Counter-Strike Update

We try out a near final version of Counter-Strike for the Xbox.

With Halo 2 for the Xbox still just a hazy figure far off on the first-person shooter landscape, the upcoming Counter-Strike is shaping up to be the game for first-person shooter fans to have this season. We recently got hold of an essentially complete version of the game and were able to give it a once-over. The game appears to have come together quite well, with enhanced visuals and a responsive control scheme that works well on the Xbox controller.

Whether you're using bots or playing with friends online, there's nothing like rushing some fools with guns blazing.

The game will offer four gameplay modes: training, single-player, Xbox Live, and system link. Training mode features tutorials on the hostage-rescue and demolition game types. Single-player mode offers four different difficulty levels--beginner, standard, professional, and expert--as well as a custom game option. The custom game option lets you choose the number of bots (you can select up to 11), adjust their skill level, assign their team, and set match difficulty. The Xbox Live and system link modes will let you set up online or LAN matches.

There are many customization options available. For instance, you can adjust the control to invert your look, adjust the sensitivity of looking, and enable a fast-look option that increases your turning speed when clicking the aiming thumbstick. You can also customize some cosmetic aspects of the game--you can opt for left-handed weapons, have your controller vibrate when you take damage, or even change the appearance of automatic hints. The sound options let you tweak the volume of a variety of effects, such as sound effects, character voice, ambient sound, and the soundtrack. You can even import your own music into the single- and multiplayer games. The online options let you adjust the standard elements in an Xbox Live-enabled game, such as your status, whether you use voice masking, whether other players' voices come through the TV speakers, and the volume of those voices.

You can buy weapons, but looting corpses is also a viable option for upgrading weapons.

You'll find 18 maps to choose from in the game, which include a mix of new and old maps set in varied locations. The game will include seven original maps: Corruption, Fastline, Miami, Stadium, Tides, Truth, and Vostok. And it will also include ten maps from the PC game: Aztec, Airstrip, Dust, Dust 2, Havana, Italy, Chateau, Militia, Piranesi, and Prodigy. The new levels look quite good and feature the solid design you'd expect from a Counter-Strike map, and the team had some fun creating them. Miami, for instance, is essentially a bank robbery, while Fastline features a futuristic setting complete with new costumes. While the new levels feature some strong visuals, the levels from the PC version look good too. They have received some subtle tweaks to their layout that will force veteran players to learn some new tricks. For example, in the Italy level, you'll now find a crossbeam blocking what was once a prime sniping spot in the main hallway leading toward the marketplace. Aztec and Militia feature slightly different geometry, Militia for instance now has an underground passage that leads from the main area in front of the house. Generally speaking, the graphics have been upgraded quite a bit since the PC original and will feature higher-poly counts. The game uses 24- and 32-bit textures instead of the 8-bit palettized ones found in the PC version. The end result is a slick visual package that does a fine job of immersing you in the gritty experience while moving at a steady frame rate. One of the nicer touches is the way the gamma settings 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 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.

Who needs The Matrix Revolutions when this opens Friday at 11 p.m.?

As for additional content, Valve and Microsoft representatives have stated that new maps will be available for download this December. The current plan is to support the game with downloadable content well after launch. Specific details on the content have yet to be revealed.

From what we've seen so far, Counter-Strike appears to have turned out to be a tight incarnation of the PC shooter, and it looks good and plays well on the Xbox. Our biggest concern was the game's control. Though it doesn't appear to offer the exact twitch experience found on the PC, it seems to offer a unique experience that handles surprisingly well. The Xbox Live and LAN gameplay, as well as the addition of bots, should give the game some considerable appeal. Counter-Strike is currently slated to ship later this month.

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