Everyone is familiar with the Cold War era in one way or another. Literature and Film have galvanized the time period and given it an expected style and tone. These mediums transformed the real life paper pushing world of the CIA and MI5 into a sexy and dangerous place filled with globetrotting super spies and femme fatales. Even the genre name is sexy, Espionage. This is the world Counterspy is based on.
The main objective in each mission is to collect a certain number of nuclear weapon plans from either the Imperialists (USA) or the Socialists (Russia), before exiting the area. The concept of infiltrating both countries in this era is not something you see very often, but it is nice to see a neutral take on the subject matter.
When enemies become aware of your presence, or you die, the defcon level is raised gradually. Level 5 is the lowest level, and it can be raised as far as 0. If the defcon level reaches 0 during a mission, you have 60 seconds to get to the end of the level before the country you infiltrated launches it’s nuclear weapons. If that happens, game over. In theory this gives you a maximum of 5 deaths to complete a level before having to restart completely with a different layout (I’ll get to this later). You must be careful because the defcon level will carry on to the next mission. There are ways to lower the defcon level through formulas and holding up special officer rank enemies, but for the most part the best way to keep this in check is to just not get caught.
Throughout the missions you will collect pieces of weapon blueprints, and chemical formula components. Usually all of the pieces for these will be on the same level, so if you do a bit of exploring you will unlock them in no time. If you miss a few, its no big deal as they will appear again. The weapons are standard fare for the most part, silenced pistols, tranq guns, assault rifles, shotguns, etc. But the formulas provide unique buffs for the player to take on the next mission. Examples of these include lowering the defcon level, making your movements more silent, or taking less damage from enemies.
As a gamer for almost 20 years, its not often that a game does something I haven’t seen before but Counterspy delivers in that respect. The game uses a dynamic cover system that switches the perspective from a 2D side scrolling view to a 3D aiming perspective. This is useful for hiding from patrolling guards, or engaging them in intense firefights. It isn’t the first 2D sidescroller to allow cover, however the switch in perspective while doing so is an innovative addition to the genre that I hope gets noticed by other developers.
Although the campaign has a definite start and end, the levels you play to get there are procedurally generated. Layouts, collectables, and enemy locations will change when quitting a mission and coming back later. This adds a certain replayability that a lot of games lack. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a rogue-lite like Spelunky or Rogue Legacy, but the inspiration is definitely there. Think less “random” and more “curated.” As stated above, whenever you get a game over and reenter a mission, the layout will be different as well.
You may notice from the screenshots that Counterspy has a familiar look and tone. This makes sense as the creative director is a former art director of Pixar, working on notable projects such as The Incredibles, Monsters Inc., and Wall-E. Everything from the character designs, to the classic 60s cold war motifs are beautifully realized and consistent.
Keeping in tradition with Sony’s recent indie titles, the game is cross-buy and cross-save with the Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita. Which means that when you buy one version, you automatically get the others. On top of that, your saves will dynamically upload to the cloud and remain the same no matter where you are playing. This is old hat for Vita owners at this point, but the way the game seamlessly does this without having to fiddle around with save settings is fairly new. As usual playing on these other systems will mean a hit in graphical quality, resolution, and framerate but the game holds up either way. Make no mistake though, the best version is on Playstation 4 by far.
Overall Counterspy is a great addition to the Playstation brand, and is hopefully a sign of more new IPs coming down the pipe. If you enjoy classic cold war era spy action, Counterspy is oozing with style and integrity. The enemy AI is a little inconsistent and can cause frustration with the defcon system, and the game is maybe a bit too short, but these things don’t bring down an otherwise great game.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.