CounterSpy (PS3, PS4, Vita (CrossBuy + CrossSave); Dynamighty)
I finished my first playthrough of CounterSpy early after its release, on Vita, after playing the game pretty much all the time I could within the day since I got my hands on it. I finished with the 542nd best score on the leaderboards, which I don’t think was too shabby, as impressive as the top scores are. What I’m trying to express here is how much this game has swallowed me up into its wonderful little world; I only really heard about it the day before I bought it, then quickly became obsessed with it. And if you’ve ever seen the game in action, or even in screenshots, you might understand why.
Of course, if you haven’t, I’m here to explain why I’ve suddenly fallen in love with this game so much. CounterSpy is a 2.5D stealth game, which means you’ll get obvious comparisons to Mark of the Ninja; those comparisons though don’t really suit here. Whereas, in my opinion, the true strength of Mark of the Ninja was not in its somewhat distinct styling but in its gameplay, the real strength of CounterSpy lies in its aesthetics and sound and setting. The actual gameplay of CounterSpy is largely quite shallow in honesty; while the difficulty curve is present and rewardingly steep, the core gameplay is primarily sneak through the military base taking out dudes with your guns or with your little CQC moves and getting the intel and bonuses before you turn off their launch computer and exit the level, while getting points for your overall campaign score along the way. It’s not overly complicated, and it never gets more complicated, as you unlock more weapons that primarily just allow you to fiddle with your playstyle rather than radically change the game.But don’t let that disparage you from playing the game. The gameplay is still generally tight and fun to play, considering how satisfying it is to just pop all the little officers with a headshot with your rinky dink silenced pistol. And ultimately, the gameplay is held up by everything else in the game. The whole aesthetic and sound and setting of the game come together to form this amazing experience that feels almost like if Pixar decided to try and make a James Bond film; it’s this Cold War spy dramatics, but with this incredibly stylised 3D animated style and with this quintessentially 60s-spy-movie soundtrack that comes and goes as it pleases in this sweet espionage way.
In fact, everything about the game is designed to serve this amazing Cold War espionage atmosphere. Your character is almost completely glossy black, with light reflecting off him and tiny details such as a red watch and his gun, and it gives you this wonderful notion of a faceless agent working in the shadows; you don’t need to know his name or anything about him, just that he’s being a cool spy guy and he’s saving the world. All the bases have this huge military bunker feel that just kind of reminds me of the Bond film where the bad guy has a base inside a volcano and it has the shuttles and everything. Basically, just this beautiful feeling of retro espionage media.The fact that you play against both sides of the field as well only serves to make it all the more interesting, and the use of colour as part of that is also great; the ‘Socialists’ have lots of red walls and Cyrillic writing on the walls and these huge Communist-styled propaganda posters, while the ‘Imperialists’ have lots of blue walls and all these posters telling you about FREEDOM and AMERICA BEING THE BEST. The guards all shout different things, though their style of uniform remains the same because good colourful game design, as a reflection of the fact that they represent their special nations. But in the grandest piece of satire, a lot of the stuff barring aesthetics remains the same across the two nations, including their part in the big plan that you have to stop as a CounterSpy.
The ‘story’ of the game is something I should probably discuss as well; its this fun little mix of the nuclear arms race and the space race, in a wonderful 60s mixture, as the ‘Imperialists’ and ‘Socialists’ want to see who can blow up the Moon with nuclear missiles first, and it is up to you to try and find out their plans and sabotage their plans, so, y’know, the Earth doesn’t suffer horrible cataclysms from the Moon being destroyed. It has this grounding in reality, but also a satirical vibe that something like the Onion uses now, which only helps to support the Pixar-Cold-War feel of the game as a whole.I suppose I should talk on a bit more of a technical level now as well. The game has some pretty lengthy load times, which is not something that hugely phases me, but I know it can be an issue to others, and its certainly something worth mentioning. The game also has level design and controls that are made to fit the Vita and then the PS3 and 4, in my opinion; again, its not something that phases me as I enjoy the snappy gameplay and feel the controls work perfectly fine without using R2 and L2, but its another thing worth mentioning. Also, on the Vita version, I had a few brief moments of stutter when everything was going to hell in a hand basket, but its normally quickly resolved, so again no biggie to me. All in all, on a technical level, it has its small issues, but the game itself is so fun and well-designed that I can quite happily just get into the game and ignore the problems.
So at the end of this lengthy ramble of a review, I would hope you can tell that I’m kind of gushing over this game. CounterSpy is absolutely the kind of handheld game I love, and I also love that I can play it on my home console as well because it still remains as fun and entertaining and gorgeous. If you’re up for something with a snappy aesthetic and some interesting gameplay and a neat little way to challenge yourself to play more stealthily and like more of a badass, then go ahead and get this game, or go and get a Vita and get this game even though you should have a Vita already you dingbat.
Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.