As a supposedly genuine, candid and forthright game journalist, it is my job to tell it like it is. So without belaboring the inevitable, let me go on record by saying that Counter-Strike Xbox, a port job by the developers at Ritual, isn’t so hot.
You wouldn’t think so if you read my preview, as you were no doubt as dazzled by my rhetorical kung-fu as you were with what the game purported to offer. But having now played the final retail copy, it seems that virtually all of what was promised has gone the way of the dodo. CS Xbox offers little more than its PC counterpart, sorely lacking any notable changes to what is now a pretty old game.
Albeit a fantastic one. For all you n0o|3s out there, Counter-Strike is arguably the most popular online PC game this side of Everquest. The principle is simple: there are two teams – Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists. The former plant bombs and harbor hostages, while the latter defuse bombs and rescue hostages (V.I.P. maps have been removed from the Xbox version). Most importantly, both teams get to kill each other with complete and utter abandon across a score of varied indoor and outdoor maps.
The key here is that the rounds last only a few minutes and if you die, you stay dead. Likewise, if you’re alive, your teammates will watch you from beyond the grave, adding some interesting pressure not to screw up. Completing your team’s objective and killing the enemy leads to more cash and, in turn, better weapons for the next round. The game set the pace for tons of online shooters, and if you can manage to find a good, clean server, remains one of the most addictive shooters on the market. Check out the GR review to brush up on your CS 101.
Unfortunately, what you’ll find there is really the extent of Counter-Strike Xbox’s offerings. The purported single-player campaign has been reduced to an offline, bot-inhabited shadow of the online Xbox Live component. To be fair, the AI for the offline bots is very believable. Up the difficulty and you will almost feel like you’re playing with real people…almost. They’ll camp, run towards bomb sites when the famous "Bomb has been planted!" is heard and even walk to dampen the sound of their footsteps.
But forget dreams of the mysterious Condition Zero and any sort of single-player campaign. It’s too bad they didn’t see fit to include this considering how much they talked about it and how badly the game could use a good single-player point.
Aside from the bots, Counter-Strike has made a liar out of me. Here’s an excerpt from the preview I wrote after seeing the game in action at E3:
"The various environments in the single-player will also introduce some unique weapons and gadgets. Stealthy special-op missions may require you to whip out your cool fiber optic camera, while another may call for the ever subtle blowtorch. A LAW rocket and machete will add even more new flavor, as will the riot shield to stop small arms fire."
Lies! The weapons and gadgets are exactly the same as the PC version. Glocks, colts, grenades, commandos, and yes, the dreaded, overpowered AWP is here, but no fiber optics, no blowtorches, and no rockets. The CTs do get riot shields, but those have been in the PC version for a few months now. I guess that E3 presentation was smoke and mirrors. I feel so dirty.
What you’ve seen on the PC is what you get on the Xbox, nearly pixel-for-pixel. The textures have been beefed up, grenade effects are better and the maps have a few minor variations, but you’ll need a high-definition television to see any sort of improvement over CS on a mid-range PC. A resolution of 1600×1200 decimates the fixed 800×600 any day of the week. Counter-Strike has been limping along on a 5 year-old engine, so don’t expect much even with the best TV money can buy.
And the disappointment continues, because you can’t even pick a player model for your character. In the PC version there are four different player models to choose from. In the Xbox installment, each side has one skin. There are new player models to match the various maps – desert, snow etc. – but it still looks like you have all been hatched from the same egg. Military quadruplets!
In its defense, much of the addiction and fun is still there in spades for those with a decent broadband connection. The action is very fast and very competitive, and the gameplay is still genuinely good. Thanks to Xbox Live, you now know that most everyone has a headset, making teamwork much easier. Cheating is currently not an issue and will hopefully stay that way for a long time.
In addition to 11 maps from the PC version, you get 7 Xbox exclusives, which is a nice touch. A brand new radial ‘buy’ menu makes the purchase of kevlar, ammo, items and weapons much easier than the PC version (sans the automatic hotkeys). Plus, the control is simple and intuitive – particularly if you have played Halo on the Xbox, since it’s exactly the same.
The sound scores a few more points. Support for Dolby Digital 5.1 brings out the sounds of gunfire, explosions and footsteps to a canorous degree. Moreover, if you live through a nearby grenade blast, the audio simulates the sensation of one’s ears ringing, as the surrounding acoustical chaos slowly returns to normal. The latter gets an "E" for effort.
But even the formerly touted map editor is absent, leaving this a literal husk of what it could have been. If it was supposed to sway SOCOM II players to the side of the black and green or simply sate those restless for Halo 2, Counter-Strike Xbox has failed on both counts. Again, there is no single-player campaign, the promised new items are nowhere to be found and while control is great for a console FPS, it can’t hold a candle to the flawless mouse/keyboard configuration of the PC.
Frankly, it’s hard to recommend this incarnation to anyone who has already experienced the PC version, which is probably most of you since the game is so widely played. It’s pretty much just the same exact thing. For those who missed out, you could buy Half-Life for half the cost of CS Xbox and download Counter-Strike PC for free. It’s still Counter-Strike and can therefore still be plenty of fun, but the fire in this hole is starting to fade.