Review by Virulent

"Mediocre at best, loathesome at worst..."

Ah yes, the infamous Counter-Strike: Condition Zero. After the wildly successful mod Counter-Strike, developed by two high school guys for the Half-Life engine, Valve Software decided to hire them and release the mod commercially in stores. However, the company also promised a revolutionary single-player experience in the form of this title so many years ago. A few years, developers, and botched attempts later, the project was finally completed by Turtle Rock studios. The result is this product which I am reviewing now, essential Counter-Strike with AI bots and ''challenges''.

While not the revolutionary single-player experience we were originally promised, one would suppose that you can't go wrong not to mess with a good thing. However, when you're trying to take a ''good thing'' that has been in existence for almost 5 years at this point, that is available essentially for free, and sell it as a new product, then we start to see some problems emerge.

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few years, Counter-Strike is ''the world's #1 online action game'' according to GameSpy's player ratings. At any given time, you will find someone somewhere playing CS on a server. The premise of the game is simple; terrorist and counter-terroirist forces square off in a locale, in which the objectives of the game depend on. Certain maps require the terrorists to plant a bomb at a target and the counter-terrorists to defuse it. Other missions require the CTs to rescue hostages or escort a VIP armed only with a pistol to safety. Of course, either side can win simply by eliminating the opposition, which is the most common means of victory in a typical game. Whoever accomplishes their particular objective wins the round, and the game starts anew. The team which wins the round starts the next with more money than the losing team, and this cash flow can be used to buy a variety of weapons or equipment such as assault rifles or kevlar vests. Players can individually earn money by killing opponents or rescuing hostages as well.

Condition Zero's main single-player gametype is essential CS with training wheels; a player starts out and is given a certain number of ''reputation points'' they can use to select team-mate bots from a pool, their costs ranging from 1 to 5. The number of points a cot costs, the better it performs. The game constantly flashes tips in the right-hand corner which, while helpful to new players, get annoying after a while.

Now we start to see the drop-off point; the bot AI. The bots are given a rating of their skill, cooperativeness, and bravery. They will respond and supposedly behave to your commands depending on their ratings in the latter two. However, I have found that while the ratings do affect how the bots respond to your radio commands vocally (via a series of scripted phrases such as ''I'm gonna camp, gonna guard bomb site B'', etc.) it really has little or no bearing on how they actually BEHAVE. The bots seem to decide on a path to advance through the map with, and stick to it. Often, the bots will go in seperate directions no matter how many times they positively respond to ''Regroup'' or ''Stick together''. They will never defuse a bomb or rescue hostages unless you die, which is extremely annoying if you;re halfway across a map and the terrorists have planted. They do stupid things like throw grenades at your general area when no terrorists are around, take fatal jumps, and continuously start to defuse a bomb when you die, stop, then start again until the thing explodes in your face. However, they ARE capable of killing quite often at lower difficulty levels and seldom at hard or expert levels. Playing at expert, they are little more than bullet shields against the enemies who outnumber and outwit you. Your best bet is to choose the group that runs off which is the largest and stick with them to take the hits. If you feel confident in your abilities, you'll even find yourself killing them and just camping with a sniper rifle, which is basically the only way to win on harder difficulty levels.

Speaking of which, the enemy bot AI seems to exhibit absolutely none of the aforementioned flaws. No matter what difficulty level you set the game to, enemy bots will generally travel in large groups and stay organized. The difficulty level seems to mainly modify two things: weapon choice, accuracy and tactics. At any difficulty, bots will almost always know where you are and open fire as soon as you round a corner, even if you're walking quietly behind them. However, on Easy or Normal they'll probably do it with a Mac10, miss every shot and be out in the open. Rachet up the difficulty level to Hard, and you'll see them camp behind hostages, rush bomb sites in number, and every terrorist will hold an AK-47 or AWP to put you down in 1-3 hits. On Expert, well...don't play this game on Expert. Save yourself the frustration and go play against a server full of hackers with wallhacks, aimbots, and all sorts of goodies, because the Expert bots are worse. Basically, they will kill you before you can see them with a headshot every time.

Compounding the aforementioned masochism is the single player mode's extraneous ''challenges'' to accomplish in a round. Examples of such are killing enemies with a particular weapon/method or rescuing a certain number of hostages. As you increase the difficulty level, the challenges go from reasonable (kill 3 enemies with a Sniper Rifle) against bots who you can own with any weapon, to ludicrous (kill 3 enemies with the weakest weapon in the game, a P228 pistol...and survive the round) against bots who can drop you before you fire a shot.

The difficulty ramp between Normal and Hard is like night and day; at Normal, I blasted through the campaign without losing a round, while I'm still struggling with the third tier in Hard. It's just not fun to dominate a team of bots every round, nor is it fun to shake your fist and curse in frustration when the same team of AI opponents nails one hit kills on your entire team in a matter of seconds round after round. Turtle Rock's idea of a single-player CS experience not only doesn't live up to the fun and excitement of playing the game online against human opponents, it utterly fails to be enjoyable for both novice and veteran players of CS.

In addition to vanilla CS with incompetant/invincible bot play, we also get former developer Ritual's attempt at Condition Zero, entitled ''Deleted Scenes''. In an attempt to summarize this unrealized version of the game in one paragraph, it's horrid. Imagine the worst FPS you've ever played and give it CS weapons and theme. There you go. To expound more detail, Ritual's version is a linear series of missions in which you mow down droves of ridiculously stupid opponents, watch hundreds of badly scripted events, and are privy to some of the worst voice acting I've ever heard. The only upside to this wretched pile? Installing it onto your hard drive is completely optional.

Now on to the regular scores:

Graphics: 4/10

Counter-Strike is, as mentioned above, almost 5 years old. It still chugs on the venerable Half-Life engine. While the developers added new high-res textures to the classic maps and models, at this point there are other mods (most notably Natural Selection) which have pushed the engine's visuals far more than CS could ever dream of doing. Even more ridiculous is the fact that the game is $40 and poised to compete with various titles with stunning, system-taxing graphics like Unreal Tournament 2004. Overall, Counter-Strike's visual were acceptable in 2000, dated when the game was originally supposed to be released, and after so many delays simply unacceptable in this day and age.

Sound: 2/10

CS:CZ has not recieved any sort of audio update, however. While the game can be played with an EAX 3D audio setup, we still get the same low-quality radio samples, gunshots sounds and groans as CS has always had. The menus and victory/defeat screens feature short clips of music, but nothing noteworthy. The Deleted Scenes, however, greatly pulls the score down in this category with it's budget-quality voice acting and horribly trite music score.

Gameplay: 5/10

CS:CZ at it's core is still Counter-Strike, an ostensibly fun and addictive game. However, the poorly-coded bot AI, annoying added ''challenges'', and infallible AI at harder settings will leave players feeling as if they've paid 40 dollars for an inferior version of a game they were previously enjoying free of charge. Furthermore, CS:CZ's multiplayer client cannot play on normal CS servers, drastically reducing the ability for a player to actually do more than play against bots. Furthermore, actually trudging through the Deleted Scenes campaign to write this review is without a doubt the most unenjoyable thing I've ever done since working at Burger King in high school. Seriously folks, it's THAT bad.

Conclusion:

While Condition Zero started as an attempt to bring a new, single-player spin to arguably one of the most popular multiplayer FPS games in history, what we are left with seems less like a labor of love and more like a cheap attempt to cash in on the franchise by Valve. Not only does CS:CZ fail to offer any advantages over playing the original online for free, but as a tactical gaming experience it fails to live up to such current and upcoming releases such as Rainbow Six 3 and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. The bottom line is that I can't recommend a product that costs $40 to anyone when the best part of said product can be enjoyed for free.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 03/24/04


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