Genre: Tactical FPS
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Developer: Turtle Rock
Release Date: March 25, 2004
Pre-order 'COUNTER-STRIKE: Condition Zero': PC
CounterStrike: Condition Zero almost sounded like a gamer's pipe dream when it was first announced, a concept that not only sounded like a natural extension of a immensely popular game but a fun change of pace to boot. To see the game for ourselves we recently got a hold of a preview build of the game, and while you can plainly the promise that the game sets up for itself in almost every aspect presented it really doesn't go too far above and beyond what gamers have been playing for years now.
In all fairness, it bears mentioning that CS: CZ has had a rough childhood. Initially Ritual was developing the game, slated to be more of a single player experience than anything, and placed the player square in the shoes of a counter terrorism expert. Later in the development cycle a new development studio took the helm, Turtle Rock Studios, and steered the gameplay towards more of a multiplayer game with a strong offline play. The first style of gameplay has been left intact and will be included with the game under the "CS: CZ Deleted Scenes" moniker, though it really isn't quite the same level of quality as one would expect.
In CS: CZ DS you play through a variety of levels and locales in a semi-structured campaign. Though it is uncertain if you actually are the same person in each mission or if you just take the role of a counter terrorism agent operating in the area, each location put you with a variety of guns and tools against a significantly larger enemy force. For instance, in the very first level you are in a helicopter flying over an African city that gets hit by an RPG and crashes. Naturally you are the only survivor, the locals all want to kill you, and you need to fight your way back to friendly forces (Note: "Black Hawk Down"). Other levels have you globetrotting to nearly every continent, fighting every type of zealot and rebel that ever grabbed an AK-47. The overall level design and look are all about par the course for the aging Halflife engine (Though ironically not as good as the levels seen in the original CounterStrike game), but the main problem comes when you go beyond the graphics and audio and dig into the gameplay itself. AI enemies will always run right at you if they are armed with a melee weapon, range attackers will stand in the middle of hallways and fire at you, and neither one will ever try to take cover unless it is a scripted event.
In the Deleted Scenes the player has access to a few gadgets not seen in the other gameplay mode or in CounterStrike itself. Among your standard weaponry, you can use miniature blowtorches to cut padlocks, fiber optic cameras to peek over objects and under doors, a radio to communicate with friendly forces, and remote bombs that can be used to blow holes in walls or sabotage equipment. The flaw in every one of the items however is when you realize that each one can only be used in specific places defined in the map. Remote bombs have to be placed in specific spots and cant be used to lure enemies into traps, fiber optic cameras can only be used under and over certain things rather than around anything you please, and high tech handheld radio only works in an area about 5 feet wide.
Once the new developers, Turtle Rock Studios, took over the now "Deleted Scenes" took a backseat to CounterStrike: Condition Zeros new main draw, a single player game mode that feels a lot like CounterStrike as it is known and loved only coupled with extremely intelligent bots, a tiered campaign structure, the ability to pick your own squad members, and probably some of the best graphics the Halflife engine has displayed thus far. Of course CS: CZ isn't without a multiplayer mode, but first things first.
In the single player mode you start off as sort of a newbie counter terrorism squad leader and only have access to the simplest and easiest of assignments. Upon starting the mode you first are asked to pick one of the three levels you can play, with further levels unlocked once the first tier is beaten. Each level has specific goals you must complete before the level is considered beaten, such as killing 5 enemies, killing 2 with an auto shotgun and staying alive for the entire round, or winning a round in less than 75 seconds. After you have selected a level from an available tier you have to pick your squad members, based on a system of reputation points. Squad members who are only worth a single reputation point are unskilled, chicken, and may not cooperate, while members worth 4 or 5 points apiece can be crack shots who will jump in guns blazing and listen to your every order like it was from the mouth of a god. Every time you beat a level you get a reputation point, so obviously at first you can only get one or two single point members and work your way up from there.
The first thing you think of when actually getting into the gameplay is that if looks and feels just like CounterStrike, with the HUD, the buy menu (with a few noteworthy exceptions such as Auto-Buy and Re-Buy), the levels, and the guns all looking just like they do in regular CS. Sure they could have redesigned everything, but there's no real reason to have done so. The second thing you will undoubtedly think about is how stupid these bot teammates are undoubtedly going to be, though in actuality the bots in game are much smarter than about 95% of the bots most players are familiar with. Open up the radio menu, bark out "Cover me!", and you'll see your AI teammate converge on your position complete with actual voice clips confirming (or denying if their co-operation skill is low) the order, which looks just as if an actual player was transmitting his voice using a microphone. Give it another go and say "You take the point" and watch as one or two of your teammates take the lead. Its too bad there isn't fancy voice recognition where you yourself could use a microphone to give orders al la Rainbow Six 3 for the Xbox, but any control over how your squad works together as a team is a very welcome addition.
The multiplayer aspect of CS: CZ though isn't a whole lot different than what CSers already know and love. Though the menu system is slightly changed and its not built from the ground up for Steam (Valve's new multiplayer application, for the unaware), it's more or less the same tactics, the same guns, and the same feel. The player models themselves have got a tiny boost; goggles and glasses have a sort of "sheen" to them that doesn't really look realistic but does look pretty cool at any rate. Some of the textures in the levels have gotten a good amount of polish and detail work, such as the subway level that looks like one of the better levels even seen in the Halflife engine. In a nutshell though, it's not like CounterStrike has gotten a serious facelift and engine upgrade but more of a spit-and-polish job that adds subtle, quality detail work.
Audio is the same way; if you've played the latest version of CounterStrike then you know exactly what every gunshot, every grenade bounce, and every wound sounds like. The original stuff comes when you listen to the bots communicate to you and each other via the afore-mentioned voice clips. It is one cool thing to hear a voice response to one of your orders that actually sounds like a human being, but it's a whole different level of immersion when you hear one bot, in a human voice, say "I'm taking fire, need backup!" followed by a second bot say "On the way", in a different human voice, and then proceed to actually head towards the first bots position to help him out.
All in all CounterStrike: Condition Zero is a multi-faceted game that has pros and cons, though more pros than anything. The Deleted Scenes content, barring a extreme amount of refining and buffing before CS: CZ goes retail, is pretty bad and really doesn't feel any more fun or original than a mediocre Halflife mod, but thankfully it isn't the main draw. The multiplayer-ish single player mode is not only pretty fun to play it can also be fairly challenging, and the rather intelligent bots only add to the experience. To sum it up into what you, the prospective video game purchaser, really wants to hear, yes CounterStrike: Condition Zero is a shaping up to be a good game. If you've somehow never played CS or want to but don't have an internet connection, Condition Zero is looking like a very worthy purchase as it not only contains a slightly polished version of the multiplayer mode but a fully realized single player experience.