The map centers on a conflict between the Counter-Terrorists and the Terrorists, somewhere in a desolate battlefield with a desert environment,with charred spots from explosions, a destroyed tank and trench-like areas. There are 3 hostages in the map, who are located in a small bunker. Counter-Terrorists can reach the hostages by moving through the valleys on the ground or climbing numerous high cliffs. Terrorists have lots of camping spots near their spawn from which they can fire on Counter-Terrorists, and they also can use the M2 Browning Machine Gun to defend the bunker. This machine gun has a high rate of fire and high damage, however the user needs to be careful of sneak attacks from behind or long-range weaponry.
Desert was apparently removed due to the large, open-spaced setting that allowed players to easily kill other enemies with sniper rifles and the multiple camping spots that made it hard for players to see potential snipers from a far distance. Due to this, it is rare to observe a Counter-Terrorist successfully escorting the hostages to the hostage rescue zone.
Generally, the Counter-Terrorists can quickly move to the upper sections of the map and pin down the Terrorists. However, the Terrorists are also armed with a heavy mounted machine gun that can prevent the Counter-Terrorists from rescuing the hostages, however because the cliffs are climbable, Counter-Terrorists will often sneak behind the machine gunner and silently kill the gunner. Regardless, the integrity of cs_desert is unbalanced for both teams.
The map was designed by Timm Stokke and initially appeared in beta 1.1. It was updated once during its time in the official map rotation, for beta 3.0. The changes included spacing out player spawn points to negate telefragging, making the campfires present in the map do considerably less damage and finally the mounted gun by the Terrorist spawn was made stronger.
One final update was made for the map, but due to the map having it's final appearance in beta 3.1, this update was never officially put into rotation. The update fixed the infamous skybox surfing bug, which allowed players to enter the top of the map and fire down at players while not being visible to other players. This fixed version of the map was eventually released separately through the Counter-Strike Classical Map-Pack.
- This is one of the few maps in which opponents can throw grenades (or flashbangs) as an endless shower of explosions in the upper areas of the map.
- Both spawn zones of the teams feature camping spots for snipers that overlook the combat zones.
- Players killed by the mounted machine gun will become gibbed. Hostages are excluded from this as they do not become gibs and display their usual death animations.
- The campfires in the map inflict damage (dependent if armor is worn; 4 HP is lost without armor and 2 HP if armor is worn). Meanwhile, hostages will lose 5-12 damage per second but no penalties are given if they are to die from this method. This makes Desert one of the few maps in which hostages can die without anyone suffering from a penalty.