On the surface, Counterspy appears to ape recent Metroidvania-style games like Shadow Complex and Blackgate, offering a 2.5D world to run through, shoot up and explore in little bite-sized chunks. While it certainly shares similarities with the genre, Dynamighty have made clear efforts to distance their game from the crop. For the most part they’ve succeeded, but sometimes originality can be a bit of a double-edged sword.
You see, Counterspy’s levels are short, procedurally-generated missions that have you moving from one end of a grid of rooms to the other, collecting launch codes, blueprints, formulas, and cash as you go. Every level harbours a load of hidden collectibles and plenty of enemies to stealth by or murder as you see fit. The biggest problem this set-up poses is that once a level is done, no matter what you may have missed, you can’t go back. There’s no gearing up and re-treading your steps when you can reach new areas, no way of going back and hoovering up what you missed. Instead, any blueprints or launch plans you didn’t get are reshuffled and repurposed for the next mission. The thrill of exploration and discovery is still present, but it feels less progressive.
The story puts you in control of a world class spy working for C.O.U.N.T.E.R, a global intelligence network. As two superpowers (essentially the US and Russia, circa the Cold War) fight over nuclear launch codes that will trigger a world war, you must infiltrate their various bases and misappropriate the codes yourself to avert a worldwide catastrophe.
You do this by slinking through each mission and reaching the terminal at the end, being careful at all times to avoid raising the DefCon level. Triggering cameras, upsetting guards and generally being an utter bufoon will all increase your DefCon level, increasing the number of guards and making them more likely to see and hear you. If you do get into trouble, hitting circle will slam your agent into cover, whereupon you can lean out like any other cover shooter and engage the bad guys in a shoot-out, or use your silenced pistol to perforate their heads all stealthy like. Points are awarded for pretty much everything, and go towards your online leaderboard placement.
Finding blueprints will unlock new guns to buy in the store, from shotguns to rocket launchers, while collecting chemical formulas allows you to brew performance enhancing elixirs between missions, which award special buffs like reduced camera effectiveness and a lower DefCon level upon mission start. It’s nothing overly complicated, but it is nice to unlock increasingly powerful kit as you play. Counterspy’s no-nonsense approach to level design is a breath of fresh air, though you may occasionally find yourself wishing for more complexity. That said, the randomised nature means things tend not to get boring – though more hazards and varied enemies would have been welcome.
Aesthetically, it’s a striking game. Geometric shapes and bold colours make for a beautiful presentation, and the pay-off of long loading times between missions is a smooth, fluid experience as you roll, sneak, and leap around the relatively small levels.
VERDICT: Counterspy is a solid game that makes up for a lack of immediate depth with solid over-the-shoulder combat, competent stealth and randomised levels. The collectible buzz might be tempered slightly by the lack of any real Shadow Complex-style character progression, but there’s still loads to look for and plenty of reasons to explore – and it’s gorgeous to look at, too.
Arguably a better fit for the Vita than the larger consoles, the cross-save function negates any need for favouritism and allows you to continue your fight against tyranny wherever you are. Humorous and well-designed, Counterspy is certainly worth investigating if you like your espionage in short, fast-paced chunks.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.