots on their target.
While the recoil pattern for a particular gun is always the same, bullets do not land in exactly the same place each time. Indeed, observe the following animation.
Here I have fired two more magazines from an AK-47 at a wall from exactly the same position. The pattern may appear to be random, but in fact what you are observing is the effect of inaccuracy. Each weapon has a different amount of inaccuracy, which increases greatly as you move, jump, climb ladders, or as you see here, fire shots in rapid succession. Inaccuracy causes bullets to hit in a random area around their position in the underlying recoil pattern. Higher inaccuracy means a larger area. If you are standing still or crouching, the effect of recoil dominates inaccuracy, which is why it is greatly beneficial to learn the spray pattern for each weapon and make your best effort to compensate for it.
Let’s ignore inaccuracy for a moment take a look at what recoil would look like without it. Here I have created a custom map that works as a firing range- computer-controlled players (i.e., bots) stand side by side facing a wall. I have configured the server so that inaccuracy is removed, and using SourceMod, distribute guns to each bot and have them fire a clip into the wall.
The coordinates of each bullet impact are logged to a file. Once the bots have cycled through all the guns, we can subtract the position of each bot from the coordinates of the bullets they fired, leaving us with the underlying recoil pattern.
First, let’s take a look at the two most popular guns in the Counter-Strike series- the AK-47 and the M4A4.
Perhaps surprisingly, their recoil patterns are remarkably similar. Both guns travel vertically for the first eight shots, sway slightly to the left, and then hard from side to side. The AK-47 travels more both horizontally and vertically, but the difference is not extreme.
Interestingly, the silencer has a big impact on the recoil of the recently added M4A1.
With the silencer on, it easily has the lowest recoil of any rifle in the game. With the silencer off, the magnitude of the M4A1’s recoil is almost on par with the AK-47!
How to Compensate
Now that we have collected all of this data, we can use it to examine different strategies for recoil compensation. Most players will quickly learn that they can partially compensate for recoil by pulling the crosshair down while they spray. Let’s ignore the horizontal component of recoil for a moment and see what happens when we limit ourselves to pulling straight down.
In these animations, the line travelling downwards shows the motion of the player’s mouse, and the dots that appear at the top show the resulting impacts as governed by the weapon’s recoil. While the first few shots are on target, it is clear that a prolonged spray with this approach will not work. Even at a short distance from your enemy about 80% of your shots are likely to miss. Adding horizontal compensation is absolutely necessary to spray accurately.
Here I have fitted some simple compensating curves to the spray patterns for each gun. The basics are simple- pull down quickly during the first few shots, then sway left and right. Note that the timing for each of these guns is slightly different, as the M4A4 fires more bullets per second. With this approach the resulting impacts are tightly packed, so if you can memorize these, you will be able to land shots through to the end of your magazine.
One final note- pistols have an extra factor which makes them more unpredictable. Internally, every gun uses a pregenerated table of values to calculate the amount of recoil applied after each shot. For fully automatic weapons, as long as you hold down the mouse button, the index into this table increases by one for each shot. With semiautomatic weapons, like pistols, this index is chosen at random for every shot. This means that the patterns are much less repeatable than they are for fully automatic weapons, even discounting inaccuracy.
Finally, here is a list of all of the spray patterns and compensating curves for the different weapons in CS:GO. For each gun, I’ve linked to the spray pattern P, the compensating curves C, and the inverse N, for those who play with an inverted mouse.