We will send you encouraging transmissions and mediate on your survival. Beyond that, you will be operating alone
CounterSpy is a game that really nails that all-important first impression, the opening title cinematic evokes the gloriously stylish espionage of vintage James Bond and the self-aware humour lampooning various spy clichés is nothing less than charming. However, such a positive start slowly evaporates upon realisation of the shallowness of the game’s structure and level design, its procedurally generated apparently, yet it’s unforgivably repetitive. What’s more you can be all finished up in less than three hours and the content that’s here quickly wears thin, CounterSpy clearly then does not have a License To Thrill. (sorry)
A side-scrolling espionage game from developer Dynamighty, CounterSpy’s premise is based on the events of the Cold War, albeit a way more light-hearted version, the scariness of the nuclear war threat is offset by the game’s focus on the overall absurdity of its concept. You play the role as an agent of C.O.U.N.T.E.R., a spy agency that is unequivocally top secret in case you had your doubts. What’s refreshing is that the agency is apolitical, meaning that unlike most historical fiction, it’s from a neutral viewpoint. This is signified through the game refusing to label the opposing nations by their actual names; instead the Americans are the Imperialists and the Soviets are the Socialists. Your task is to sabotage their nuclear programs before they launch a missile to destroy the moon, inevitably destroying all life on earth in the process. The plot is cute, with plenty of self-aware gags in the writing, but there’s no great finale, or even anything of narrative significance past the introduction, it really could have done with a little twist to break up the increasingly tiring gameplay formula.
Moving onto the gameplay then, and although Counterspy’s mix of stealth and shooting is entertaining enough for the first hour or so, it becomes quickly apparent that the procedural generation of its level design makes things very tedious, which is probably the opposite to what it should do. As the silhouetted Counter agent, players must sneak through a never-ending selection of randomly generated 2D bunkers, collecting missile launch plans, weapon upgrades and case studies. The game’s overall structure though is very limited, CounterSpy doesn’t have a set number of levels, but instead allows you to keep taking missions until you’ve collected enough launch plans to unlock the final mission. The problem however is that the levels look and feel very similar after completing a few of them, so it becomes rather dull to reach that magic number to trigger the final mission.
There are some intriguing elements to the structure though, for instance the player is able to choose between the opposing sides when attempting to sabotage their respective missile plans, moreover it often involves a little bit of strategic thinking. One foray through an Imperialist base might net you three Launch Plans as well as the usual blueprints and cash, but the risks could be higher due to tighter security. But if you opt to go after the Socialists you may only get a single Launch Plan, but the security will likely pose far less of a challenge.
Counterspy is an odd 2D-sidecrolling mix of stealth and action, neither of work as well as you would like, but it has a party-trick in the form of its ever-changing perspectives. Primarily a standard side-scroller until you move behind cover, at which point your perspective will shift to an over-the-shoulder perspective, showing you areas that you couldn’t see from the usual view. It’s fun to play around with initially, lining up headshots is as satisfying as you’d expect, yet like pretty much everything about this game, cracks appear the longer you play it. The shifting perspectives prove problematic when facing tougher bases, furthermore there’s no clear logic defining when guards can detect you, which is hugely detrimental to any stealth experience.
Presentation-wise, Counterspy looks and sounds the business, with a beautiful 60s art-style that really sells the propaganda-poster vibe of the Cold War culture. The silhouetted spy acts in seductive contrast to the splendid heavy blues and reds that adorn the stages. The clean, bold simplicity of the visuals acts as a celebration of the era, the smooth backing jazz score underlining this stylish homage.
Overall, Counterspy is a decent enough title with a deeply charming presentation, however careful level design has unfortunately been sacrificed in place of procedurally-generated missions operating under the mask of stitched-together rooms. Despite the game already being so short in length, there simply wasn’t enough to sustain my interest until the credits rolled.
+ Stylish presentation
+ Side-scrolling gameplay is serviceable…
– …but quickly becomes tedious after a few missions
– Dull mission design
– Finale is unremarkable