After three years in development, the long-awaited single-player follow-up to the most popular online fragfest known to gamerkind has finally been deployed. Like many, I nearly forgot all about it. Counter-Strike: Condition Zero has bounced from programmer to programmer over its development cycle, having gone through four different developers and constantly changing in focus and content. It's been hard to keep this one on the radar.
Astonishingly, the game is now actually here, yet the question remains: for whom is this dated piece of software designed? The answer: Xbox owners. In fact, it's perfect for them. The problem is this little soldier is a PC-only title. Confused? Don't be. Just be wary and read on.
For all three of you who have been cast away on a deserted island with your buddy Wilson for the past several years, Counter-Strike is still the most widely played first-person shooter on the market. It pits terrorists against counter-terrorists in a number of now traditional gameplay modes: bomb planting or defusal, hostage retaining or hostage rescue and VIP elimination or escorting, depending on which side you play (see the old original review for full gameplay mechanics). The game is painstakingly well-balanced with modern day weapons and smart, realistic ballistic physics. For a few years there, CS simply ruled.
In hopes of squeezing a few more coins from gamers before Half-Life 2 shows up and clears the slate, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero arrives with a paltry, lackluster single-player component to the tried and true multiplayer funfest now creeping into its fifth year.
The meat of the Condition Zero's single-player is called "Tour of Duty," which pits you as a counter-terrorist against a collection of classicCS maps. In a strange twist, you proceed from one map cycle to the next by accomplishing level goals reminiscent of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. You might have to kill 7 terrorists with a certain weapon, rescue 6 hostages, or defuse a bomb in a certain amount of time before continuing on to the next map. Completing these tasks affords you access to new player skins, maps and other weapons.
The problem is twofold. For anyone who has already played CS, it's quite annoying having to suddenly unlock maps, especially since every one included here has been playable in CS forever. Additionally, many of the level requirements are counter-intuitive. For instance, you are often required to rescue a number of hostages, but maps end if you kill every enemy (this is, after all, a good thing), so you'll find yourself purposefully not shooting the last guy just to lead the hostages to the extraction point to satisfy your stupid objective. Fail and you have to start over. Argh.
Also, ghost mode is still here in the single-player game. If you die early on in a map, you'll have to sit there watching the AI go at it just like you'd do in the normal online game, except now it's single-player and you just want to achieve your objectives and move on; why still make us wait?
The other single-player component is the "Deleted Scenes" section, which throws you around the globe on 12 very uninteresting missions. This mode was initially designed by Ritual, who were eventually dropped in favor of Turtle Rock, and it's clear that no one took the time to finish or fix what Ritual started. Each mission is rooted in dated gameplay and feels glitchy and unfinished. The firefights are pretty frantic and some of the scripting is commendable, but how this is supposed to compete with games like Battlefield Vietnam, Call of Duty and so many others is beyond me.
Tipping my disgruntled hat, I will admit that the bot AI is very believable, albeit not perfect. They don't necessarily move like a well-trained team of terrorists or counter-terrorists, instead performing a lot like your garden-variety humans, camping a dropped bomb and strategic bomb-planting included. At times, you might almost forget you're playing offline.
Until, that is, you remember that you spent a bunch of money on this rip-off. A $10 purchase for the offline bot software as a separate program might have carried some merit, but thanks to the half-baked thinking of some marketing nut, CS: CZ retails for a whopping $40 (it can also be downloaded by CS vets through Steam for "only" 30 bucks). Considering what little new stuff you get, that's asking a lot. A whole lot.
As you'd imagine, the graphics are extremely dated. Blocky models, old textures – it looks like the five year-old game that it is. This makes it scalable for just about any low-end PC, but again, who's willing to shell out the dough for this? For that matter, why were the single-player features (Tour of Duty and Deleted Scenes) not just included in the skeletal Xbox version of CS instead? And ultimately, why not just wait for the fancy new Half-Life 2 and crank out an official sequel? I loved CS as much as the next guy, but please, leave the dead horse alone!
I suppose if you've never played CS (all 10 of you) and would like a glorified tutorial to get you going, then by all means, grab Condition Zero. The gameplay itself is still pretty fun and this package isn't bad for CS newbies, though at this point, how many of them are there? As for the millions of CS vets, as you were. This old soldier isn't worth it.