E3 2002Counter-Strike: Condition Zero impressions

We take an up-close look at the next Counter-Strike game.

We joined Gearbox Software at its E3 booth for a demonstration of Counter-Strike: Condition Zero--a game that most people consider to simply be a single-player version of the extremely popular multiplayer action game. But judging from what we saw at the show, there will probably be more to Condition Zero than a couple of new missions.

For starters, Gearbox is making sure that Condition Zero looks considerably better than Counter-Strike. The developer has enhanced the player models considerably since the original release of Counter-Strike. We actually saw Gearbox's Randy Pitchford put two character models side by side: an original Counter-Strike character model that consisted of about 450 polygons and an updated Condition Zero version of the same character model that was much more well defined. Condition Zero's character models will have facial features and improved animation, and they'll be composed of at least 75 percent more polygons than the original game's models.

Condition Zero may have improved character models, but its visuals simply can't compare to the flashy, advanced 3D graphics of some of the other games we've seen at the show. Condition Zero is powered by an enhanced version of the original Half-Life engine (which featured technology from Quake and Quake II), rather than an all-new graphics engine. Then again, part of the idea behind Condition Zero--which will have much of its content released as a free patch for multiplayer Counter-Strike--is to let players who have lower-end systems play the game as well. And graphics aside, Condition Zero clearly has the same sort of great artificial intelligence as Half-Life and Gearbox's Opposing Force. In the demos we saw, bot characters followed orders well and provided cover fire for each other in tight areas. Condition Zero's bots will also display some measure of learning--they'll "remember" critical locations and waypoints and may fall back to them if they're in trouble.

Though Gearbox doesn't want to reveal too many details on the game's story just yet, it's clear that the developer will attempt to include the same kinds of memorable moments that appeared in Half-Life and Opposing Force. Condition Zero's story won't be revealed through cutscenes for the most part, but rather through in-game sequences. Condition Zero clearly draws inspiration from popular motion pictures such as Black Hawk Down and Heat, though it will retain Counter-Strike's realistic, contemporary feel. In the game, players will play as an operative who is involved in a global effort to rid the world of terrorism. Over the course of the game, players will serve alongside counterterrorist experts from all over the globe, including German anti-terrorist troops, British SAS troops, and US Navy SEALs. All told, the game will have some 160 characters in total, as well as about 10 new items and weapons, though Gearbox and Valve will introduce them gradually to the multiplayer component of Counter-Strike, so as not to upset the online game's balance.

Condition Zero is scheduled for release later this year. We'll have more information on the game as it becomes available.

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