Review

Counter-Strike

Infiltrating Microsoft's console exclusively...

So who amongst our British readers reckon that the American version of The Office will be much cop? Taking a beloved show across the waves and trying to translate the humour that is so successful in one country into another country's idea of humour while retaining the qualities that made the original so charming, well that is a tall order indeed. Past attempts to shift comedy shows from one side of the Atlantic to the other have generally not only been a disaster, they have been traumatically unsuccessful. Similarly, converting the most popular PC game of all time onto a console, with all the inherent difficulties of controlling an FPS with a gamepad, is another daunting task. How do you both update a game for a next-gen console while retaining the gameplay of the PC version? And equally important, how well can you adapt the keyboard and mouse control system to the notoriously fiddly analogue stick?

Well for a start the graphics look a lot better. The textures offer a lot more variety to the eyes, with rich greens at Aztec and deep earth tones in Italy. The new maps also bring some welcome freshness. The new look gives off just a whiff of cartoonishness but this works fine. Environmental effects make an appearance for the first time, with plenty of fog, rain and snow to add to the enhanced atmosphere. CS regulars will also be pleased to learn that smoke grenades no longer come with added treacle. The engine may be old but it has had some considerable work done to it during the conversion and while it may not look too splendid next to something like Splinter Cell or UT it does look much better than even the latest version on the PC.

The interface has had a similarly upbeat makeover with lots of lovely icons and bright menus making the job of picking your upgrades that bit smoother. The way the shop navigation controls have been done is as good as you good wish for - its as good as using buy scripts on the PC. The most common weapon choice for your side will be the default, and you can go from no equipment to fully decked out in less then five seconds. On a slow day. After a little familiarisation with the set-up it becomes second-nature and you can head off to the check points with no delay.

Getting into a multiplayer game is another exercise in simplicity. Although the quick game option is always there if you are impatient and not fussy, getting into a chosen game is just a case of finding the server the fits your criteria and selecting join. The connection process is almost always a smooth affair, and seems to take a smaller length of time than on the PC. It's inescapable that your choice is limited by the number of other people who happen to be up for a game in one of the Live! enabled countries of the world. And although Xbox CS can never hope to approach the insect-like numbers that are playing on the PC, there were enough people about to always be guaranteed some action. The maximum number of players is 16 and there are a few variations on the typical game modes, but this variety isn't on a par with a box of Quality Street and I found myself relying on the old favourites. Saying all this, it can be a bit fiddly to get a game on the map you want. The server selection screen only lists five servers at a time, and scrolling through a list of them is a bit of a pain. The quick game option can just as easily dump you into a crappy map with three players as it can into a good map with loads of players. Also, if you drop out of one quick game to try another you can often find yourself getting led straight back to the first game, just like an escaped convict being returned to prison.

Tooled-up and with a place to go, out into this console shooter did I step. Only to get blown away and find myself with a case of déjà vu as I sat and stared at other people having fun while I was not. This is something that always tempered my enjoyment of the PC game as I would eventually tire of sitting around for two minutes while the anal players crept around with the caution of a blind heroin addict trying to shoot up on a roller-coaster. This is no criticism of CS on the box, but why on earth the single player game forces you to watch the AI finish a level is beyond my ken. In fact the single player game is not really much use, unless for some reason you bought Counter-Strike and don't have Live! It's basically CS with bots, and although they are not complete cretins and can provide some resistance on high difficulty settings, there really is no point playing against them when it takes about an extra two seconds to get yourself online and playing against real people. There's no story in the single player game, just the maps in rotation.

Single or online, the biggest challenge in Counter-Strike is, unsurprisingly, trying to hit anything smaller than Tony Blair's brass neck at greater than two paces. The controller setup does its very best to help you as everything becomes second nature in very short order. The problem lies in those damn analogue sticks. Trying to place your reticule on a baddy is more of an art form then anything else. Unless you are a master at other console shooters you will most likely struggle here. The trick is to find servers and players who equal your skill level and practice, practice, practice. Even if you come from the PC and know most of the maps inside out the controls will have you feeling like a 'noob' right away. And the sad thing is that these are some of the most responsive FPS controls I've tried on a console. The developers have really done their best to make it as easy as possible, but the fact remains that you just cannot get a good FPS experience without a mouse. Still, at least you can be sure that all of your opponents are having to deal with the same problems that you are, and once some semblance of mastery is had over the controls the fun that is Counter-Strike will push these snags to the back of your mind.

Counter-Strike on the Xbox is one of the very best FPS games on a console. The updating work done on the creaking engine is superb, and the attempt to make CS into an online sport has been thoroughly successful. There's even a leaderboard built into the many functions and features that conspire to make CS such a joy to play through Live! The controls are the only letdown, and as there is nothing that can be done about this my whinge is probably not a lot more then the laments of a life-long PC user. If you have an Xbox and a PC it may be wise to pass this by, unless the appeal of playing Counter-Strike while stretched out on the sofa is too much to pass over. And unfortunately almost all users of the Live! service will own a PC already. So, quite who would enjoy this is left open to the floor. Whoever you may be, if you think that you would have fun with this, you cannot blame the developers or Microsoft if that doesn't turn out to be the case.

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