"Worth picking up"

Counter-Strike needs no introduction, unless you've been living under a rock for the past 5-6 years. It's a mod developed by two guys in their spare time. Counter-Strike became wildly popular for bringing semi-realistic gameplay to the FPS genre, although it wasn't the first to do it. It was picked up by Valve, sold in stores, ported to the Xbox, and then sold in stores again with a singleplayer content, under the name Counter-Strike: Condition Zero. This review will assume the reader knows what Counter-Strike is like; if not read my CS review.

Condition Zero, or CZ -- as it will be referred to for the rest of the review -- contains 3 separate parts. One part is essentially the same as the free version of Counter-Strike, version 1.6. The second part is the main singleplayer mode, nicknamed "Tour of Duty". Here, you play through all of the maps CS/CZ has to offer against official AI controlled bots. The final part is titled "Deleted Scenes". This portion contains an old version of CZ, which is similar in structure to a normal FPS, where you fight through missions killing terrorists, along with CS fixings like rescuing hostages and defusing bombs.

The first part of CZ is essentially the same as CS 1.6, but with a few subtle differences. There is a new autobuy system, with hierachies like SMG, rifle and pistol. These will purchase weapons in their categories, and the preferences of these packages can be edited at will. Secondly, grenades can be dropped by players, and radio/team text messages display locations. If you need an HE grenade and can't buy one, you can grab it off a dead player. If you need to communicate to your teammates for backup, your location is shown so it'll be easier for them to locate you. Thirdly, there is the major graphical rehaul. At first, CZ used 1.6 graphics, except for the maps -- some maps got updated layouts and textures. After a few patches, CZ used new player and weapon models, mostly ported from Deleted Scenes -- more on that later. Probably the best difference between CS and CZ is the community -- players seem more mature in CZ. In CS you get tons of people spouting stupid things online; in CZ the number seems rather smaller.

The second part, "Tour of Duty", is a series of challenges on all the maps. As the commander of a team of counter terrorist bots, you square off against a team of terrorist bots. You must win 3 rounds and lead by 2, and complete specific challenges on each map, such as killing a certain amount of enemy bots or winning a round in a certain amount of time. The official bots are rather smart -- they'll camp specific areas, guard bombs and hostages and know maps really well. Bots also communicate through voice. They'll tell you where they're going, whether or not they've spotted an enemy and will respond to your orders. If they die, you also hear their last dying breath on the radio. Their aiming and shooting skills are questionable though. On Easy and Normal modes, they can't hit you very well 50% of the time, but on Hard and Expert they border on hacking. Bots also get stuck sometimes and throw grenades at teammates, but it's not a major deal. This mode is designed for newbies to get comfortable with the game and learn it as they go, or for people who have bad connections. The bot AI is fairly life-like. It's not perfect, but it's better than most third-party CS bots.

The last part is the unfinished "Deleted Scenes", and is my favourite portion of CZ. This part was developed by the developer Ritual, before Valve scrapped their version. This basically reworks CS into a formulaic and linear FPS game as a counter terrorist battling terrorism around the world, but with many changes to CS mechanics. Instead of a buy system like normal CS, you are given weapons at the beginning of the mission, and you may find one or two during the level. Ammo and health come at a slow trickle, and armour is much more useful than in normal CS. Weapons function the same, though heavy weapons don't slow you down like in CS. Grenades have been heavily tweaked; a single HE blast can kill both you and the enemy. In terms of items, you get stuff ranging from a fibre-optic camera, to a blow torch and a disposable one-shot rocket launcher. Enemies range from pistol and SMG wielders to snipers, suicide bombers and crazy dudes with machetes who hide around corners to surprise you. Missions are the usual run and gun, though they require some use of tactics and brains. Often, it's not wise to rush into a room full of enemies, or an open field that could be full of snipers. Every level is also littered with various puzzles. These include jumping puzzles, box puzzles, switch puzzles, or just mazes in general and are reminiscent of Half-Life. Every once in a while they also throw in a stealth mission or a boss fight. Stealth missions aren't too hard. You can hide in areas labeled "stealth zones", where enemies can't see you or attack you. The fibre-optic camera mentioned earlier also plays a large role in stealth missions. You can hide away safely and use that device to survey enemy patrol routes before making your move. Boss fights usually come in two forms: an enemy decked out with a powerful machinegun and lots of health, or a vehicle with lots of health and devastating weapons, like a gunship or fighter jet. Lastly, Ritual gave CS a total graphically rehaul for CZ, with fancy new weapon models, new and highly detailed player models and textures, plus lots of new sounds and voice-acting. It is this content that was used for the rehaul for the official version of CZ.

In conclusion, I would say that CZ is recommended only for newbies or those without broadband connections. I already owned CS, and decided to pick up CZ and wasn't disappointed. It's sort of the same old thing, but it's still good, and doesn't try too hard to mess around with a good formula. There are a few things to iron out here and there, but it's a very solid product worthy of Valve's name.

Score: 9/10

Pros:
+ Doesn't mess with a tried and true formula
+ Realistic official bots
+ Awesome (if buggy and unfinished) Deleted Scenes campaign
+ New player and weapon models
+ Some maps updated with awesome new textures
+ A few nice tweaks here and there
+ More mature community
+ Bot singleplayer mode good for learning CS/maps

Cons:
- Brings very little new to the table
- The bot singleplayer mode is flimsy
- Bots feel like they're hacking in high difficulty modes
- Bots can get stuck/hung up on ladders


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/26/05


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