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CounterSpy might be one of the most visually striking games I’ve played this year. It is also filled with some really solid and interesting ideas and some fantastic music. But there are also some elements that feel less developed in this somewhat short sidescrolling stealth game.
The basic setup of CounterSpy is that two superpowers are locked in a Cold War. They both have a plan, a crazy plan. They are going to fire large missiles at the Moon. For reasons that are never explained, mainly because they themselves have no idea why they are doing it. Neither country is named USA or USSR but they are clearly based on these countries. You work for C.O.U.N.T.E.R, an agency that tries to make sure neither superpower blows the world up.
You are a spy, sent into military bases and research labs to hunt down missile plans, launch codes and any other intel you can find. Your ultimate goal is to stop the destruction of the moon. If that last sentence didn’t give it away, this is not a very serious game. I found myself laughing at some of the posters and dialogue enemies had. The overall game felt like a love letter to spy films and 60’s era paranoia.
CounterSpy shares a visual and art style with things like Team Fortress 2 and Archer. That feeling of the 60’s filtered through younger eyes. It’s not surprising that playing CounterSpy I was reminded of Pixar movies like The Incredibles. Developer Dynamighty is made up of ex-Pixar and LucasArts staff.
The whole world is filled with color and sharp clean edges. Its this sense of style that initially got me excited as I started to play CounterSpy. Everything in the game from menus, levels, enemies and music feels cohesive and really sold me on the feeling of being a badass super spy sneaking into 60’s era military bases.
Once I got settled into CounterSpy I had a lot of fun moving around the world and sneaking by enemies or sometimes having to shoot my way out of situations. You can climb up and around the world. Sneaking up behind enemies and taking them down feels satisfying in this game. As you do things like takedown enemies or get headshots you are awarded score and stealth actions give you a multiplier. I enjoyed trying to keep the multiplier up, staying stealthy.
CounterSpy looks and plays like most 2D sidescrollers, but you can go into cover positions and the game changes perspective. All the levels are rendered in full 3D, meaning you can treat these moments the same way you would treat a standard cover based third person shooter. Popping in and out of cover to take quick shots at enemies.
These enemies will move in and out of your “plane,” such as going down a hallway in the background, which does give the world a feeling of being larger than some sidescrolling games I’ve play.
But I had issues with this element of the game. It made the stealth harder and more frustrating. I was never quite sure if an enemy could see me or if I would have a clean shot on them. I also had a few issues with enemies phasing through walls and doors or getting stuck in floors.
Before each mission you can customize your loadout, which allows you to bring up to four weapons and three formulas. Formulas are similar to one time use perks, like silent running. These along with new weapons and ammo are purchased with money you earn in mission.
You can earn money for finding hidden intel, finishing the level, killing enemies and more. I never really ran into a moment where I was out of money or not having money put me at a huge disadvantage. Honestly I’m not sure how important the economic aspect of the game really is. Regardless I loved being able to create a loadout before each mission
The missions and levels in CounterSpy are all randomly generated. Towards the end of my three hour run I did run into repeated rooms and areas. What’s worse than this is the fact that every mission is the same objective. Find 1-4 pieces of the “Blow up the Moon” plan and reach the end. That’s it. After a while I started to feel a bit bored. It doesn’t help that after a while the levels started to blend together as everything looks fairly similar.
On top of that the gameplay started to grow stale only about halfway through. There is not a lot of things you can do and the levels are usually short and not filled with tons of side content. Most missions take less than ten minutes to complete. This could work well on Vita or Mobile but on PS4 it felt like the missions were too short and I wanted more to sink my teeth into.
The game encourages you to play quietly.Your character is not a bullet sponge and can quickly be taken out and if you cause to much ruckus or die you will have your DEFCON meter raised. If it reaches DEFCON 1 you have 60 seconds to reach the end of the level or its game over.
The DEFCON meter is a nice way of having a global state of awareness of what you are doing. And its also persistent between missions so if you make too many mistakes in one country you might try a mission in their rival nation assuming they have a lower DEFCON.
There isn’t any story reason to infiltrate one country more than the other and to be honest there isn’t much story at all. After a short, but fantastic looking intro, you are only given small bits of text only conversations between you and C.O.U.N.T.E.R HQ. These are well written, but they are also fairly short and felt too infrequent.
I don’t think CounterSpy needed a huge epic story, its world and art convey most of the story and ideas, but I would of enjoyed learning more about my character or C.O.U.N.T.E.R.
After beating CounterSpy I felt like I had enjoyed my time with the game. I wasn’t interested or excited about playing through a second time though. There just isn’t enough gameplay here to warrant a second playthrough and no story reason to do so. CounterSpy looks amazing and has a impressive presentation. But there just isn’t enough here to keep me coming back. CounterSpy is really pretty, but feels hollow.