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Counter Spy Review

by William Schwartz

Counter Spy is a stealth game which uses a 2D/3D hybrid perspective and brings forward a lot of great ideas for the genre.  Releasing as part of Sony’s Summer Play promotion and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Counter Spy is the first game from a small independent studio called Dynamighty.  In an alternate Cold War reality, players take on the role of an agent of C.O.U.N.T.E.R.  This rogue organization answers to no government,  functioning as an independent spy agency.  In Counter Spy, the C.O.U.N.T.E.R. agency is looking to stop a global nuclear threat.  Doing it will entail collecting launch plans from procedurally generated levels, which are ultimately used to stop the Imperialist and Socialist superpowers from destroying the moon with nuclear armaments.

Counter Spy is an impressive game visually, it leans on a retro aesthetic wonderfully.  Dynamighty nails the 50’s/60’s Cold War vibe pretty accurately in the game’s visual and audio presentation.  There’s no doubt about it, Counter Spy is easy on the eyes.  Mixing side scrolling action with third person shooting and stealth gameplay, Counter Spy is an intriguing game that feels unlike anything else in the genre.

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Counter Spy’s persistent DefCon levels leave little room for error on higher difficulties

Counter Spy has some interesting caveats to the gameplay.  Since you are essentially working against these two governments, you are constantly walking a tight rope in infiltrating various bases of each faction, on missions to recover documents pertaining to the launch of these nuclear weapons.  As a stealth game, Counter Spy functions on persistent DefCon Alerts.  Each side has a DefCon meter that stays with you from level to level.  DefCon five being the lowest, and one being the highest.  When at DefCon One, levels are very hard to get through as there is no room for error.   Think of these levels as lives, or the amount of times that guards can be alerted.  When guards are on full alert, a countdown timer begins which will effectively end the mission if it gets to zero before you reach the end of the level. There are a number ofways to trigger alerts.  You can alert guards by being seen, by being heard, or by being spotted by the many security cameras found in each level.  So along with the scavenging of these vital documents, players will also need to use methods to keep DefCon levels low, and that is done via both gameplay elements, and unlockable items and schematics that are found throughout each level procedurally generated level.

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You’ll uncover all these items by exploring each map thoroughly.  As you do, you’ll be transitioning between 2D and 3D points of view.  Ample cover is strewn throughout each level.  When using it, Counter Spy transitions onto a 3D plane where players can take time and line-up accurate shots against enemies or trigger massive explosions by targeting highlighted objects.  While the bulk of the game is played in 2D, these on again off again sequences definitely spice up the game visually, and they don’t play bad either.  While it’s not exactly the best third person cover shooter in the world, it’s competent enough to get the job done.  Making it through Counter Spy levels unscathed is only half the battle.  It’s important to also be collecting items as you go, as you’ll need cash to buy power-ups, ammo reloads, and new weapons at the start of each round.  These caches can be found all over the place, and they’ll many times be located in dangerous parts of the map, where triggering enemy alerts is likely. You’ll find extra ammunition, health, money, and schematics for your exploration. Thoug, this is where the balancing act of defcon levels and worthwhile progression come into play.  The longer you stay in a level, the more likely you are to raise the DefCon Alert,  if just by human error.  Guards can call in a DefCon Alerts, and the meter can rise quickly.  Many times, a single false move can end a very good run in any given stage.

Counter Spy’s normal mode is a warm-up, a fairly easy jaunt for those who just want to see the pretty pictures.  Digging into the meatier, harder modes is the essence of this game in my opinion.  While the normal difficulty will allow you to brute force your way through many situations, the harder modes will require much more thought and patience for success.  The harder modes are actually a good reason to head back into the game after a first playthrough, and what really allow all the systems in place to shine through.  Careful execution of enemy filled rooms, camera avoidance, ammunition conservation, and proper perk selection will all be important to survival.  Counter Spy is a pretty good stealth game on the harder difficulty levels.  You’ll need to take it slow and steady as enemies wear more armor, carry bigger guns, and seem to be more intelligent on the whole. You’ll be dashing in and out of cover, picking your spots to take out enemies without being seen, all while scooping up intel and power-ups for your next run.  It’s quite fun.

Counter Spy is also yet another game to take advantage of the PlayStation’s Cross Buy initiative.  It’s not a bad deal.  If you own a PS3, PS4, and PS Vita, you’ll get the game on all three.  Unfortunately, Counter Spy is pretty bad on the PS Vita, alarmingly so for a game that’s published by Sony.  Playing through it for review, I couldn’t help but wonder how a game so broken ever made it through testing.  As far as the gameplay and visuals go, everything’s pretty much the same across the handheld and console versions, but Counter Spy might be a little too intense for the Vita when it comes to visuals.  There are noticeable frame rate drops in the handheld version, so much so the game is nearly unplayable.  Buying this explicitly for the PS Vita is not recommended.  Despite so many indie titles arriving and performing so well on Sony’s handheld, Counter Spy is not one of them.  Hopefully, it’s an issue where there is a patch inbound, and this is something that will be fixed post-launch.  It’s a shame, as the game feature seamless Cloud Save functionality which allows you carry all your progress back and forth between devices.

Counter Spy is a good game that rarely feels like it misses the mark on consoles.  Procedurally generated games usually lack that heart and soul that games with custom designed levels do, and Counter Spy is no exception to this rule.  While it’s nice that the game will feel fresh every time you fire it up, as good as it looks, Counter Spy can feel generic at times.  For fans of stealth who are looking for a challenge, Counter Spy won’t leave you disappointed, but it will take multiple playthroughs.

 

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Counter Spy

  • Available On: PS4, PS Vita, PS3
  • Published By: Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Developed By: Dynamighty
  • Genre: Stealth, Side Scroller
  • US Release Date: August 19th, 2014
  • Reviewed On: PS4, PS Vita
  • Quote: "Impressive visuals and gameplay innovations for the stealth genre, Counter Spy is an impressive first offering from this new studio. While it's not perfect, and near broken in some cases, stealth fans who buy on PS4 or PS3 won't likely leave disappointed."
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