Review: CounterSpy

CounterSpy presents an alternative history of the events of the Cold War, where both the Imperialist States (America) and the Socialist Republic (Russia) are attempting to blow up the Moon. It’s a plan that will doom us all, and that’s where Agent comes in. Working for the spy organisation C.O.U.N.T.E.R., Agent is thrown into the mix to neutralise both sides – and he’s on his own, considering the other agents are all recovering from a terrible yoga accident.

Laid out as a 2.5D platformer, your goal is to steal enough of the enemy’s launch plans to unlock the final mission. Doing so involves exploring the procedurally generated levels in order to find computers and lockers securing various forms of intelligence, such as Rocket Flight Plans or Weapon Schematics. Sneaking through the unique-looking levels, Agent can stealthily take down the various enemies or, with his great array of weapons, go in guns a-blazing.

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Shooting takes form in two ways – aiming directly across the flat 2.5D plane, or by hiding behind cover. Aiming directly is fairly straight forward, but can be a little confusing as enemies can occasionally be moving on a different plane, in the foreground or the background. Sometimes shooting this way would result in the enemy being shot dead, and other times it would result in a miss. This made for some frustrating aiming that fortunately wasn’t game breaking.

When taking cover, the game switches from a flat plane to a 3D corridor-like cover shooter. Whether looking along the flat plane, or into the background, it’s an interesting move that gives CounterSpy a nice twist. If poorly implemented, this could have killed the game, but it works quite well. However, framerate issues raise their ugly head when there are a lot of enemies on screen, which makes for some frustrating aiming.

Aiming is nice and easy and the weapons have a nice kick. I mostly used the silenced weapons, which create some great stealth kills. There are also some interesting weapons that can be purchased with money gained from intelligence in each level. These include the usual shotguns and machine guns, as well as tranquiliser darts and mind control weapons. The variety of weapons helps to change up combat in the missions, and allows you to tackle each mission a little differently.

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At the start of each mission is a guide outlining how much intelligence and how many commanders are in each level, for either warring side. The commanders are enemies dressed in white who, when encountered in a level, can help reduce the DEFCON level by holding Agent’s gun on them and essentially forcing them to surrender. This is the only way in which the precious DEFCON level can be reduced.

What is the DEFCON level? Well, besides being something cool to say – ‘we’ve hit DEFCON 2!’ – it’s intended to gauge how close either nation is to launching their nuclear weapons and destroying the moon. At the start of the game, the DEFCON level is set at 5 – the lowest level. The DEFCON level increases when the player is seen by the various cameras in the levels or from not preventing enemies from radioing for help.

In fact, it’s quite possible to quickly go from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 1 when things go drastically wrong. If this happens, the nation who is being spied on will start the launch pattern for their nuclear weapons, making it a mad one-minute rush to the end of the level in order to stop the launch pattern. If the enemies manage to stop Agent before he can prevent the launch, then it’s game over and the Moon is destroyed.

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Where CounterSpy works so well is its balance between risk and reward. Trying to decide if it’s worth playing a level that starts out at DEFCON 2 simply because it has only four sets of intelligence (as opposed to five) makes for some tense and exciting gameplay. There may even be a commander or two to help turn the tables and reduce the DEFCON level a notch. Some of the best levels I played had me starting off with both nations set on DEFCON 1 and managing to get the DEFCON level back down one or two places thanks to the commanders.

It’s great to see that there’s a lot that works so well in CounterSpy, given that the first playthrough runs at about two to three hours long. At first this seems like a problem, but after the first playthrough, a new difficulty level opens up and enemy difficulty increases. The procedurally generated element makes replaying levels fresh and exciting.

The music here is such a perfect fit for the game, with the jazzy soundtrack adding a very seventies feel to the game. Visually, CounterSpy is wonderfully unique. After my first run playthrough, I found that playing on the Vita I had taken over fifty screenshots. The pastel colours and hilarious propaganda makes the levels a joy to look at.

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On the subject of comedy, CounterSpy also includes some great comedic elements. From the on-screen dialogue between C.O.U.N.T.E.R. and Agent, to the dialogue from the enemies when they find their deceased comrades, CounterSpy has a great sense of humour. Unfortunately, there is also some unintentional humour with dead enemies clipping through environments. Whilst this is a small complaint, I actually found enemies dangling through the floors to be more amusing than a bother.

Sure, frame-rate and clipping issues exist, but CounterSpy’s personality is so strong that it makes them almost forgiveable. CounterSpy is a real joy to play through, and whether playing on PS4, PS3, PSVita, Android, or iOS, it’s a game that is great to simply dip in and out of.

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Good

  • Great visuals and music
  • Great procedurally generated levels
  • Rewarding and challenging

Bad

  • Framerate issues at times
  • Short first playthrough
8

Great

Andrew was nameless for the first week of his life. His parents were too busy trying to figure out the character creation model that they forgot to name him. Unfortunately, they molded him into a bearded film loving idiot who runs The Last New Wave and AB Film Review with his wife as well as talks about games every so often. Sometimes he knows stuff, most of the time he’s an idiot.

  • Dave C Haldane

    I get the feeling we played very different games 🙂 I found that the concept was good but the game was particularly buggy. It would rarely connect online (although that was probably more a PSN issue) and, more importantly, the shooting and noise detection mechanics often “glitched”. Sometimes I’d have people shooting me from an angle there was no way for me to counter; sometimes the side view forced me to find cover and use it in order to be able to hit someone right in front of me, and so on.

    I suppose that’s the hazard of a procedurally generated game right? Your experience sometimes depends on the luck of the draw

    I still really enjoyed it… but probably wouldn’t pay a lot of money for it without some improvements.

  • Dave C Haldane

    Oh I just remembered my biggest gripe with this game; you can’t invert the vertical controls for FPS mode from the default. This sucked for me as the default awas the opposite of how I play. Made aiming quite a nuisance. Personal gripe but frustrating not being able to invert

    • I noticed how recently you said you’d started playing Monsterbag but weren’t too keen on that so you went back to playing Counterspy. Has it become a go to game for you too?

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