One of the most surprising announcements to come out of last year's E3 was that Counter-Strike, the incredibly prolific team-based PC shooter, would be coming to the Xbox. Following the announcement of the game's development for the Xbox, all talk of the game went silent, placing it in the ranks of unicorns, Bigfoot, Nessie, and other mythical, never-before-seen creatures purported to exist. However, a recent trip to Microsoft for a bit of hands-on time and some additional information on the game revealed Counter-Strike to be not just for real, but playable, fun, and ambitious.
The game is based on the upcoming Counter-Strike: Condition Zero for the PC but should hardly be considered a port thanks to some very cool additions and tweaks to gameplay. The coolest addition to the game is a new single-player mode that will allow you to hone your skills against an increasingly difficult series of missions that pit you against some tough enemy AI. The single-player mode also serves as a solid primer for the game's Halo-styled control scheme.
Counter-Strike for the Xbox will have a variety of multiplayer configurations and an assortment of gameplay modes, which include some not seen in the PC version of the game. The most notable multiplayer option is obviously Xbox Live, which allows up to 16 players to compete against each other. However, Microsoft is aiming to see if that number can be increased before the game ships.
The graphics in the game have been upgraded quite a bit since the PC original and will feature higher-poly counts and some impressive graphical flourishes that do a fine job of immersing you in the gritty experience. One of the nicer touches is the way the gamma settings in the game fluctuate as you move indoors and outdoors, simulating the way your eyes would adjust to different lighting conditions. Along the same lines, the game's sound will also distort if you're unlucky enough to be around a grenade when it goes off, resulting in reduced hearing that could leave you vulnerable to ambush.
What brief time we spent with the multiplayer was quite entertaining. The control scheme, while already pretty responsive, is still being tweaked as Microsoft attempts to hone the game to perfection. The same holds true for many elements of the multiplayer mode, such as communication via the Xbox Live headset. While you're able to talk with your teammates well and good already, the game is likely to gain some new functionality beyond that.
Regardless of its state of completion, the gameplay is already quite solid and seems as though it can only improve. While the controls may require die-hard fans to make some adjustments, Counter-Strike is shaping up to be a significant addition to the Xbox library and should appeal to first-person shooter fans and gamers experiencing Halo withdrawals. Counter-Strike is currently slated to ship later this year for the Xbox. Look for much more on the game from the E3 show floor later this week.