Well, I could only resist for so long. CounterSpy, thanks to its stylish look and sneaky-sneaky gameplay, has been calling out to me every time I scroll by it on my list of PlayStation 3 games, having downloaded it as a PlayStation Plus freebie back in March 2015. It’s just one of many stealth games in my collection I’m thirsty to drink, and while it wasn’t a very tall glass in the end, I still found the act of undermining both sides of an alternate Cold War era to be refreshing. Plus, I’ll never tire of tranquilizing dudes, watching a fellow soldier come over to investigate their sleeping buddy, and then tranquilizing them. I still think fondly back to that time I stuffed about eight or nine sleeping soldiers in a vent in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
CounterSpy ends up combining spy mythology with the colorful, striking aesthetics of the 1950s and 1960s, a time period for art that I will never not find fascinating. As previously mentioned, it’s set during the Cold War, though not exactly the one we experienced on this planet. You control an agent of C.O.U.N.T.E.R., a rogue agency that keeps–or at least attempts to–the world’s superpowers in peace. As each side of the ongoing conflict inches its way closer to seeing who can blow up the moon first, which seems like a terrible idea regardless of who does it, C.O.U.N.T.E.R. gets to work sabotaging their plans and maintaining peace.
You do this by sneaking around a left-to-right scrolling level, either for the Socialists or the Imperialists, depending on who is the current greater risk, and stealing launch plans, gathering intel, taking out soldiers, and so on. The levels themselves are randomly generated, though by the end of the game you begin, much like in Spelunky, to learn how several chunks fit together with one another. I always knew where the developers were trying to hide an accessible vent behind foreground elements. As you gather enough plans, you’ll learn about rocket launch codes and flight plans, knowing enough to intervene and stop those death-carrying rockets from lifting off–but the last level plays out in the same fashion as the previous levels, with only more soldiers to deal with; it was the most challenging part of my playthrough, but it only took another try to set the world’s superpowers straight.
As you play CounterSpy and do your counterspying thing, you’ll gather blueprints for both weapons and formulas, which act like purchasable perks before each mission. During my first playthrough, I only unlocked two formula, one which lessened the amount of damage to my agent and another that instantly lowered the threat level by a single amount, and I used these two each and every time, no matter how poor I was. For guns, I always carried a lethal rifle for when things went topsy-turvy, but mostly stuck with the silenced pistol and sleep tranquilizer gun, always trying for the quietest of approaches. That said, when things go bad–and they can go bad fast–I wasn’t afraid to unleash real bullets. It’s here often that you’ll wish the agent moved with more fluidity, that he could actually jump or that aiming on a 2.5D background was easier. There’s a lot of talk right now about how escaping heated moments of discovery in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is more fun than anything else, and that’s not the same case with CounterSpy.
Visually, CounterSpy is a delight, and it shows that indie studio Dynamighty is founded by LucasArts and Pixar veterans. I see a lot of The Incredibles‘ influence here with the bold colors and larger-than-life propaganda, but I wish the writing between missions was either super serious or entirely goofy; as it stands, it’s both, which can be confusing when you are talking about blowing up Earth’s moon. Plus, and this is a terribly small issue to bring up, but there’s an inconsistent use of a period at the end of C.O.U.N.T.E.R., which drives me batty. Regardless, it’s not really the story that shines here, but seeing how far you can get through a highly patrolled base before getting spotted.
One could probably get through CounterSpy in a single sitting, but I liked to space it out over a few nights. Undermine the Imperialists, then take a break and see what the Socialists are up to. Get some new weapons and read a few dossiers while enjoying a cup of java. Either way, I’ve started a new campaign on the next higher difficulty and am not finding it as fun to slog through once more. I might continue on to get a few more Trophies before diffusing this operation entirely from my list of need-to-play-soon games.