In a world of spies and nuclear armed nations gone crazy, it’s a spy’s job to stop catastrophe. In CounterSpy, you’re put right in the middle of an arms race between two world superpowers that want to destroy the moon. It might sound like a dumb conceit for a conflict, but it makes for an excellent excuse for a videogame.
And hey, such a ploy really was planned in our real world during the Cold War. Still, let’s forget that fact and focus on what makes CounterSpy a fun game. Whether you are a fan of sneaking games or not, you are able to take missions in a variety of ways, the further you get within CounterSpy. For every pickup you come across, new weapons or perks are unlocked, expanding your respective arsenal and formula catalog.
Formulas are basically single use mission tweaks that can help you in many ways. Since the score system in the game hinges on a DEFCON meter split between the two nations you are trying to stop from destroying the moon, one of the best of these tricks is the one that knocks the clock back 1 unit. Each mission has a certain number of documents and recordings that need to be stolen that count towards your progress in order to stop nuclear collapse, as well as extras that add to your overall equipment funds and upgrades.
But let’s talk about DEFCON before we get any further. It’s the ticking clock that goes down every time your agent is killed or spotted, and can only go back down when you use the aforementioned formula before taking a mission or by capturing enemy officers. It’s an interesting mechanic that might sound easy to exploit at first – and is – but soon turns into a real barrier that helps keep the tension of the game up there. And that’s mostly because if DEFCON reaches 1 for either side and you don’t finish a mission as it ticks down to 0, your game is over.
Getting a game over isn’t the end of the world. Well, it is for the game’s world, but for you, it’s merely a setback, forcing you to start the game over, keeping all of your unlocked gear. I managed the feat of failing during the very last mission in the game, but thanks to the many items I had unlocked before, I didn’t have any trouble getting back up to speed and finishing the game.
Speaking of finishing the game, even though it isn’t particularly long, there’s enough reason to go back and tackle it again at higher difficulty settings. Not just for the challenge, mind you, but also for the oh-so fun leaderboards among friends. The big catch this time, along with getting to brag about killing someone’s score is to be able to make use of your win during the very next mission in the form of a special pickup from a fallen “rival” spy. It’s definitely a cool feature that propels you to do better during missions.
It also helps that CounterSpy looks absolutely fantastic under the guise of its 1960s spy movie intro aesthetics. Every spot in the game drips with personality and sports tons of charm. Screenshots don’t do this any justice and it’s incredibly fun to see in motion. There are a few spots in the game where the sudden shifts in perspective might throw you off, but art style wise, it’s a very colorful and uniquely looking downloadable title.
Colors also play a part of helping you tell different enemies apart. Regardless of patent, they usually don’t stand around letting you kill them once you are spotted. They aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed but they’re incredibly well armed and aren’t afraid of keeping their buddies alive, saving zero explosives in order to take you down. That makes the combat very challenging and chaotic, and can also work to your advantage, luck permitting. Some of the best moments I’ve had with CounterSpy came from happenstance accidents that turned seemingly impossible firefights my way out of sheer luck of, for instance, a grenade miraculously bouncing off of a wall, spinning down a group of soldiers’ way.
I mentioned stealth before and it’s indeed a big part of CounterSpy. Then again, you got the means to be anything but stealthy too. Shooting and taking down guards in less of a quiet manner is a viable option to finishing missions, albeit extremely dangerous, especially towards the end of the game. Taking cover will keep your spy alive for a little longer, but the same dumb enemies mentioned before have the tendency of flushing you out with grenades if you duck for too long. On the other hand, being quiet is by far the most rewarding way to handling encounters, even though is very demanding and sometimes prone to instant failure.
There’s been plenty of buzz about CounterSpy since this year’s E3 and it’s been for a good cause. It’s a fun romp to go through for repeat runs, which is benefited by the fact that levels are randomly thrown out your way and built somewhat differently each time you play. There’s only so many ways the layout of the stages can be though, due to how the pieces stack on top of and next to each other. These design constraints might be disappointing to some, but considering the zippy pace of the game, there’s a benefit to knowing how the overall shape of the structure you are about to infiltrate. And even with that idea in mind, CounterSpy still manages to sneak some surprises in.
There’s a lot going for CounterSpy on Sony platforms as a cross-buy and cross-save title on Playstation 3 and Playstation 4, as well as Vita. Performance varies among the consoles, with the PS4 being the best experience of the bunch. Still, if you only have one of those options to play, you’re still set to play an excellent spy game.