BY JOEL LOYNDS
Steeped in the lavish style of the 60s, CounterSpy is a game that like every spy operation, is brilliantly executed, but there’s always a flaw and at times it’s wrought with issues.
You play as a spy working for C.O.U.N.T.E.R, a neutral organisation that is trying to stop the nuclear launches of the Imperialist States and Socialist Republic, who plan to send rockets to the moon in a bid to blame each other in a classic Cold War propaganda move.
Story is incredibly light, with it barely expanded through small conversations between the player character and C.O.U.N.T.E.R. While it would have been nice to see the humour and satire played up a little more, I’m actually rather glad it was kept to a minimum to avoid it getting hammy or like most video games, unfunny. It’s just so light on any kind of fiction, that this alternate Cold War and the personality of the game is sort of lost.
The game tasks you with infiltrating bases of the two factions, balancing the DEFCON levels as you go. You’re free to choose which side you want to play and each time you start up another mission, each base is randomly generated. This makes for fantastic variety, but on PS3 and Vita, I found that loading in between rooms actually hitched up the game a little and made the flow of the game stammer for those crucial split seconds, as sometimes the rooms will generate in such a way, guards could be on the other side as soon as you walk in.
As you explore the bases, you’ll destroy computers with secret documents, collect files in exchange for money and find blueprints or formulas for you to unlock new weapons and powers. While levels are bitesized chunks and never take longer than twenty minutes (unless you’re being really slow), it’s nice to see the game packed with tons of collectibles to find, because CounterSpy is criminally short.
Length time in games should never be an issue, it’s over before you’ve gotten a chance to even get truly invested. Even if you go out your way to grab everything, you’ll probably notice that you’ve barely spent any time with the game for what it offers. Though, this small and focused design makes it a joy to play on the Vita, as you can drop it and pick it up without the hassle of other more open games.
CounterSpy is about stealth, but it honestly doesn’t matter if you ever get caught. The game encourages you to act like a James Bond. Pull out your silenced pistol and make sure the coast it clear. Caught? Pull out a rifle and take them out, sneaking onto another stealth kill to rack up more points. Close quarters? A quick chokehold or judo chop will make sure you can carry on. It’s slick and good lord, CounterSpy revels in giving you that satisfaction of one VS many.
Though getting caught does have one consequence: that DEFCON level. It’s presented as lingering over you the whole time you’re playing, as guards will call in on the radio or cameras that catch you will raise the level higher. You can lower it by making officers surrender or taking particular formula in on the mission, but as it raises higher and reaches a critical point, the game suddenly becomes this hectic rush to reach the launch computer and bring an end to their evil ways.
It’s the DEFCON level stuff that’s the most disappointing. It entices you in, with what could have been. That worry and the frantic nature of making sure one side isn’t too angry or another not too paranoid. Instead, it never really goes anywhere and barely affects the game’s outcome other than where the final mission will take place. Guards aren’t on higher alert or more protected, it’s just an empty threat. A bluff.
While it’s a shame the DEFCON mechanic is vastly underused and developed, the rest of CounterSpy is simple in all the right ways. Precise shooting and basic stealth isn’t a bad thing, as it works so damned well. While the game has a handful of glitches, poor framerates plague the Vita and at times the PS3 version or AI on the guards being a little iffy at times, the game itself never gets in the way of just giving you this 60s spy adventure.
If anything, the camera can be a hinderance to the game, as you can’t move it about to see what lies ahead and the small onscreen cues of where enemies are vague at best, leaving you to go in head first into a situation that could possibly get you killed. Dashing into cover however, does rectify some of these complaints as the 3D perspective allows you to see further than before, but cover is only available at certain points.
CounterSpy’s look and presentation is something I wanted poured all over me. The rounded view of that of an old CRT, that you could imagine embedded in a thick hunk of metal and that art style. Oh my. It hits the nail on the head so well, I just wanted more of it. I wanted to see where it’d go, outside of nuclear launch facilities. It teases this with the outside areas and never let’s you go there and it’s brutally painful. You’re hurried through these gorgeous outside views and all I wanted to do was take a moment to explore them. It’s magnificent, but perfection is what it could have been.
However, while the look is almost perfected, the music is oddly absent. It’s there in menus or during particular moments of gameplay, but for the most part, CounterSpy is oddly vacant of any music and that’s wrong. Especially since this is the 60s!
CounterSpy isn’t without it’s issues, but in the very short time it gives to spend time with its marvellously precise gameplay and snazzy presentation, CounterSpy is an absolute joy to be with. It’s like being the romantic interest in a Bond movie where you’re treated like royalty, but it’s all over too quickly for you to get properly attached.Tweet