As a follow-up to Half-Life: Counter-Strike, one of the most successful PC titles of 2000, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero takes the game to a new level. Both a single and multiplayer game, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero puts a special counter-terrorist operative under your command and you must neutralize any threat that comes along. Rescue hostages, escort VIPs to safety, disarm bombs, travel through hostile environments, and more.
Still tied to its Half-Life parent, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero is the most modified and enhanced version of the game engine yet, featuring more detailed player models, new skin and customization options, and atmospheric effects. Each map is available to many different play modes: players can complete missions with a friend in co-op mode, play on the Internet in multiplayer mode, or practice in skirmish mode.
Odds are you're already familiar with Counter-Strike, but in case you're not, the game pits a team of terrorists versus a team of counterterrorists, and the gameplay falls somewhere between frantic team deathmatch and realistic tactical-shooter action. Combat is usually very fast paced, with weapons inspired by real-world counterparts; teamwork is a must if you want to win. Gameplay is divided into short rounds that typically last just a few minutes. Each team has specific goals, depending on the map; almost always these revolve around planting/defusing a bomb or holding/rescuing hostages. As you complete goals and kill enemies, you earn cash, which you spend on weapons and gear when a new round begins. If you're killed during a round, you have to sit out the remainder of it, watching the action in a spectator mode.
Condition Zero dishes up more of this tried-and-true Counter-Strike gameplay, but what sets it apart is its new offline modes. One mode is a ladder-based tournament, playable only as the counterterrorists. After selecting a difficulty level, you progress through six "tours" of three maps each. Within the current tour, you can tackle the maps in any order, but other tours and their maps have to be unlocked sequentially.
For each map, you work through a series of rounds where your team has to stay in the overall won-loss lead while you also try to complete personal challenges (like killing three terrorists with a particular sniper rifle). You keep playing on the same map until your team has won a certain number of rounds and you've completed your personal goals. By winning, you gain more reputation points, which you use to select increasingly skilled bot teammates before beginning the next map. However, if the terrorist team gets too far ahead in the won-loss column, you lose on that map and have to retry it from scratch.
While there's nothing innovative about all this, it does provide a little extra structure and added goals to what's otherwise the standard Counter-Strike gameplay. Some real innovation would have been great, but at least the regular Counter-Strike gameplay is as solid as ever: straightforward, elegant, easy to learn, and hard to master. Matches boast an addictive blend of brutal, lightning-fast firefights and some careful, silent stalking. They're filled with sudden shifts in momentum and miraculous last-second victories or humiliating defeats.
If you want to enjoy this classic gameplay offline without working through the ladder, you can simply start up a standard match with bots. It would have been nice to have deeper configuration options for the bots, but at least these matches let you play as the terrorists, unlike the tournament. In addition to playing offline, you can use Condition Zero to play online Counter-Strike or Condition Zero matches with other humans. The only major difference between these is that Condition Zero lets you fill out a server with bots, and some maps have been slightly tweaked.
While Condition Zero mostly has a been-there-done-that feel, its A.I bots stand out. If you're a hardcore Counter-Strike veteran, they may not impress you much. But for newbies and casual players, the only glaring difference between these bots and human players will be that the bots never cheat or spew obscenities. They could certainly be better at overall team strategy, but they're tactically impressive. They usually navigate the maps well, and they know how to cover each other, guard a planted bomb, or camp a hostage rescue zone to pop out of cover and blast a counterterrorist returning with his precious cargo. At the highest skill setting, the bots boast wickedly good -- but not infallible -- reflexes and aim. On all skill levels they exhibit realistic, human-like "thought": sometimes wise, sometimes foolish, sometimes team oriented, sometimes independent (they won't always follow your orders). Throughout matches, they also keep you apprised via voiceovers of where they're going, what they see, and what they're doing. They'll even exult when they do well: "Owned!"
They'll also make the occasional mistake. In other games, A.I. characters often make the mistakes of milling around aimlessly, walking into walls repeatedly, falling off cliffs, or getting stuck on each other. Once in a while, the bots in Condition Zero will fall prey to those sorts of foibles, but usually their mistakes are the same ones human players often make: having a deer-in-the-headlights moment and getting blasted before they can react, forgetting to watch their backs, blowing themselves up with a bad grenade throw, and so on.
A.I. takes a leap backwards in the so-called Deleted Scenes. These single-player scenarios take you across the world to perform counterterrorist duties, like liberating hostages or retrieving a stolen nuke. They offer a few fun, old-school, run-and-gun shooter moments. Mostly, though, they're linear levels filled with dumb enemies, lame scripted events, cheap gotcha attacks, silly boss battles, campy dialogue, vent crawls, crate jumps, and enemies spawning out of thin air. It's easy to see why this version of the game was deleted and retained merely as a sort of bonus supplement.
Since Condition Zero is really just an extension of the six-year-old Half-Life, the presentation is, unsurprisingly, quite dated. Blocky models, simplistic lighting, and some ugly textures (particularly noticeable in the Deleted Scenes) just barely get the job done. At least the sound effects are solid, if overly familiar. The real crux of Condition Zero is simply that it provides a great way to enjoy Counter-Strike offline, old graphics or not. If botmatches are your thing, by all means, check it out.
People who downloaded Counter-Strike: Condition Zero have also downloaded:
Counter-Strike 1.6, Counter-Strike: Source, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Halo: Combat Evolved, Half-Life, Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty, DOOM³
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