Stealth Action Goodness.
I should preface this by saying I love stealth games. There have been some great additions to the list of 2-D stealth games in particular. Mark of the Ninja, Stealth Inc., and Gunpoint were some of my favorites in recent memory. When I saw that CounterSpy was a Playstation Plus freebie, I downloaded it right away. Little did I know that it was one of the slickest games I’ve seen in a while.
The game looks really nice from a distance. Good news: a lot of the game is played from a distance. It’s a side-scrolling 2-D stealth game, and it looks the part. The guards smoothly patrol from side to side, and when they spot you, they quickly find cover and start firing and lobbing grenades. It all looks very slick…until it zooms in. The angles of the polygons don’t work as well up close. A good portion of the game is spent behind cover, so you’ll be zooming in quite often. To be fair there were only a few moments that looked flat-out ugly (the guards faces just look… wrong), but it took a little something away from the cool vibe this game has.
The characters look cartoonish with their elongated limbs, but it all works somehow. The glowing eyes of the unnamed protagonist reminded me of Sam Fisher from the Splinter Cell series. There’s something about the cold war setting and comic strip art design that meshes together really well.
The gun play reminds me of other side-scrolling action shooters like Shadow Complex or (here’s an old school deep cut) Blackthorne. The guns all have convenient laser reticules for precision aiming, and that becomes absolutely essential on the later levels in Expert mode.
The enemy AI in CounterSpy is pretty solid, although a few times I wondered how they didn’t see me rolling from cover to cover. Once they have a bead on you, however, they attack pretty relentlessly. In the later stages, you’ll begin to see enemies sporting more firepower and heavier armor, so the perks you can purchase with in-game currency become vital to success. Any soldier can radio a warning once they see or hear you, and this raises the Defcon level. Once it hits 1 and fills up the meter, a 60 second countdown begins, and it’s a mad scramble to the computer console at the end of the level to stop the nuclear missile launch. It’s a creative way to give the player “lives” without actually giving them “lives.” Fortunately, there are ways to lower the Defcon by forcing officers to surrender, using a perk at the start of a level, or successfully reaching the final computer in each stage.
The game rewards you for kills, stealth, and discovering hidden files and formulas. Completing a level earns you cash that you can use to purchase new weapons or perks for the next mission. The guns are all pretty fun, but during my time with the game, I preferred the silenced pistol and tranq dart gun above the rest. Like I said… I like stealth games.
The missions get progressively more difficult as you discover more launch plans, and by the final stage, you’ll need to sneak/shoot your way through room after room of soldiers. The story of CounterSpy itself is basically a spoof on the cold war stand-off between the USA and Russia (although the countries aren’t actually named) and the secret agency that stands between them. During loading screens, you’ll see a combination of gameplay tips and historical facts about the Cold War. I find it interesting the way the game tiptoes around the country names, but then very directly mentions them in their loading screens.
If you like side-scrolling action games or stealth games, CounterSpy is a great combination of the two. It’s a short game that has some interesting trophies to earn in addition to a hefty challenge on the higher difficulties. While you’re waiting for the next Mark of the Ninja or Shadow Complex, this title might just scratch that itch.