Counter Strike: Condition Zero

Counter Strike: Condition Zero
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Game Name: Counter-Strike: Condition Zero
Platforms: Windows XP
Publisher(s): Sierra Entertainment
Developer(s): Ritual Entertainment, Turtle Rock Studios, Gearbox
Genre(s): First person shooter
Release Date: March 2004
Notes: Steam

Mentally, I’m an old bastard now. I’m quite guilty of poo-pooing today’s kids with their foolish “Black Ops” and “Halos.” Who wants to spend time running around pretending to shoot each other all day in a game you can’t even complete? What a waste! Then along comes Counter-Strike: Global Operations, reminding me of the many hours of original CS I put in during my own misspent youth. 1.6 became the new home for my clan when our previous game shut down, and though I was never particularly in love with Counter-Strike, the clan ties caused me to stick with it for about a year after CS: Source. That’s about two years worth of headshots, AWP whoring, and bomb planting.

I just realized that “Office” has no cubicles. Those four hostages you rescue may be the entire company.

With these qualifications in mind, allow me to briefly explain “the point” of CS to our non-multiplaying readers. The short answer is that it rewarded skill. First, the damage model was exceptionally unforgiving for the time, and especially favored headshots. Players used to running into gunfire and grabbing med kits later (like any late 90s shooter) got swatted down handily, while those who had refined their mouse skills to target enemies’ melons could pull off instant kills.

Second, there was a mini progression system going on. Over the course of a match, the team that won rounds earned more money. Money was then used for better guns, ammo, and armor – rewarding the victors and punishing the losers, while that intense damage model ensured the losers were never at an unfair disadvantage. All guns were plenty lethal, after all, and a skilled player could kill someone with a pistol as easily as they could with a rifle or SMG.

Third, CS had a unique approach to teamplay. Each player only had one life per round, with no way to heal. When you died, you sat the rest of the round out. This penalty box was a “spectator mode” where you and the rest of the dead followed the remaining players as they finished the round. Here was some of CS’ real brilliance. As a spectator, the rest of the round becomes something akin to a sport. You’re watching, tensely, to see if your team can pull out a win. As one of the remaining active players, you became a brief celebrity. You knew everyone on both teams was watching you hunt down the last guys, and you did not want to fuck it up in front of this crowd. Late-round face offs saw players creep around, try to get the drop on one another, and throw lead while retreating to cover – exciting stuff, punctuated (thankfully) by a timer keeping things rolling along.

So through skill shots, better gear, noticeably helping your team, and the chance for a minute or two of limelight – Counter-Strike rewarded skill. As a by-product, however, this created an increasing barrier to entry as the years went on. Much of CS was about knowing the map – a place where newcomers are obviously deficient. Another was in playing so many matches that vets had maps down to a predictable science. Take “wallbanging,” for instance – vets knew, statistically, the corners of a map where enemies were likely to be, and could shoot players through walls without actually seeing them. Vets also knew exactly where your head was going to be when standing or crouching, and could have their crosshairs ready for when you wandered around the corner. Combine this level of nearly supernatural experience with a fiercely competitive arena, where everyone would be watching when you blew it for your team, and you can see how newcomers would be reluctant to dive in.

“Stadium” – one of the larger new maps in Condition Zero. Don’t let the terrorists bomb the Corndog Cabana!

Enter Condition Zero. The idea of single-player Counter-Strike had been kicked around for years – not only to offer offline training, but also to expand the brand toward gamers shy of the online space. This quickly proved to be much more difficult than it sounded on paper. The concept bounced through four studios in the early 2000’s, changing direction throughout. It finally saw release in 2004 around the time of Counter-Strike: Source – looking quite dated against the fancy new Source engine. The good news is mostly all the finished content from those years of development hell made it into the final release, giving two wildly different experiences. The bad news is neither captures the heart and soul of what made CS so popular.

“Official” Condition Zero consists of a completely offline mimicry of multiplayer. You play as a counter-terrorist in up to 8 on 8 bot matches on all of CS’ official maps, following identical rules of gear buying, hostage rescuing, and bomb planting/defusal. The AI bots on both sides tend to wander off and do their own thing, but that’s a reasonable facsimile of a public server anyway. That’s not to say they’re stupid. Some are – more on that in a second – but in general, they know the maps, effectively use all the paths (including air vents), know the camping spots and when to protect hostages or defend a bomb site. They’re definitely not as unpredictable as human players, and they do screw up now and again, but they’re surprisingly good overall.

Tied into this campaign is a progression system exclusive to the offline experience. You’re presented with three-map “tours of duty.” Each of the three maps has its own set of objectives to complete – these range from a set number of kills with a specific weapon, to rescuing all hostages in a round instead of simply wiping out the other team. Their diverse spread seem designed to get you familiar with each weapon and particular game concepts, even if it means you’re forced to struggle to make even a single kill with the tactical shield/pistol combo. Additionally, your own bots can get a bit too good, stealing the very kills you’re required to make yourself to pass the level.

If you do not complete the challenges, you do not pass the mission. There is no way to skip ahead. In my case, I’m a terrible sniper, so the level featuring the challenge “kill 2 enemies in one round with a Schmitt Sniper and survive” marked the end of the game. Harder difficulties add more challenges, and you will stay in the map until you complete them, or the terrorists win by 2. Thankfully, you can forfeit a round if you die and don’t want to watch and wait for the bots to meet an inevitable demise. But you should also expect to spend a, frankly, boring amount of rounds in these maps trying to grind the challenges.

Bot AI can be surprisingly crafty. He’s picked a classic camping spot, and the following CT bot knows to check it.

Clearing a missions gives you a point. Points are used to buy bots for your team roster. Each bot has a cost associated to them, a favored weapon, and three stats rated from Bad to High. “Bad” teammates are bad indeed, tossing useless grenades, running from fights, and generally acting like rejects from Police Academy. These are who you start with, though, and teammates with more “High” stats naturally cost more points. You’ll want to swap out your zeros for heroes as you can afford them, which naturally comes from extended play. Terrorists feature similar stats attached to unchanging names, so you’ll start to recognize (and despise) the expert ones.

That’s pretty much Condition Zero. Gameplay is standard Counter-Strike, just offline with decent AI bots. There are also a few improvements that I don’t remember from my time playing. You can Auto-Buy equipment with the F1 key at the start of the round, and the gear you get will be appropriate to any challenges you need to complete. You have the new ability to set up four preloaded kits as buy menu shortcuts – very nice addition. Bots make good use of the radio, and a new “botname @ location” format lets you see instantly where they are when they announce a status change, or spot the bomber. They’ll even follow the pre-programmed radio commands (in menus on the Z, X, and C keys) if their “Co-op” stat is high enough.

However, Condition Zero didn’t get adopted by the community at large for three basic reasons. First, no one wants to play Counter-Strike offline. This is a competitive game, and the computer doesn’t care how badly you just beat it. Second, the unlock system makes the game somewhat useless for training. Your favorite maps are locked behind a gate, and you’ll only get to play them once anyway. There doesn’t appear to be a skirmish mode, or an ability to customize bot behavior. Therefore, you have no ability to create custom scenarios (simulating how to break a team camping the hostages with shotguns, for example), which cuts down on its usefulness for practice or training.

Third, I don’t think this was something anyone had asked for. Offline bots already existed (PODBot, Z-Bot, among others), it was just a matter of downloading them and working the console. CZ doesn’t streamline this in a way you’d pay money for. CZ added shiny new player models and high-definition versions of classic maps (appended with the _cz tag), but this meant you couldn’t play those maps with regular CS players, and pro leagues like CAL didn’t allow custom player models. Not to mention, 1.6 was still free. And lest we forget, CZ also required Steam at a time when Steam was brand new and replacing WON, so players saw it as an invasive service forced upon them.

The radio is one of the new special-use gadgets.

That said, Valve had to be aware of all these issues. I suspect it’s why CZ started out as an offline simulator, before being scrapped and handed to Ritual to make a “spiritual” single-player campaign instead. This is included in the package as the “Deleted Scenes,” and it’s basically an elaborate counter-terrorist themed single-player mod. Surprisingly, it’s actually pretty good. The game shipped with 12 of Ritual’s original 20 maps, but six more were finished up and released through Steam in the later months of 2004.

The idea here is that you’re playing through disconnected missions in various parts of the world as members of some of the most famous counter-terrorist groups in the world. You’ll stop terrorists trying to steal a nuclear weapon from a launch facility as the Russian Spetznatz. You’ll play an undercover U.S. cop in a high-stakes drug deal that goes wrong. The French GIGN stop a convoy with a known terrorist leader. The Japanese TSG rescue civilians from attackers storming the subway. The British SAS hit a skyscraper taken over by the IRA. It’s refreshing to not have another “‘merica saves the wurrld” story, and not even trying to connect the missions clearly freed Ritual up to base levels on whatever the hell they pleased.

The missions use Counter-Strike’s legendary weapon set, with all their stats and secondary functions intact. This means you’ll need to be careful about accuracy when moving, only use short taps, never ever jump and shoot, and always go for the headshot. It also means you won’t be able to define your loadout, and must instead rely on a combination of what you start with and what you find along the way. A series of gadgets also show up, including remote bombs, a blowtorch, a radio, and a fiber optic camera. You can only use these objects in specially defined zones (indicated by a HUD icon) for specific situations. Still, it’s neat enough to radio in for a hostage pickup, or cut a lock off a door, even if these moments are tightly controlled.

Knife enemies are new foes added in CZ. There’s also a super tasteless version wearing a suicide vest.

Really, all parts of the missions are heavily and obviously scripted. Doors will kick open, snipers will appear in predetermined windows, and enemies on balconies will topple over and crash theatrically into boxes below. It’s clearly a tightly controlled shooting gallery – a bit like a 3D lightgun game at times – but I still found it enjoyable. Something like Soldier of Fortune hits the action this game was going for better, and people sure were tired of the Half-Life engine by 2004, but I still found it a fun time for a single playthrough.

The Deleted Scenes also add some new graphical effects. With the exception of the character models, these don’t get ported over to the multiplayer game. You’ll see a new glass shattering animation, some particle splinters when shooting wood or walls, and a boatload of destructible objects. Transparent foliage is now added, allowing for jungle and park levels. Red barrels and fire extinguishers can be shot to tear away parts of the level, Duke Nukem style. Other objects splinter or break off parts under sustained fire. The downside here is that these breakable objects don’t allow you to shoot through them, leading to situations where you can’t even shoot through measly cubicle walls to hit the enemies on the other side – a missing Counter-Strike staple for sure.

Which really highlights the major problem. The Deleted Scenes have diddly dick to do with Counter-Strike at all. CS’ damage model is mostly thrown out, so you’ll take tremendous amounts of damage, as will any “boss” character you encounter. The gadgets here seem inspired by GoldenEye, and as they don’t feature in the multiplayer game, it’s kind of hard to explain them existing at all. Not to mention, this campaign turns Counter-Strike into just another vanilla single-player FPS.  I can see why Valve pulled this to go back to the drawing board, finally revising and sticking with the original offline bot concept. Still, the missions are fun enough that I’m glad they didn’t let them go to waste. Plus, there’s good modern support for both – fans have released a Tour of Duty mode for the terrorists, and there are a few new campaigns for the Deleted Scenes.

Looking back, trying to design an offline version of such a legendary multiplayer game was a nearly impossible challenge. Asking people to pay $40 for an inferior version of something that was free was lunacy. Still, I feel like the final product turned out the best that it could. The bots are quite functional, and are sure to offer the most civil games of CS you’ll ever play. The Deleted Scenes can’t compare to other FPS campaigns of 2004, but are fun enough on their own merits. If you already ended up with CZ from buying one of the many Steam collections, it might well be worth firing up and losing a weekend to.

 

The Good

Bots replicate the online game well. Tour of Duty mode adds some fun tests and basic rewards – I just wish it wasn’t forced on you as the only mode. Deleted Scenes have some cool moments, lots of variety, and some neat engine tricks.

The Bad

Counter-Strike is fundamentally neither an offline game, nor a single-player action campaign. Condition Zero tries to make the game something it’s not, and as such, doesn’t represent it ideally. Also, was tough to compete against the mod itself, and other bots – both free. Even today, if you’re going to pay for just one version of CS, it shouldn’t be this one.

 

There appear to be two terrorist groups fighting over control of the nuclear missile! One is trying to steal it, and the other is trying to launch it! — Russian Commander

 

One Comment

  1. FM says:

    You have something of a higher opinion of the Deleted Scenes than I do. I remember playing them and being rather underwhelmed by them – not only because they weren’t Counter-Strike, but because the action simply didn’t seem exciting in the least. It felt like playing a bad Half-Life mod…which, well, I suppose I was. I barely remember what happened, and I didn’t really enjoy it while I was playing it, even compared to the regular game’s relatively spartan content.

    Your assessment of the place of CS in the gaming world and the regular Condition Zero game is spot on, though. That said, CZ was enough to convince me to try multiplayer CS…for about five minutes. (As someone who generally doesn’t pick up on or use degenerate strategies like this, I find it kind of disappointing that most games after CS have only further followed in its footsteps, at least in that sense.)

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