CounterSpy – Review

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One of the PlayStation Plus titles for March 2015 is CounterSpy, a side scrolling stealth/shooter game made by Dynamighty. The game is set during the Cold War, you play as a C.O.U.N.T.E.R operative who is trying a sabotage both sides’ plans of launching of nuclear missiles. While not an entirely compelling story by itself, the setting lets you jump right into the middle of the Cold War, which means the whole style of the game fits the ideas conveyed in popular culture (James Bond and Hunt for Red October came to my mind) about what this era of history was like.

Stylistically the game nails what it tries to do, everything from the music to the art style and animation works together well, the game really captures the feel of Cold War espionage. In particular, the art style the game uses is a wonderful take on that era of history. It draws inspiration from real propaganda posters and signs which were used during the Cold War. Through the art, the game provides a humorous and satirical comment from in between the two superpowers. A very interesting take on a piece of history which has seen so much media from both sides, but not nearly as much from a neutral standpoint. For those who want a more in depth look into the art behind CounterSpy, the EU PlayStation Blog have an article from the art director Mark Holmes (formerly an artist at Pixar for 16 years). [LINK]

CounterSpy utilities a random level generator to create each mission, while this does help to add to the re-playability, I still found it to be rather repetitive (Even though I only played through the campaign once) The levels may have been laid out differently for every mission, but the formula and the game-play never really changed.

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Most of the game is played through this 2D perspective

 

This game could be described as a pseudo-2d sidescroller. You move through the levels in full 2d enviroment, then when you shift into cover the game-play switches to an over the shoulder shooter (either shooting at enemies in the same area you are, or taking aim at soldiers who appear in the background during normal game-play). I quite liked these transitions, it broke up the game-play well between the stealth elements and the shooting. It was quite an interesting idea, which was fun to play most of the time even if the shooting sections didn’t feel particularly well-done.

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The over the shoulder shooter sections breaks up the stealth-platforming gameplay

The main problem I found with Counter Spy was the bugs and the unpredictable AI. Twice in my single play-through of the game I found myself stuck in an area which I clearly was not supposed to be in (and completely unable to get out of), with the only option being to wait for the counter to run down and fail the mission. One of the most frustrating thing in any stealth game is being punished seemingly without reason, there were plenty of times where I was spotted while I was in cover or while enemies backs were turned.

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Occasional mission-breaking bugs are not uncommon

There were several other issues I had with frame-rate drops in areas with lots of enemies, as well as noticeable 1-2 minute load times for each mission. Although I will just put these down to playing on the Vita.

The concept of a DEFCON counter for each side is neat idea. It gives you a reason to try and stay hidden, as well as giving you a choice to make when deciding which mission to undertake next. The collectibles and the rewards available in each level are also another factor you have to weigh in when deciding which mission to undertake.

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The DEFCON system gives some weight to what mission you choose

 

CounterSpy is available now on PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Android and iOS.

(Note: My whole play-through was done on Vita)

Pythagean

Pythagean

Head Designer at The Video Game Forum

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Summary

CounterSpy had several interesting ideas such as the changing perspectives, the DEFCON counter and the Cold War style. But unfortunately it falls down when it comes to the execution of putting everything together into a consistently fun and playable game. 

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