Counter-Strike
System: X-Box
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Valve
Released: November 2003
Genre: First Person Shooter
Capabilities: Memory Unit, System Link, Custom Soundtracks, Online Play via Xbox Live, Communicator Headset, Online Downloads

Review  Written: December 8, 2003

After being out on the market for over five years, the most widely played online PC game, Counter-Strike (CS), finally makes its way to consoles courtesy of a partnership between Microsoft and Valve, for the Xbox. If youíre one to ignore the PC gaming world, CS initially came out in 1998 as a mod for Valveís classic FPS, Half-Life. And since it was a mod, it became free for download across the web. Valve has since released a retail version for the PC because of the stunning success of CS.

Microsoft must really be want to increasing the amount of online games available for the Xbox by adding in this classic title, but the move does raise a few eyebrows. Why even bother shelling the retail $50 for the Xbox version, when you can download the PC one for free and not bother with the yearly fees for Xbox Live. That, and unlike other recent PC-to-console-ports (Unreal 2 specifically), you donít have to worry about your PC requirements, because even the most aged PC setups can run the five year old mod just fine. There is a little bit of extras gained here, but not really enough to justify a purchase for the PC fanatics of the game.

If you havenít played CS before, it is pretty much a squad based FPS, as terrorists take on counter-terrorists in a wide variety of locales. There is only two main ways to play. Demolition features the terrorists planting a bomb and having to defend it for a limited amount of time so the counterís cannot defuse it. Hostage Rescue has the counterís finding several hostages and escorting them to an extraction point. There is another alternative winning condition, and is the most common in all the online bouts I have played, and that is to eliminate all the members of the opposing squad.

Each series has several rounds to it, and cash is earned for your squad depending on how well they perform. The cash is used to get extra ammo, grenades, and armor at the beginning of each round. CS has a bit more of a realistic approach in the FPS genre, players can only sustain a few shots before falling dead, and thatís if they are decked out with armor too. As Players can only carry a sidearm, and a primary weapon. Also, once a player is dead, they do not regenerate and have to wait for their partners to finish off the round. For you non PC gamers thinking, ďOh I see, like SOCOM,Ē you should slap yourself in the face because CS was one of the first games to take this unique and effective approach to the genre. Anyways, this effect instantaneously reduces the rate of running across the crazy run-n-gunners from Quake and Doom, and causes gamers to play more authentic, actually making them try to make the most of the cover available in all the stages, and scout out each part of a level before running out in the open.

I feel the controls made a nice adaptation to the Xbox controller. Valve implemented the popular Halo scheme for using both analog sticks to maneuver across the stages. There is a rather shallow training mode that teaches you how to rescue hostages and defuse bombs. CS newbies probably would have benefited if there was some form of additional tactical training to make use of the level terrain and to develop other strategies, but that is pretty much what the single player option is for. Up to 11 bots can be included in single player action for the two modes available. There are four difficulty settings, each one obviously makes them tougher to kill, and donít be surprised if you get caught guessing that the AI is so damn good you forgot that you were offline. Donít be scoffing because there isnít a mission-based story mode available, the single player mode is pretty much only here to prep you up for the online opponents. However, I do wish I could have controlled one of any surviving AI teammates once I was killed, much like in Ghost Recon single player, but sadly I have to wait for the comp to finish the bout.

Online play has its ups and downs compared to its PC counterpart. On the good side, Microsoftís heavy-security makes running into players using hacks and cheats a very rare occurrence. Also, the broadband network practically guarantees all rounds running at high speeds and all users having voice chat compatibilities makes it nice to carefully coordinate your attacks too. On the other hand, even though the game has just been out for a couple weeks, there isnít that much of user base online. I recall other console online shooters like both SOCOMís on PS2 and the pair of Ghost Recon Xbox titles having far better online activity in its first few weeks than CS has had thus far.

Graphically, it is still apparent that CS originated in 1998. The character models, and level textures are slightly touched up from the PC version, but not in a fashion that gives a feel that the title has got a true Xbox makeover. Oddly enough I noticed awkward frame skipping in death animations, and clipping for some of the post-death camera angles of your teammates. While they really donít detract from the gameplay at all, it is just a damn shame that this dated of a graphics engine has these graphical flaws on the Xbox.

There isnít that much to the sound in CS. Each gun has its own distinct firing sound effect, and picking up on your opponentís gunfire can help you greatly in combat. Other than that there isnít much else left to the audio. There is a dark background track for menu browsing, but thatís about it for original background music, as there is none for actual gameplay. Thankfully, Valve gives us the option to use custom soundtracks, so if you carefully want to sneak your way around stages to rhymes of Eminem, so be it.

Even though CS stays true to its PC roots by offering the same miniscule amount of modes available, Iím pretty sure youíll agree with me that you just want something more. Iím not talking about a story driven single player mode (although that would have been very nice), but extra multi player modes. I still catch myself digging through the menus making sure if there is any extra match types. I guess that is what the mods are forÖÖ.oops thatís right that canít really exist in the console universe. However, there are slight chances that Valve will except user made mods from the PC version and make them available as content download via Xbox Live. They already got two maps available for download, which brings the total up to 20 to duel in. Another gripe I have is how come there is no split screen support? I can understand no split screen in online play because of latency issues, but Iím baffled to why Valve didnít include it in offline play.

RATINGS

Graphics: 6.6
Sound: 5.5
Gameplay: 8.4
Replay Value: 6.5

Overall: 6.7

Donít get me wrong, this is still the same addicting CS we all know and love, but why shell out the extra $50 and Xbox Live fees to play a five year old PC game that has been free since its release? The complete lack of extras (Live downloads may change that in the future) is pretty noticeable, and the single player modes do nothing for you. Now if Microsoft would have done the smart thing and released this at a $30 budget price, then I would have wholeheartedly given this my recommendation. However, if youíre one of the few gamers that ignore the PC universe and plan on getting this for its incredibly lacking single player options then you are making the biggest $50 mistake of your life.

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