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Counterspy – Review

Before saying anything actually of critical value, I just need to ask: Why does this appetizer small indie game have a 20 minute update? It couldn’t have been any sort of actual patch work, right? Because that update was way too large to be just glitch and bug prevention. Was it just the actual game put into patch form even after the game had supposedly been downloaded and installed? Anyway, it was a relatively minor quibble. Just push that to the back of your head alongside the other forgotten thoughts, “huh, this chicken I’m eating probably died in the dark, slathered in its own excrement” and “If this plane went down right now, this oxygen mask isn’t going to do anything.” Transitioning lube smooth into the actual warm, moist substance of Counterspy, I’ll start off by saying that this game is fun. (<Pulitzer prize winning segue right there) You play as a spy working for the neutrally aligned C.O.U.N.T.E.R. agency, performing covert operations of military espionage on both the Socialist (USSR) and Imperialist (USA) nations, infiltrating their bases to steal launch plans, in order to prevent nuclear armageddon. Counterspy employs 2.5D gameplay, a very jazz trumpet-heavy, mood-setting soundtrack, fluid gameplay that’s easy to comprehend, a decent amount of variety in its randomly generated levels, and lots and lots of style. I applaud the unique choice in aesthetics. The art style is comprised largely of bold, polygonal 50’s and 60’s design. Rooms are often massive multi-tiered chambers with grandiose flags and missiles on display in the background, emphasizing the inflated egos and hubris of each nation. It’s not surprising that the game looks great considering the fact that Dynamighty, although technically an independent developer, is comprised of former members of Pixar and LucasArts. Hence, the reason why you’ll occasionally get the  feeling you’re playing in the world of The Incredibles. The vibe often verges into the realm of stereotype, but the game executes nearly perfectly the cool, James Bond feel of being a spy at the height of the Cold War.Counterspy, like other indie games I’ve reviewed on this site (Spelunky, Titan Attacks), is light on story. To be honest, Counterspy’s wafer thin plot is a little anemic. It would be untrue (a dirty, stinkin’ lie!), and rather dismissive, to say Counterspy doesn’t have anything to say about patriotism, conflicting ideologies, and the arms race, but these themes are generally found in-game. The extent of the story in Counterspy is literally comprised of 4 or 5 instances of text blurbs between yourself, the nameless Spider-Man Noir lookalike, and C.O.U.N.T.E.R HQ. More often than not, these  are little more than the game’s way of saying, “good job; keep going; you’re getting closer.”  The game is also extremely short, relying mostly on your own desire to continue playing on all three of the game’s difficulties. Gameplay transitions between 2D stealth and 3D shooting galleries. You traverse levels in a side scrolling fashion, but levels have z-axis depth to them, as well. If a room has too many guards to get away with simple neck snaps, then going into cover will switch the perspective of the game and allow you to shoot to your violent heart’s content.Before embarking on any mission in Counterspy, it’s important to properly equip yourself for the job. Cash can be acquired by completing missions and finding intel within lockers. You’ll then be able to spend this cash on ammunition in addition to new weapons and formulas; blueprints for which are found in special safes hidden in the levels. Weapons are relatively straightforward – as you progress, you will have the opportunity to purchase more powerful and unique firearms to take on the increasingly difficult levels. Any new game will start with an initial purchase of the suppressed Diplomatic Pistol, but eventually you’ll have access to some more exciting armaments such as the golden Luger that can one-shot tough enemies (appropriately named the Golden Girl), a launcher that fires globules of explosive gel, and a dart gun that can turn a soldier against his comrades. Similarly, Formulas are abilities that can be purchased but only once per mission.  Endurance can boost your ability to sustain gunfire, Persuasion lowers the starting alertness level (DEFCON), Silent Running does the obvious, etc. The player is only allowed to have three of these gameplay modifiers in play at once, though. This restriction sounds annoying, but in the end, it keeps the game from losing its challenge, since it is entirely possible to eventually have more than enough money to fully load your favorite guns as well as purchase more than three formulas.Counterspy is marred by a small handful of imperfections. The most likely one to negatively affect gameplay is the game’s random level generator. 95% of the time, it manages to create an engaging and unique mission for you. The other 5% is when it sometimes creates rooms that will be absolutely infested with guards that notice you the second you enter. However, these roaches don’t scatter, they fire assault rifles at you and your cover is blown. Being forced into unintentional scenarios like this is exactly what you don’t want in a stealth game. I also had plenty of great times <sarcasm> trying to make out where the hell security cameras were pointed at. I’m not really sure if it was a conscious design decision to have the advanced cameras emit a hard-to-distinguish, faint orange color that can’t be told apart from the white floors, or if it was just a questionable choice in color. Perhaps it’s just my eyes that got bothered by it, (you know, because i rinse them in lye), but getting unnecessary Defcon level rises was reason enough for me to always allocate camera destruction in one of my formula slots. Furthermore, the O button is used for both rolling and getting to cover. If you’ve played a 3rd person shooter, you know where this is going. Trying to roll out of cover is an impossibility for the spy. Like some sort of weeaboo and his waifu anime girl poster, he can’t seem to find it within himself to stop sniffing the wall. It ruined the smooth flow of my ninja-like spy and eventually just had to give up on the idea of rolling around cover. Finally, the ending is abrupt. There’s a short cutscene with no dialogue whatsoever, that was more or less the picture book version of a mission accomplished. The game has a little bit of a “well, that happened” feeling upon completion. Then again, the developers were looking to make a fun, downloadable game and not The Last of Us, so it’s to be expected.Overall, Counterspy is a fine option to blow away a lazy Sunday. It’s not a deep well, but it’s far from shallow. The lack of more unique rooms to slink through eventually gives way to the feeling of repetition despite the rogue like level assortment. At its goal of creating an enjoyable, cartoony Cold War stealth game, Dynamighty did succeed. But, I would add the caveat that this is a game you’re going to want to pick up for $0, while it’s free on PSN. I had a good time with Counterspy, but it’s really not a game I would spend more than a few bucks on. If there were any sort of special recommendation I could make, it would be to definitely get it if you’re a PS Vita owner. The game’s mechanics and pick-up-and-play quality make it a perfect fit for mobile players. “Timewaster” can often be a bad, unhealthy descriptor for a game like World of Warcraft or League of Legends, but in Counterspy’s case, it’s exactly the right niche.Obligatory Number at the End: 8/10