|Counter Strike: Condition Zero|
Counter Strike is one of the most popular games of all time, played every day by hundreds of thousands of avid gamers and always top of the best FPS lists. Despite this and my liking of this game genre CS was something I never really got into. Like countless others I received it free when I bought a Half-Life box set however the few times I tried to set up a server with friends nothing seemed to go smoothly so I gave up. Curiousity has gotten the better of me and with the recent release of Counter Strike Condition Zero I decided to take the plunge and try Counter Strike again.
As most of you will know CS:CZ has had a rocky road to release, there have been various developers involved and a couple of incarnations of the game. Interestingly when you buy CS:CZ you are also able to download Deleted Scenes, a prior version of the game. We shall concentrate on CS:CZ for now and come back to Deleted Scenes later.
CS:CZ comes in 2 main forms, Single Player Campaign and Online and was developed by Turtle Rock Studios. When selecting single player campaign you are enroled into a team based campaign. This campaign consists of 6 "Tour Of Duty" levels split into 3 maps. Rather than just progress through each map after completion the progress is made more complex by challenges and score totals. This adds a certain twist to the game.
As you’ll see in the above screenshot the map has 2 challenges, “Kill an enemy with a Submachinegun” and “Rescue a hostage”. Both must be completed in order to progress however they can be completed on separate attempts. Additionally the maps must be played until your Counter Terrorist team is winning by at least 2 points, your points are gained by killing all enemies or completing the challenges. The bot teams win points by killing all of your team/stopping objectives. The points factor may at first seem like an attempt to lengthen the game without adding content however when put into practice it’s quite a fun facet and I found it enjoyable. On the harder difficulty levels it adds that extra competitive streak to the game and will test your FPS skills to the max, you may end up a few points behind whilst attempting the challenges however you’ll be quite determined to make up points whilst playing – or not lose them in the first place. The maps will be familiar to players of previous Counter Strike players - some are from the PC version, others are from the X-box version however they have been tweaked and improved in specific areas.
As with all Counter Strike games team play is the essential element. In single player its you and a team of 2-5 bots against another team of bots. This is one area where CS:CZ really stands out. BOT AI is very good on both sides, the main AI point is the tactical knowledge of the bots, they learn the good points on a map and will go these spots just as human players would. When you die the game continues until one side wins, during this time you are able to view the action from any bot and these post death bot matches can be informative, switching from bot to bot as they hunt each other down and taking up good tactical positions and so on. I think that most specators to your game would be quite hard pushed to differentiate between human or artifical intelligence - which is as good an endorsement as I can give. Progressing through the game the bots also become better players and team selection can become quite critical. As well as the tactical element bots are constantly informing you of where they are and what they are doing emersing you more fully into the whole experience. Team selection occurs prior to each map and each bot has a "cost" associated with it. The higher the cost the better the bot. Below is a screenshot of the team selection process.
As far as gameplay goes that is essentially the groundwork covered. The objectives do change and can include tasks such as defusing bombs however its always your counter terrorist team against the bot terrorist team which is essentially, classic Counter Strike. Controls follow the model used by most FPS in recent times and are completely configurable, although your options don’t always seem to make it from session to session and can need reconfigured occasionally. Weapons are also selected at the beginning of each round and the price deducted from money you receive for completing objectives/levels. The weapons are all based on items available in real life and should you complete the levels successfully they are carried over to the next round.
A familiar element of CS:CZ is the graphics, textures and characters have been improved since the original counter strike and there are new maps however the main interface is essentially the same as it always has been. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. On one hand the game can look dated, on the other you don’t need a top of the range PC in order to get good performance from the engine - so almost anyone has the opportunity to play. Our test system used a GeforceFX 5900XT and was quite happy playing at 1600x1200 with some aa/af and no stuttering. On the sound front CS:CZ’s audio is clear and well defined, not much is needed in a game like Counter Strike: Condition Zero and thankfully things are not overdone. Team voices are never drowned out by weapons fire and explosions and sounds aren’t out of place.
CS:CZ as with the original CS can also be played online and this is most likely where the majority of your time will be spent. In this regard the game plays like CS original and provided you don’t mind getting your ass kicked by the experts to begin with it can be quite fun, however nothing new for Counter Strike fans.
Condition Zero – Deleted Scenes
Deleted Scenes is the game that would have been, the original incarnation of CZ and a completely different concept.
Where CS:CZ is a team/objective/map based FPS Deleted Scenes leans more towards the traditional FPS. The game involves you playing through 10 linear levels to reach your objective - standard fodder. Some of the missions are played through on your own and others as part of a team with varying styles of gameplay being incorporated. On some levels the objective can be to go in rambo style, all guns blazing to fight your way through to the end of the level. Other levels more stealth is required as you sneak your way into buildings and through air con tunnels. The varying missions also require their unique items and as well as a large selection of firepower you are also equipped with Fibre Optic Cameras, blowtorches etc which help you through the tough spots. As with CS:CZ the deleted scenes add-on isnt a state of the art graphics engine and my personal take on Deleted Scenes is that it looks and feels a little bit less polished than CS:CZ.
One advantage that Deleted Scenes has over CS:CZ are the action sequences, due to the nature of the main game action setpieces are not easily incorporated. A linear FPS is a better place for them and in this respect Deleted Scenes does not disappoint. This game features some of the best firefights I’ve played through in a long time and is thoroughly enjoyable. On more than one occasion action gets so frantic that you’ll find yourself just firing and hoping for the best all the while praying your team-mates play a role in mounting up the enemy kills. These sections are by far the best sections of the game and most levels have at least one large battle so there is always something to look forward to. Its not all good though, the gamplay in Deleted Scenes can be equally as frustrating as it is enjoyable. There were a few times when I felt like banging my head off the table such as trying to get NPC’s to follow me and not understanding why they wouldn’t. I practically had to push one character from the beginning of a level to the end at one point! Thankfully these situations are few and far between…infact from the whole game I can remember only two.
Having played through both games I was pleasantly surprised by the quality, many games are released with several glaring bugs and given the unique circumstances that have surrounded the creation of both games I expected a bit of a mess on the quality front. There are a few glitches here and there which although a little sloppy don’t really detract from the overall experience – such as characters falling into walls (Wicked Witch of the West effect.
There was one other bug I experienced which did detract from the quality of the games. This involved the game crashing to desktop randomly during play. Thanks to the Steam Client which delivers updates to the game automatically the patch was applied within a couple of days of reporting it to Valve. A life saver.
NOTE: Both of these bugs occurred on Deleted Scenes.
Out of interest I did some forum reading to find out the opinions of the Counter Strike fans on this addition to the series and there was a fair amount of comments basically saying the game was "nothing new" and why should they pay for CS:CZ when they get a very similar (though less nice looking) game for free. I couldn’t help but think that one good reason would be to repay the company that has provided them with endless hours of fun for free, the other is that the package as a whole is actually rather good value. You get CS:CZ (online and offline), Deleted Scenes and the Original Counter Strike for $30/£17 which is much less than most new game releases.
CS:CZ is also a good starting point
for CS newbies. The single player maps allow you to improve your
skills and to gain a greater understanding of the game before
you join in online. The only thing I would have liked to have
seen added is the ability to play as terrorists in the single
player Tour Of Duty levels, this would have made an interesting
Gameplay – 9/10