In CounterSpy, two superpowers are set on nuking the moon and destroying the world! Only you can stop them, by infiltrating their bases, stealing their plans and fighting to keep DefCon from reaching 1!
CounterSpy is the first game from development studio Dynamighty, a company made up of ex-LucasArts and Pixar peeps. And those influences are to be seen in its gorgeous 50s and 60s inspired art style and a production quality you rarely see in an indie game.
It truly is a joy to behold, with cell shaded angular characters and worlds that are built from huge computer blocks, industrial installations and big red buttons. And its even better in motion, with your playable character slinking through the shadows, tiptoe between security cameras and taking out enemies with a slick karate chop.
The gameplay sees you heading behind enemy lines to a series of bases – you can choose which side to invade at any time. Once there, your goal is to pick up the enemy plans and get to the end of the level where you’ll interact with a console and lower the global threat level. It’s your goal to keep anyone from reaching DefCon 1 and stop the world from ending.
This interplay is one of the more interesting things about CounterSpy as you alternate sides and keep your eye on the alarm level. Enemies and cameras can raise the alert level while a purchasable power up lowers it, as does finding a superior officer and threatening them.
In level, you can also search for additional lockers that contain interesting documentation which gets converted into cash – you can then use it to buy better weapons or powers. But first you’ll have to find the blueprints to these death-dealers, giving you plenty of reasons to explore.
And exploring is always interesting because CounterSpy is entirely procedurally generated. Each level will always play differently, with room and enemy layout changing. That adds some replay value certainly but the actual variation is pretty limited.
While the game is mostly seen from a 2D side-scrolling perspective – which works fine for the creeping, running and silent takedowns – once you hit cover and pull your gun it switches to a 3D over the shoulder view. This change also sometimes flips the angle by 90 degrees and gives you a more accurate way of gunning down your enemies.
It’s not the most fluid system, and aiming is never that easy – probably on purpose. Still, headshots are possible with a little practise and more weapons mean more bullets to spray. Our top tip is to keep an eye out for explosive material, which makes things a lot easier.
CounterSpy is a game which feels best when you’re being stealthy, stringing together takedowns and silenced headshots for a maximum point score and deftly avoiding cameras to complete levels without detection. But sometimes it goes out of its way to make stealth impossible.
Mainly this is by dumping you into rooms where you can’t avoid the gaze of enemies. Too often you’re spied by a single baddie before you can get to cover, often triggering a massive hail of bullets. With the merely serviceable gun mechanics, this quickly gets frustrating and spoils the stealthy poise of calmer gameplay.
It’s a real shame that Dynamighty couldn’t have toned down the gunplay, or taken it out completely. With the peaceful message that the game is preaching, it feels aberrant to be mercilessly gunning down so many grunts. I also sometimes wished the game was more linear, with a sense of story progression within the levels. The writing is often amusing in the mission briefings but the randomly generated levels often make it feel somewhat inconsequential whetherI lived or died.
One excellent element of CounterSpy is its cross-buy/cross-save functionality. One purchase unlocks the game on PS4, PS3 and PS Vita and that’s great value for players. It’s playable on Vita, with much simpler graphics, a mostly smooth framerate and a little bit of helpful snap during the shooting. And is looks perfectly fine on PS3, benefitting from a full controller for perfect headshots, but there’s no doubt that you should be playing on PS4 if at all possible. Its silky smooth and totally good looking.
CounterSpy comes to consoles with some great ideas and often strong implementation, enhanced by a sense of style and production quality which really makes it stand out. But it’s also quite short (maybe 3 hours), the random levels can be overly familiar and the gunplay is a chore.