Counter-Strike: Condition Zero

a game by Valve
Platform: PC
User Rating: 8.5/10 - 16 votes
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See also: Counter Strike Series, First Person Shooter

At B.3 OAM on a winter’s day, Paris isn’t quite so gay. Waking from three hours of restless, alcohol-fuelled sleep, to find a comatose Steve Hill less than a foot away in an adjacent bed, rasping like an overheating electric saw, glasses precariously hanging off one ear in a pool of his own drool - only makes it worse. But while spirits may have been creaking like a cheap hotel bed, hopes within our party of 15 dishevelled UK journalists were high, as we were transported in a rickety coach - portaloo already brimming with four types of human excretion from the previous day’s cross-Channel journey - to our destination, an aristocratically eccentric chateau which was to host the annual VU Games press show.

After four and a half hours, we arrived at the grandiose building, and were promptly ushered out of the vehicle by clucking Frenchmen towards the galleries housing a host of VU Games developers demonstrating their wares to the press. Throngs of pallid, under-nourished journos shunted their way from one room to the next as Hill and I peeled off in opposite directions. We had work to do. My mission - to track down legendary developer Randy Pitchford, who, it was rumoured, was as big as a giant and had a rocket launcher for an arm.

Seeing Is Believing

Visibility was down to a minimum as I eked my way through swathes of bodies, matted together with sweat and spilt coffee towards the Gearbox stand showing Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, the single-player version of the greatest online shooter of our time. Suddenly it appeared, looming from the greyness like a beacon to the lost, drawing in slack-jawed observers like fireflies to a lantern. Standing in front of me, was the man himself, Mr Randy Pitchford, not a bazooka-toting behemoth, but an affable enthusiastic man. speaking to a pair of buck-toothed Ren and Stimpey lookalikes.

I watched for a while as a manic bot-filled firefight kicked off on one of CZ’s impressive-looking new levels, where shards of debris flew off every surface as mis-aimed bullets thudded into walls. During a lull in the action, I took the opportunity to ask how you, as the commander of your team of special forces soldiers, would be able to interact with your comrades.

"When we started work on Condition Zero, we found that there were two approaches to solving the problem of a command interface. The first of these is getting your team to do what you want. Developing this kind of FPS is no longer about being alone in the world - it’s about developing a team-based singleplayer game and making the Al believable, plausible and fun. One of the key problems is making sure the guys don’t look like idiots, and doing what you want them to. Basically they should be enhancing your experience of the game, not counteracting it," explained Randy chirpily. Like a newborn I wedged myself between the two animated hunks of flesh that stood either side of me to get a better view. Things were beginning to get interesting.

A Tale Of Two Interfaces

Randy was now in an ebullient mood so I thrust my Dictaphone nearer to his face to record his every word. "We’ve actually used two interfaces instead of one.

For the first one, we’ve developed a complicated system which allows you to directly give orders to your teammates, such as getting one bot to take point. We decided it was important that we give the player some direct control over what their team-mates do. Once the mission starts, it’s chaos, and both human and computer-controlled players will care primarily about survival and their objective. So a lot of the time, the bots will be making their own decisions about what’s going to keep them alive and what’s going to get the job done. However, as you’re the squad leader, sometimes you’ll have to make the all-important decisions and that’s where the direct command system comes in."

And what about the second approach to interacting with your team-mates? "The other approach to solving the problem is to get the Al to take a look at both what the player and the other Al characters are doing, as well as the way the map is built, and from this figure out what the smartest decisions are. An example of this is walking into an open area where there is potential to be sniped. So the first bot will go to a certain point and cover the next guy as he makes his way to the same spot, so that the whole group moves together like a real military unit." Coo. He wasn’t wrong either. Gesturing for me to have a go, I clutched the controls in tepid palms.

cocksure that my years of office Counter-Strike sessions would put me in good stead for the trials ahead. Twenty seconds later, I was dead, decapitated by a well placed LAW rocket. Eager to make amends I tried again, attempting to outflank the enemy with my squad of three highly trained soldiers. It was then I noticed it. The bots in CZ aren’t some mookish collection of pre-defined brainwashed drones, conforming to a set of poorly comprised Al routines and scripts. No-no-no-no-no! These bots are very different. Lifelike some might say. They worked together in a well-organised team, opting for differing routes depending on their past experiences. These are written to a file which tells them what kind of things happened when they played before, negating any chance of predictability and on this occasion, scuppering my feeble and poorly thought out plans for an ambush.

Tours Of Duty

Randy then informed me that hardened Counter-Strike veterans will be in for a stern test, while partially solidified FPS players will find even some of the earlier levels, seriously challenging. "When playing against the bots, many hardened CS players who've been testing the game haven’t been able to tell the difference between them and human players," bragged Randy. The man wasn’t talking crap either, as he and his Bot mates proved by battling frantically to extinguish an enemy stronghold. Such was the tension, in fact, that while we watched the action unfold, the Stimpy lookalike started shaking uncontrollably with excitement, buck teeth knocking violently against his kneecaps, dislodging pieces of his lunch and sending them arching off in random directions as he trembled. Picking out a piece of cold fish which had lodged itself in my ear, I asked Randy to tell us a bit about the new types of missions, and some of the new mission goals we could expect to see in CZ.

"We’ve put in many new objectives in each mission, alongside old ones like defusing bombs. These new goals may involve getting your whole squad from one side of the map to the other without losing a single man. So you have to start thinking about how to play each level differently. In this case you may send one man out as a decoy, while the rest of you take another path." As if to confirm this, Randy set about stealthily negotiating a derelict-looking level, full of decrepit crumbling buildings, sending off a sniper to distract the advancing terrorist scum -some armed with riot shields, others with Molotov Cocktails - while he and the rest of the team headed off in the opposite direction. Once the level was complete a wry smile tinted with smugness crossed his face for the briefest of moments before composure returned and the demonstration continued.

"We started thinking about the way most people use the same weapon every time. So another objective may be trying to complete a mission where every member of the team is forced to use the same weapon. This throws up a totally different tactical situation. In any given mission there are nine objectives and each of these is divided into modes. The narrative mode will involve the classic types of mission goals such as defusing a bomb, rescuing hostages and planting surveillance equipment. Then there’s the challenge mode, where you may have to get five kills using just the shield and the pistol. This means you’ll have to get very skilled with a handgun. If you achieve this you’ll get more money for the next mission, meaning you can recruit more guys, train the ones you already have and purchase heavier weaponry. Certain soldiers specialise in certain skills, so someone with a high accuracy potential will be worth investing in as he has the potential to become an incredible sniper."

I Hear You

Suddenly a high-pitched squeal cut its way through my ear drums, emanating from the back of the rabble of journos which had, unbeknown to me, converged on the CZ stand, behind which stood the other developers, vacant, confused and unsure of what to do next while everyone ignored them. "Tell me vich new aaarierth offf combat zer vill be in game?" came the cry. What? Fortunately Randy understood. "There are six regions. South American jungles with drug lords, the Middle East with loads of terrorist missions, urban European, the Far East, Arctic regions of Russia and the United States. Each territory will have three or four missions. In each one there are nine different objectives. So overall, there are about 200 mission goals in the whole game. Newcomers will be taken care of with an in-depth tutorial." Not bad, we all agreed, nodding sagely at one another now in a kind of brainwashed union, assimilating every word Randy spoke and marvelling at the game before us. But Randy, undeterred by the bobbing heads, was intent on pushing on. Happily and in a hushed silence we let him continue, watching as he brought up the intuitive new menu system and demonstrating the ease with which you’ll be able to buy new weaponry and train your team.

"When you start the game you’ll only have a little bit of money, so the first few missions will be solo affairs, probably armed with some kind of pistol. As you start making money though, you can recruit guys to join your team and buy yourself better weapons."

"And what of the bots? What skills will they have?" I enquired, voice resounding like a bomb through the room. "Glad you mentioned that actually, great question." Smug grin from Martin. Moans of hatred from everyone else. "There are ten skills, five of which are exposed for training, which include small arms, demolitions, rifles, tactics awareness. This one is their ability to ct to the sounds that they hear, such as knowing what weapons are being fired at them. Knowing things like this will affect their behaviour. It’s a bit like combat experience. The tactics skill represents their ability to communicate with each other and move together as a unit." Glancing at my watch it became apparent I had stayed too long. I’d seen what I’d come to see and heard what I’d hoped I’d hear. Condition Zero was looking little short of stunning, with an engine so brilliantly enhanced that it was barely discernable from the original Half-Life one. As I pushed my way through the rabble, I threw a cursory and somewhat sympathetic glance to the man at the Nascar2002 stand, isolated and ignored bar one suited man who stood like a wax figurine, holding a gaming wheel steady at a slight leftwards i angle. The verdict was clear.

No game on show that day could come close to competing, and as I clambered back on the bus. I realised that any team-based first-person W shooter out this year would have trouble doing so too. B And I couldn’t help but smile at the knowledge that ZONE would be running the exclusive review of Condition Zero next issue, and Br the exclusive demo the issue after.

And so another press trip was over, ending the way each one does. with a three-hour trip to a pub and a coachload of bedraggled, sweating, balding men without proper jobs, falling into a coma as they waited for their next gaming, alcoholic, or as it turned out on k this occasion, pornographic hit. Well, this was Paris after all...

Download Counter-Strike: Condition Zero

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

"Hi honey, i'm home." "Hello dear, how was your day?" "Oh... you know... pretty average really. Got to work, had a cup of coffee, a muffin, a banana. Checked my emails... mum says hi. Hold on there was something else... damn it... wait, I've got it. At about 15:00 hours we received a Code Red from Tac-Ops, who relayed the position of a terror cell to us. Major draaaag. So after afternoon tea and a nap, we pootled off in a stealth chopper to have a look, infiltrated their base and you'll never guess who we found." "Auntie Maureen?"

"Close. Osama Bin Laden. Heh, who would have thought it? In Somerset of all places." "That's nice dear."

"And Billy got his balls shot off by a terrorist."

"Yes dear, stew for supper?" Such is the life of a counter-terrorist operative. One minute you're sitting around sharpening a knife on your stubble, the next your intestines are being used as a skipping rope by some terrorist's niece. It's a job where you never know what dangers you'll be facing tomorrow, whether you'll live to see another day. and whether you'll make it home in time for Neighbours.

Make It Real

Danger, intrigue, brutal firefights, a battle of wits against the most uncompromising and brutal men on the planet. It's a scenario which many an online shooter, in particular Counter-Strike, has tried to replicate... and failed. Why? Simple. Because it's nigh-on impossible to submerge yourself in a terrorist/counter-terrorist bloodbath when you've just had your eyeballs shot out by some bespectacled snot-nosed aim-bot-abusing brat from Philadelphia called Chad - AKA FuKW11 - who mocks you constantly through your headphones for being crap in an undropped-balls-pitched squeal. The impudent little twat gets to you so much that all you end up thinking about is how much you'd like to grab the little prick by the neck, slap off his glasses, and hang him out of a window by his ankles while beating him round the back of the legs with a sawn-off oar. And I don't think I'm alone in thinking that... anyone? What's more, how the hell are you supposed to improve when you die within seconds of each round?

How? Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, that's how. At least, that's what we've been led to believe until now. Due 16 months ago (when it was still being developed by Gearbox), Condition Zero claims to be the single-player version of Counter-Strike, the world's favourite online shooter. Which (obviously) means, you don't need to go online to play it.

Information Blackout

Now, from what we could gather from the information trickling out of Ritual (who appear to have totally changed the game since the Gearbox days), this meant an 18 mission, worldwide campaign against terror, where you and a collection of intelligent bots fight as a team to thwart terrorist cells, in all-new missions not too dissimilar to the ones you currently play online. We were wrong.

Split into two parts, Condition Zero's first half (we'll come to the other, far superior half later) offers an 18 mission, worldwide campaign against terror, where you singlehandedly fight to thwart terrorist cells, while a handful of brain-dead Al team-mates stand around looking at flowers urging you on to do everything for them, in missions not too dissimilar to the kind of basic, bedroom-coded rubbish you'd expect from a ten-year-old making their first foray into level designing. And you can't play them online. Or with other people. Before you wade into the action, you're offered a training course, which is basic at best, and inadequate at worst. After this, it's on to the campaign. Each of the 18 missions begins with a token cinematic sequence, outlining the mission goals (defuse bomb, rescue hostages, kill VIP etc) before you set off on your lonely trek. In fact, while we're here, why don't we get a feel for a typical mission?

Bloody Typical

The first level picks you up and plops you down, deep underground. The Japanese underground to be precise, where you find yourself on a tube, keeping one eye out for terrorists and one on the white panties peeking out cheekily from beneath the skirts of the Japanese schoolgirls sitting opposite you (hey, they said they were 16 OK?). The next thing you know, you're getting beaten round the head by a man who looks like a South American paedophile, while his mate wires up a bomb and randomly shoots passengers.

Mustering all your years of training, you pass out, waking just in time to see the bomb go off. Now you're pissed - especially as those schoolgirls have gone. Kidnapped apparently. With the place swarming with counter-terrorists (CTs), you're ready to join with your compadres and pump your assailants up to the fillings with lead. Sadly, only one other CT, Gerald the model-train enthusiast, will come with you. He opens a door. You walk through. He closes the door behind you and wishes you luck. The bastard! Seconds later, you're cowering behind your riot shield (one of the game's new weapons), futilely popping away at a dozen or so terrorists with a cap gun.

Suspect

Barely alive, you stumble past the corpses, blood smattered all around the white walls like vulgar graffiti, diving on to a bomb in order to defuse it, only to die immediately as two terrorists appear from nowhere and shoot you. Reload. You dive on to the bomb to defuse it, then die as two terrorists appear from nowhere and shoot you. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Rip off earphones, throw them at monitor. Reload. Die. Throw monitor out of window.

Where's the back up? There is none. Where's the teamwork? What team? Even after just this first mission, you're left in no doubt about two things, a) Those girls definitely weren't 16. b) This isn't Counter-Strike, it's a straightforward, arcadey, open door, shoot enemy, walk down corridor, jump on box, shoot barrel, scripted FPS. And not a very good one at that, either. Throughout the next few missions this suspicion intensifies as you're persistently sent off on your own to accomplish goals your team should be helping you with. And on the rare occasions when they bother engaging the enemy, their bullets prove about as effective as sponge plugs, with 30 of their bullets accomplishing what yours can achieve in two or three.

Spanner In The Works

Add to this an abundance of barrels filled with high explosives which are always conveniently positioned right next to large groups of terrorists, the inability to pick up enemy weapons, not being able to shoot enemies while they're in the middle of a scripted animation and stealth sections which are lamer than a two legged horse, and it's hard not to feel you're trapped in Clichesville (twinned with Crapsville) - a town where there's nothing new and little to get excited about.

Know Your Enemy

But even a little is better h than nothing, and while the campaign as a whole will invite little more than derision B from CS veterans, B there are some merits to this section of CZ. While enemies' often flamboyant entrances (rolling from behind a r wall, throwing over a table F and taking cover) are all scripted, the level of intelligence they show during a firefight is sporadically impressive. When in groups they fan out and take cover, when in a position of superiority they close you down, caging you in to prevent you from escaping.

Throw a grenade at them and they'll run and cower, aim at their heads and they'll try to duck down. Then there are some of the more entertaining scripted sequences, like shooting down a Harrier Jump Jet as it strafes you from above, or reliving the final chase scene from Terminator 2 as you try to shoot down a pursuing helicopter. And the dated Half-Life engine has received a thorough makeover, updated to just about passable modern-day standards.

The weapons from Counter-Strike are all present and correct, as well as some new ones too, meaning variety isn't a problem, but sadly the buggy-like radio controlled bomb that we were promised, which can be driven into enemy encampments, is MIA.

The Real Deal

"So, the 18-mission campaign's a real let-down, eh? So why the relatively high score Korda? Hmmm? You been taking bribes? You getting' a cut of the profits? Well?"

Bloody hell, my schizophrenia-induced alter ego (Sharon) is getting impatient these days, isn't she? OK, let me explain. Remember, I said there were two parts to this game, and it's part two that lifts the score immensely. Even though all the features you're about to read about will be available as a free V1.6 download (see panel), the inclusion here and the fact you don't need Half-Life to run the game (as you do with the V1.6 CS download) makes it an ideal purchase for Half-Lifeless Counter-Strike newbies and those new to PC gaming.

Here's the deal. Imagine playing all the existing official Counter-Strike levels with bots. Intelligent bots. Who work together to win a level. Who cover each other, protect bombsites and use stealth when navigating comers. Bots who are fallible, but also learn from mistakes when certain tactics simply aren't producing the goods.

Bot Brilliance

Imagine playing without the need to go online, without the humiliation of getting no kills. Playing at a standard that'll help you improve your game, have fun and not have to listen to the arrogant ramblings of loners who've quit their jobs, abandoned their families and who piss in a cup so as to spend the maximum amount of time playing CS online.

Imagine playing with a couple of mates online or over a LAN, but still having a full server for a fulfilling and challenging game. Having bots that, just like humans, each have their own playing styles, be they campers, rushers, flushers or pistoleers. Games that can range from a 30-second massacre to a five-minute game of cat and mouse as you and the last bot hunt each other down. Counter-Strike: Condition Zero (and CS V1.6) makes all of the above possible.

Every game feels realistic, and the four difficulty settings mean you never feel overawed. Put simply, it's the most entertaining, fulfilling and timesapping team-based singleplayer shooter I've ever played, despite the occasional erratic bit of behaviour from the odd disorientated bot, and the now hugely dated graphics engine, which although slightly tweaked with better weapon models and more realistic particle effects, remains much the same. It's also the perfect training if you're a CS beginner, as you won't be put off by playing against veterans online, while even experienced CS players will appreciate the chance to try out the new weapons, such as the near-impenetrable riot shield and the FAMAS and Galil machine guns before risking using them online. Valve - who (along with a new development company Turtle Rock Studios) is responsible for developing this part of the game - has shown up Ritual's shortcomings in the campaign missions with their sublime Al programming and unparalleled skill in creating superb games and gameplay.

So there you have it. Two games in one. One flawed, one available free (for HL owners), but deserving of a good score, which is why we've settled on 79 per cent. Had we been reviewing the CS bot game section on its own, you'd be looking at an Essential if not a Classic score.

Be warned. If you're buying this game for the 18 new single-player levels, think very, very hard. The campaign - just like the Blair Witch Project soundtrack (a film bereft of music), which was packed with songs 'inspired' by the movie - is a game inspired' by Counter-Strike. A barely passable shooter trying to pass as Counter-Strike, whose missions act as little more than a diversion from the sublime bot-filled Counter-Strike levels in which you can finally live the life of a counter-terrorist (or terrorist), and believe it. "Honey, set the video for Neighbours, I may be home quite late tonight..."

Still Free For Masses

If you already own a copy of Half-Life and a 56K modem or above and want all of the new Counter-Strike features for free, then you'll be able to download Counter-Strike V1.6 (which we've been informed by Valve will already be available for download when you read this) and enjoy all of the new weapons from CZ, as well as providing you with all the Bot features of the retail release. Which means millions of fans worldwide will be able to enjoy the evolution of Counter-Strike. Basically what we're saying is, if you're an existing Counter-Strike player, there's little need to buy Condition Zero, unless you want to play through a disappointing and hugely flawed single-player FPS.

Point Blank Misses

So many opportunities missed and so little space to write them in. Let's start with the campaign game. Scripting has its place in any FPS, but the beauty of CS is its unpredictability, with no two games ever being the same. Why didn't Ritual let us use the tools in a freeform way? So we could use fibre-optics to look through any door in the game, rather than just the odd one here and there? The same with the blowtorch. There could have been secret passages to discover and open, allowing alternative access and escape routes from terrorist strongholds. Oh, and then there's the small detail of teamwork. Yeah, some of that would have been nice. When Gearbox brought in the game to the offices a little over a year ago, there were groups of CTs and terrorists shooting the shit out of each other. Now it's just you against the world. Finally, some new CS levels to play against the Bots and online would have been a nice touch as well.

Right, let's try this again shall we? It was the one with the words Exclusive Review: Counter-Strike: Condition Zero' emblazoned on the front cover, replete with a balaclava-clad man about to be unwittingly run over by three helicopters. Inside was a six-page review - or should I say lamentation - about how the game was nothing like we'd expected it to be. The thing was, right up until the moment the review code plopped onto our desks - and despite development having changed hands from Gearbox to Ritual - we'd been led to believe that Condition Zero would comprise of a group of ever- harder missions, in which you and a team of intelligent Al-controlled counter-terrorist bots would battle it out across a set of maps against terrorist forces in either bomb defusal or hostage rescue missions. So basic just like online Counter-Strike, only with bots and personal tasks to complete in each map.

What's This Then?

Problem was, that's not what we got at all. No siree. What we got was a collection of 18 pitiful single-player missions that bore almost no resemblance to Counter-Strike whatsoever. Pathetic scripted enemy encounters, moronic teammates and banal ledge-jumping puzzles were commonplace. Naturally, we were more gutted than a fish fillet, and had it not been for the inclusion of a stunning collection of bots to play with and against on existing CS maps (either on your own or with other humans online), it would have scored considerably less. So what happened to that game, and why are we reviewing Condition Zero again a staggering eight months after running it as our lead review? Was it because we were more premature than a two-ounce foetus? Like hell it was.

What Really Happened...

Thing is, we were sent finished review code by developer Valve, reviewed the game, ran the review and cover and came to the conclusion that the single-player game was about as much fun as drilling holes in your eyeballs. With a blunt drill head.

So Valve, having read our review, decided to reassess, pulled the game back, handed it to Turtle Rock Studios (the team behind the superb bots I mentioned earlier) and started again. Now, finally - we hope -we have the new, finished and thankfully much improved version of Condition Zero.

Making an unwelcome return from before are 12 of the 18 single-player missions we reviewed last time, featured here as Deleted Scenes'. So if you're masochistic or have a penchant for basic, scripted shooters, then you can find out what all the lack of fuss was about.

Also, the excellent bots which you can run Internet and LAN servers with are included. These will only be available if you buy Condition Zero, so if you're running vanilla CS, you won't be able to join these bot-populated servers.

Back To Basics

And so we come what's new about this version of Condition Zero. And wouldn't you know it, Valve and Turtle Rock Studios have gone back to the original Gearbox blueprint. Yup, what we have here is a collection of 18 ever-harder maps, where you and a customisable team must battle against terrorists (you're allocated points which you use to recruit troops of varying ability to aid you in each mission). Your task is not only to win by two clear rounds, but to complete personal tasks along the way too.

These tasks vary in difficulty depending on the setting. On Easy', you may just have to survive a round and kill a couple of enemies with a certain weapon. On Expert', not only are the enemies fiendishly adept at shooting out your eyeballs from a hundred yards, but your personal mission goals can be staggeringly difficult, such as winning a round in 60 seconds, rescuing all the hostages and killing ten enemies with nothing but a dirty rag and a packet of gravel. Almost that hard, anyway.

Our Survey Said...

The result is the game we were expecting eight months ago, with bots so intelligent they make your average online player look like a baboon who's been dropped at birth. It's like playing CS in the good old days. Days when teams played together, when each mission was tense and closely fought, not just a free-for-all for glory boys.

What's more, not only are your team-mates incredibly intelligent - each has their own stats for skill, bravery, co-op and a weapon of choice - they always leave the main task (such as defusing the bomb) to you. This way, you always feel you're the hero of the show.

It's a shame it's arrived so late, as this revamped CZ is an excellent package, featuring some of the best bots we've ever seen. The engine may be dated, the gameplay pretty much unchanged from the online games, some of the meatier new weapons we were promised (such as the LAW Rocket) may be AWOL and it's true we've seen most of the levels before.

But despite all this, Condition Zero is still a highly enjoyable piece of software. Valve should be applauded for listening to the criticisms of the original and making amends - had it been sold at $19.99, it would have scored even higher. If you still love Counter-Strike, are new to it or want to train yourself up before getting online, this is an essential purchase.

Where Oh where has this one got to, eh? Did it get lost behind the U-bend in a drunken stupor one night? Well, unsurprisingly, no. Despite the promise of an August 2002 release, the boys and gals at Gearbox, perfectionists that they are, decided they weren't happy with the product. Which is surprising considering that when we saw code back in May, it was not only looking finished, but utterly stunning to boot.

So what's new for this single-player version of the world's favourite online shooter? Well for starters, missions are set to be far more immersive than their online counterparts, with scripted action sequences having been added in order to heighten the excitement and throw up new, unexpected objectives halfway through missions. The Half-Life engine has also been continually tweaked, making Condition Zero virtually unrecognisable from Counter-Strike. Although there's no concrete release date yet, March is currently looking likely, a fact backed up by the impending release of a patch which adds three unique weapons from Condition Zero to existing Counter-Strike games (the FAMAS and Galil sub-machine guns and most notably the riot shield). It's the clearest indication yet that Gearbox is getting the CS community ready for the release of Condition Zero (CZ will be backwardly compatible with Counter-Strike, meaning no one will be excluded from the action). Look out next month for our massive exclusive preview on what could well be the biggest game of 2003.

In Summary

You know Counter-Strike Well the classic multiplayer game is set to be released as a single-player title with new multiplayer features. That means you don't have to rely on a last Internet connection to play your favourite game and you don't have to put up with abuse from other players if you're no good.

What's The Big Deal?

That's a stupid question. Counter-Stnkeis the biggest online game, and it's argued that it could be the most important PC game ot the last few years. Condition Zero isn't a full-blown sequel, but It does give those of you without access to a modem the chance to sample the delights ot a game that's been described as being more addictive than crack'. (By me.)

My working hours are ten in the morning until six in the evening. If I stay until after seven I have to sign to get out of the building. Why am I starting a Top Story with meaningless drivel like this? Simple. For the past nine months I've had to sign out almost every night, and the blame lies on the doorstep of one single game: Counter-Strike.

I've tried to fight the addiction, and since I've been back from E3 I've been pretty successful, even going as far as emerging blinking into bright sunlight on a couple of occasions. Then I heard about Counter-Strike: Condition Zero and like a cured smack addict confronted with a new bag, I can feel myself slipping again. Now before you get too excited, I should point out that Condition Zero is not the full-blown sequel to Counter-Strike (the real Counter-Strike 2 is currently in furious development and will hopefully see the light of day next year). It is a collection of brand new single-player maps (that can also be taken online) using an ever-so-slightly tweaked Half-Life engine. This means the unlucky few, the ones without modems, will finally be able to sample the delights of CS.

Valve is still fairly tight-lipped about the project, but we did manage to confirm that there will be new weapons (eight at last count) in Condition Zero. There'll also be 16 new maps (making 32 missions in total if you count playing them as terrorists and counterterrorists), new skins and a new player class, the Russian Spetsnaz.

In play, Condition Zero is going to be identical to its multiplayer originator. You control one character, and your team-mates and opponents will be supervised by the all-new AI. Valve is looking pretty smug about this side of the game, claiming it will go way beyond dumb hostage routines and that it will even surpass the hackneyed clamberings of the team.

One thing we're not sure about is what happens when you die. Assuming you're rubbish at the game and get killed after five or six seconds on every map, you could be faced with the prospect of watching 10-12 AI team-mates and opponents getting it on and enjoying themselves without you. Dem's de breaks though. There's still loads to iron out and Valve is staying tight-lipped at the moment. We'll have more next month, and even though we're yet to be totally convinced by the concept, we're also sure that if anyone can do it, Valve can. In any case, the thought of mixing it up in Counter-Strike battles with the Special Ops troops from Half-Life is one that's enough to push all thoughts of the outdated engine out of the window.

Hands up those of you who remember life before Counter-Strike Anybody? Hmm? Yes you... at the back there? What's that? You're just scratching your armpit are you? Well stop being a filthy animal and pay attention, because I remember that time well. Let me refresh your Counter-Strike-addled memories...

You'd leave work before 9.30pm and go to bed before 3am. You'd go home to loved ones or out with friends into social environments. It was a time when holding a spoken conversation wasn't an alien concept, a time when you still remembered what daylight looked like and your appearance didn't resemble that of a corpse, a time when you heard your partner say something other than "You love Counter-Strike more than you love me," and "It's either me or the computer." But in time these cries and memories faded into the distance as you donned your can-like headphones in a specially designed shack at the back of your garden, submerging yourself into a new online family of frenzied fraggers, holding typed conversations in a strange new language invented by 12-year-old boys incapable of spelling or saying anything worthwhile other than: "Are there any girls on this server?" But now a new era is coming. One that will do away with the need for human company, the need for joining with your fellow man to fight for a greater good online A time when AI will take the place of the human brain and rise up against gaming communities the world over. Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, the single-player version of the world's most popular online shooter is coming. And it's going to get you...

There have been quite a few companies associated with Condition Zero. We've heard you have redesigned it from the ground up. Is this true, and can you enlighten us on the reasons why so many developers have been associated with it?

There's actually only been two phases of Condition Zero development -before Gearbox and after Gearbox. Interestingly enough, I had actually begun speaking with Valve about some things that could be done with Counter-Strike quite a while ago. Unfortunately our plans didn't allow Gearbox to actually be involved back then. As the popularity of the online version of Counter-Strike grew, it became clear it was very important to give fans a single-player experience as well. Initially, another group here in Dallas was enlisted to help develop the game, but things didn't work out for a variety of reasons that aren't worth going into. As luck would have it at that point, Gearbox was finally wrapping up the PS2 version of Half-Life and were able to talk with Valve again about doing the CZ project. Very quickly, it became clear that the best path for this title to succeed would be for Gearbox and Valve to collaborate, as we have in the past, with primary development being located at our offices in Texas. Gearbox was in a unique position to enlist many of the original CS developers to work with our veteran talent to create the new single-player content and game modes. At the same time, we're all working with the CPL to make the new multiplayer features shine.

Are you still going to be using the Half-Life engine?

An important goal hr Condition Zero is for the game to be completely compatible with Counter-Strike online. This means we couldn't change engines. What we have been able to do, however, is enhance the engine with a variety of features that very specifically benefit a game like Condition Zero. This new technology includes added features to the model-rendering engine including alpha blending, which allows us to add a lot more detail to the environment, added special effects functionality including weather effects and a materials-based feedback system, and a bunch of other cool things that you'll see in the game.

Will the weather effects have any influence over the gameplay?

Other than thick snow reducing visibility, no. However, the weather effects do bring a new sense of believability to the game. There'll be a whole set of scenarios which take place in an Arctic setting, so this will come into play quite a lot.

Are there going to be new and defined character classes?

Character classes aren't defined rigidly, but are more about which people the player recruits, what skills they have and what areas the player wants to improve them in. Some squad recruits may have some inherent talent as a sniper or runner, but other guys may require lots of training to build up their skills. The more highly skilled recruits will cost more to hire, but will require less investment in training to build up specialised skills. You can train recruits by spending money to improve their skills. Each of the recruits have their own names, personalities and voices.

Will there be any new skins?

Condition Zero adds a new unit type to each team - a Russian Spetznaz on one side and a militia extremist to the other. Also, with all new units, custom uniforms are available for every environment type. When the squad has to go on a mission in snowy conditions, theyil have Arctic gear. In the jungle or in the desen there is appropriate camouflage available. There's also a classic urban uniform that's based on the real-world designs for each unit. Each unit type also offers unique characterisations so that when you add up all of the combinations, there are more than 160 varieties of guys in Condition Zero. In the singleplayer game, the uniforms will be selected automatically based on the environment of the mission selected. In multiplayer, you'll be able to use the variety to make your player model unique and distinguishable front others in the game.

The gameplay in Counter-Strike was very different to most FPSs, involving stealth and teamwork. How will the computer AI reflect this?

We've enlisted the help of the author of the POD bot, which is among the best of the AI bots for any FPS game out there. Since he's been involved with Condition Zero, the AI has improved significantly. Now, the bots will be fully integrated into the game and have been adapted for single-player mode as well. In blind tests with experienced CS players (including some members of the press), people were fooled into diinking that the bots in the game were actually human players.

Will there be any safeguards to stop people using bots online and pretending it's a them playing?

In multiplayer mode, bots are identified on the scoreboard. You won't be able to put your superbot in there, pretend it's human and get it to kill everyone so it looks like you've managed to get a higher score. Server operators will have a lot of control in deciding whether or not they let bots onto their servers. If the server operator doesn't want bots in the game, then they won't ever be able to be added.

What team orders will there be?

The standard radio commands are there and are understood by the Al. In addition, we plan to give some attention to the radio command system to make it more approachable and probably extend it to offer more appropriate commands for the single-player game (as well as include a few new radio comments that would be useful in multiplayer games but don't currently exist).

Will CZ incorporate classic online Counter-Strike action? Will you be able to play online with both bots and humans on one team?

Yes. Not only will you be able to add bots to any multiplayer game, you'll be able to play any of the single-player missions co-operatively.

How many players will be able to play on each side, both in the single- and multiplayer games?

Condition Zero supports 32-person multiplayer games. Memory requirements are greater than the minimum specification for large servers, though.

Will the free version of Counter-Strike continue to be updated after Condition Zero is released?

Yes. In fact, initially there will be a patch that makes Counter-Strike totally compatible with Condition Zero. Beyond that, there are always improvements to be made and new technology to be added that can improve social aspects and/or foil cheaters.

As a single-player game, how will you implement a coherent sense of continuity, and will there be any consequences from succeeding at a previous mission, but not executing it perfectly?

The single-player game is driven by a narrative that makes the player understand why it's so important to succeed in each mission. Each scenario requires a number of objectives to be completed, nine out of ten of which are new. As objectives are completed, additional funding is earned for the squad that enables the player (as the squad leader) to invest in an improved arsenal, squad training or recruitment of new members. There are some other surprises that money can be spent on as well. Completing all of the objectives of one scenario will yield more funding for the squad, which will give that squad the resources to be better equipped to deal with the next scenario. In some cases, however, it will be necessary to move ahead and acquire things from later missions before the player can go back and complete every objective in an earlier scenario. The single-player game is very well layered and there are tons of incentives to just keep going. I'm very proud of the design for this one as it's clearly the most innovative thing Gearbox has ever done.

Will resources and weapons be transferred from one mission to the next?

Yes.

Will there be any kind of storyline? If so what will it be and how will it be developed eg in-game-cut scenes, FMV etc?

Each mission will have a narrative that includes a sense of place and purpose and a compelling incentive for the player to succeed. Beyond that, we'd like to leave the specifics for fans to discover as they play the game.

How many single-player missions will there be?

Right now we have about 21 scenarios planned, but that number is likely to change before the game is complete. Each scenario has at least ten mission objectives offering more total play time than all of the games we've released thus far added together.

Will there be any other mission goals apart from the classic ones such as hostage rescue and bomb defusal?

Yes. Nine out of ten mission objectives in each scenario are new. In every scenario there will be key missions such as rescuing hostages and defusing bombs. However, there's also going to be a couple of others too, but we haven't named them yet. We've created a new mode where any member of the team has to get to a specific location and perform an action, like demolish a computer or something. Which means that any member of the team could act as that key player. Another mode is where your team has to escape from somewhere. You start with no weapons, and have to work together as a team to get yourselves out. Whatever happens, there will be at least two completely new game modes, maybe more.

In each scenario there are also a load of other objectives you can go for. You can gain further income by earning certain rewards. For example you could earn a reward for doing nothing but headshots. If you kill every single enemy with a headshot then you gel a reward. If all of your team survive, or you're the only person scoring kills, then again, you can get a reward. There'll be other modes of play too. In one of them we'll be putting specific challenges into the objectives for each map. So we can limit the way you can approach a map. So for one map, you may just be allowed to use an MP5. In another map, you may not be able to use guns at all, meaning you have to sneak round using just flash bangs and grenades to complete your objectives. This way we can use the skills that are needed in Counter-Strike to challenge players in different ways. Most people just use the same few weapons every time they play. Our goal is to get people to experience the whole game and challenge all of their skills in various ways. You don't have to complete every single objective throughout the game, but if you do you'll earn more money, which will make it easier to complete later missions.

How does it work with buying equipment when playing in single-player? Do you choose what your hot team-mates buy, or do they get to pick their own equipment at the start of each game?

As squad leader, you can purchase equipment for your team and load them out as you wish depending on the mission parameters. Or you can simply select a default load-out and head straight into battle. Once the team is in combat, however, the A1 will sometimes make their own decisions about whether or not to pick up an enemy rifle and use that instead of what you've chosen for them.

Can you give us some locations for the new maps?

The missions are varied and extreme. One mission takes place in the locker rooms and concession areas of a soccer stadium in London. Another mission takes place along a massive oil pipeline in the cold Siberian tundra. Yet another scenario takes place in a Middle Eastern city that has been nearly reduced to rubble. One of my favourite missions is an assault on a militia extremist base camp that is assembled from mobile homes - great stuff.

What spec machine will it run comfortably on?

We haven't locked down a target system specification yet, but if you're running Counter-Strike well, you'll probably be just fine with Condition Zero. We are increasing the polygonal detail of characters by about 75 per cent with the new High Definition models and most of the other content in the game is being improved, so there are some performance considerations there. But, we're also adding level of detail technology to characters to optimise performance with the upgraded content, and we're paying much closer attention to efficient texture usage and brush techniques with level design. So, in some cases Condition Zero will actually perform better than Counter-Strike as it stands.

When do you think the game will be finished?

Although we haven't yet announced a firm release date, I would expect Counter-Strike: Condition Zero to be ready sometime this winter. So are you excited yet? With a company as proven and reputable as Gearbox at the helm, how can it be anything but mind-blowing? Warn your loved ones now, because come winter they're going to be seeing even less of you than they do already. And rest assured we'll keep you posted about any developments. Just remember where you heard it first.

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