Everyone wants to be a spy. It doesn’t matter how young, how old, how rich, or how poor you are; every person has seen at least a glimpse of the thousands of secret agent films that dominate pop culture. CounterSpy manages to create the perfect blend of stealth, gunplay, and atmosphere that you would expect from a top tier spy experience. No, CounterSpy does not have extraordinarily detailed game mechanics or a variety of elaborate features, but that ended up being exactly why I liked so much. It is a casual, yet strategy-oriented experience that is both polished and extremely intuitive to play. The Cold War has never been so approachable.
CounterSpy was developed by indie studio Dynamighty and is a cross buy between PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PS Vita. It is also included in the group of games that are free to PlayStation Plus users during the month of March. Coming from an “indie” studio, which employs talent from LucasArts and Pixar, it is not surprising that the game’s presentation is one of its biggest selling points. The art design and animations fit the playful tone of the game as it spoofs the heightened tensions of the Cold War between the United States and Russia. The soundtrack is also a highlight, bearing a strange resemblance to that of The Incredibles.
CounterSpy uses a clever system that blends 2D and 3D environments extraordinarily well. Basic movement is restricted to two dimensions, but when the agent takes cover behind a barrier or wall the perspective changes. This enables you to pop in and out of your hiding spot to shoot enemies scattered throughout the depth of the 3D environment . Very rarely would I encounter bugs that hindered my gaming experience, although there were a few occasions where targets were unable to be positioned in my line of sight, even after exhausting every cover option available.
Where the real magic lies is in the fact that each level is randomly generated from a list of possible rooms and rewards, leaving you with a new experience every time. This lends itself to a strong sense of replayability and time investment. I beat the game on the first difficulty level and put the game down. The next day I wanted to play again, even though I had convinced myself that I wasn’t going to see anything new. Although the increased difficulties largely only translate to a greater number of enemies, that’s all it takes for you to question your strategy and approach the gameplay in a different manner.
The gunplay is simple but diverse enough to make you want to change your loadout after each mission. Stealth is extremely rewarding and each randomly generated level feels new and fresh. There are always a wide variety of possible ways to approach the situation within a room. The ability to plan out stealth combos and rack up your score will please any puzzle lover. Periodically you have to opportunity to beat the high score of a “rival agent,” another human player from around the world. If you beat their high score you are able to find their corpse in a hidden area of the next mission to claim a reward. This simple, yet rewarding system adds a touch of realism and competition to the mix, making you feel like you truly deserve to be considered a top tier spy.
Verdict: If you’ve donated your time to giving the indie game market a chance and haven’t found what you’re looking for, let this casual spy shooter change your mind. If you’ve played hundreds of indie games before, don’t brush off CounterSpy. It is simple, but in the best way possible.