STAFF REVIEW of Counter-Strike (Xbox)

Thursday, November 27, 2003.
by Kraft

Counter-Strike Box art

The game is old, there is no denying that. In a day and age where computer parts are outdated in half a year and we see blockbuster after blockbuster roll through the gaming world, is there any room for a rehash of a game that has been around for much longer than the Xbox itself? Microsoft seems to think so as they commissioned VALVe studios to port Counter-strike over to the Xbox game console. The story behind Counter-strike has been quite an amazing one thus far. It originally started as a mod for the hit pc game Half-Life and was created by a bunch of guys in college who figured it would be a cool thing to do. Soon it started rising in popularity and quickly surpassed the original Half-Life in terms of popularity. It was at this point VALVe took quite an interest in this mod and the people who made it and decided to hire a bunch of the guys who worked on it for their own team.

Ever since then Counter-strike has been run by the good folks at VALVe and remains to this day one of the most popular online shooters, surpassing any other mod for any other game (including CTF for Quake). So why would Microsoft decide this is the game that the Xbox needs? Simple: Xbox is renowned for its FPS capabilities. Halo set the standard, now more and more games are further showing that it is possible to enjoy a shooter without the need for a mouse and keyboard. So now not only does the Xbox sport many of the best modern PC shooters (RTCW, Rainbow Six 3, Halo) but we are getting a revamped version of a classical favorite as well. Of course keep in mind the term ?classical?. As you will read, in no way does CS raise the bar in any single part of the game. Graphics, while improved from the PC version aren?t up to current Xbox standards. There really aren?t any uber-cool innovations to gameplay that we haven?t seen in other titles. But does this make it a bad game? Of course it doesn?t. With 10 million people playing Counter-strike on the PC you know it has to be doing something right.

So what have millions upon millions of PC users found in this game that makes it so much fun to play? It?s easy: fast paced shooting with a vastly intriguing ?buy system? that lets you purchase a wide array of weaponry. With everything from pistols to machine guns, shotguns and even sniper rifles, the online gameplay is enough to keep you occupied for countless amounts of hours. Of course notice I said ?online gameplay?. Counter-strike never has been, nor is the Xbox version, meant to be played as a single player game. The Xbox does have a single player mode, but it should be considered as more of a training device rather than an actual game to play on your own. Multiplayer is what spawned Counter-strike and multiplayer is what will keep this game alive for a long time to come.

The gameplay itself is not complex at all, and this simple beauty is one of the reasons this game is so ridiculously fun to play. There are a grand total of two types of game modes: demolition and hostage rescue. They are self explanatory enough, but since I have plenty of space left on this webpage I may as well clue you in! Demolitions involves terrorists attempting to bomb one of two predetermined locations on a map. Surprisingly enough it is the Counter-terrorist?s job to prevent this from happening. There are 4 possible outcomes to each match: the terrorists can win by either killing all of the counter-terrorists or successfully detonating the bomb and the counter-terrorists can win by either killing all of the terrorists or defusing the bomb after it has been activated.

The hostage rescue scenario is even simpler still. Either you rescue the hostages on the map or you don?t. Again, you can also win by default after killing the entire other team, but honestly I find it more enjoyable to gloat after sneaking the hostages out under their noses. These two modes combined form the entire premise for the game itself. It might not look like a whole lot on paper (or screen in this case) but sometimes simplicity is all you need. Any more gameplay modes and online play would just start getting cluttered and obtrusive. There is, of course, a little more to the two modes than meets the eye. As I mentioned before there is a cool ?buy system? that lets you purchase weapons.

Before every match you will have a set amount of ?buy time? where you user your cash to purchase a vast array of weapons and items. The starting amount is set by the server operator, and you can get more money by killing people and by defeating the other team. This lets you continually upgrade your weapons based on your performance. Of course not all is lost if you are losing. Say someone on the other team just bought a slick 5000 dollar rifle. Now lets say you and your team have some cheap 450 dollar pistols. All you have to do is set up an ambush somewhere, whack the guy from the other team, and someone can pick up their gun. Suddenly you earned yourself a slick gun without wasting a bunch of money. After this, watch out for ambushes though!

The weapons themselves are plentiful and you will soon find your favorites and stick by them. There are a total of 5 pistols, 5 rifles, 5 submachine guns, 2 shotguns and a heavy duty saw for mowing down groups of people. Add to that three types of grenades (flashbangs, high explosives, and smoke bombs) and body armor/helmets. All of this can be purchased through a great ?pie buy? interface that will let you buy your stuff in just a few seconds after a bit of practice.

So we now have a game with solid gameplay modes and plenty of weapons, what else needs to be covered? Control of course. Consoles are a unique subset to the FPS genre, and configuring a controller properly will make or break a game. So how was this approached? Easy, start with something you know works: Halo. If you have played Halo before then chances are you will be fairly well versed in the controls for CS. A few things are slightly different, as the left trigger is for crouching, not grenades and grenades are queued up by hitting the black button. Also zoom is triggered by hitting the B button and not by clicking in the left thumbstick as before.

A few more things were tweaked as well. VALVe added a wonderful feature called ?quick look?. What this does is allow you to set your sensitivity really low in order to precisely aim shots, but still allows you to turn quickly when needed to. This is achieved by clicking in the thumbstick while moving it to turn. What this means is you can precisely unlead a clip of ammo, and when you run dry you will be able to turn and haul !&%$@#* out of there with ease. People who love to handle sniper rifles will definitely benefit from this feature.

One other large factor in whether or not a game will be fun is the levels. Bad level design will kill a game faster than a bug lamp will kill a moth. Luckily for Counter-strike there are literally hundreds of maps that have been tried and tested by the PC CS community and us Xbox players get to see the cream of the crop. 13 maps (including the legendary Dust map) have made their way over to the Xbox along with 7 other brand new maps that are exclusive to the big X. Not only that, but VALVe has already confirmed that new maps will be available for download this holiday season. Each map is practically a work of art from a gameplay stance. You will find choke points, sniper spots, great ambush locations and more. Maps are what got CS on the map with the PC mod, and the maps continue to aid in the addictive nature of CS on the Xbox.

Gameplay will only take a game so far these days though; otherwise we would all still be playing Pac-Man and Missile Command on our Ataris. As it stands, graphics is where it is at on the Xbox. Ask any Xbox owner what one of the selling points was when they purchased their machine and most people will list mind-blowing visuals as one of them. This has never been more apparent than this holiday season as we see title after title coming out that looks polished and amazing. So is CS one of these titles? Not even close. While it has gotten a much needed revamp over the aging PC counterpart, CS doesn?t hold a candle up to other modern shooters such as R63 or even older games like RTCW.

Now please note I didn?t say the graphics totally suck, I just said they aren?t as good as other games. Considerable work was done updating the graphics and you do have to realize that this game is running on the (now seemingly ancient) Half-Life engine. The game is totally re-skinned, and when I say totally I am not kidding. VALVe stripped this game down to its core geometry and started from scratch on the graphics. What this means is the days of pixilated 16 bit textures are gone and now more vibrant and detailed 24 bit textures are in their place. Also more polygons were added to take further advantage of the increased power of the Xbox and give the visuals a little more realism.

A few other added features and effect were also thrown in to compliment the gameplay. The ?iris effect? which is growing in popularity makes an appearance in CS. For those of you who haven?t experienced it yet, the iris effect simulates your eyes adjusting to the light when going from dark to light environments and vice versa. Also there are plenty of more terrorist and counterterrorist skins that you will be seeing depending on the level you play. All of this add up to a game that may not be the greatest looking thing out there, but definitely isn?t slacking too bad. Oh, and for all you lucky HDTV owners out there: VALVe was nice enough to include 480p support to give it more clarity on the big screens (please take notes here, EA).

If you have played the original PC version of Counter-strike you will quickly notice that not much has changed in the ways of sound. All your favorite weapon fire, death grunts and voice command are still intact and seem to have not been altered at all. Of course due to lack of space on a controller the voice commands have been limited to 4 choices being ?follow me?, ?stay here?, ?taking fire?, and ?need backup?. Of course if you buy this game you better have Xbox Live which means everyone will have voice communicators making these pre-programmed commands a moot point.

The only music you will find in the game is the menu music which is? there. As it has been so long since I?ve touched CS on the PC I can?t remember if it is the same menu music, but it is neither remarkable nor is it obtrusive. It can get a little old after a while, but that is just because I have spent so much time playing this game. While I do believe every game should have a custom soundtrack option at this point, it is excusable for CS not to have it because you will need to use audio clues to survive.

?Audio clues to survive?? I hear you ask, ?What would I need that for?? Well, CS is one of those great games that include in-game Dolby 5.1 support. This means that if you have a decent sound system hooked up to your pretty TV then you will be able to hear enemies coming just by listening to their footsteps. Hiding behind a corner and being able to tell an enemy is coming from the left is just the type of advantage you will need to gain the upper hand in a firefight.

The only other portion of the audio is the voice communication. Now due to the fact that shooters seem to require a bit more bandwidth, the voice quality isn?t quite the same as what you will find on other live games. Of course you will be able to hear your teammates and that is what counts. As this is one of those great games when teamwork is key, voice communication is almost a necessity if you expect to defeat the opposing forces.

So after reading this you may still be wondering if this game is for you. Being the nice guy I am I will provide you with a quick checklist of things to consider before purchasing Counter-strike. First, do you have an Xbox? If not then you may want to pass this title up. Next, do you have Xbox Live? If not, then again, you may want to pass this title up. Honestly it is hard for me to even recommend Counter-strike for people who like to have LAN parties due to the fact that there is no split screen. This means that to have a full game of 6 on 6 you will need to get a room big enough for 12 TVs and 12 Xboxes, and then try to find room for additional pizza and beer. That might be a daunting challenge for a lot of people.

Of course if you do have Xbox Live and you are a fan of first person shooters, then this is definitely the game for you to own this Christmas season. The fast-paced and dynamic-yet-simple gameplay is guaranteed to keep people hooked for hours and hours on end. And as I am one of those fps fans who has Xbox Live, I would like to thank the guys at VALVe for providing me with another reason to keep myself broke just a little longer.


Get your butts working on HL2! And don't forget about us Xbox owners who would gladly give select body parts to see it end up on our system... Most of us would likely give even more body parts to see it as an Xbox exclusive :) Of course we could just pay you money for it like most normal people do.

Overall: 7.6 / 10
Gameplay: 8.8 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 8.2 / 10


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