If there’s one profession that’s undergoing an image crisis, it’s spying. Spies these days seem to be folk hunched over computer screens, listening to our phone calls, reading our emails, and attempting to hack into Chinese military installations. It’s a far cry from the Bond-esque image of a suave gentleman in a slick suit, drink in one hand and pistol in the other. We should be thankful then that Counterspy is considerably more about the latter.
Set in an alternate universe which sees the Imperialists and the Socialist Republic (which are DEFINITELY NOT the USA and Russia respectively, no sir!) facing off in a Cold War, with both sides ominously hovering fingers over buttons designed to launch nuclear missiles at the Moon. You are a member of a third party in this conflict, the spy agency C.O.U.N.T.E.R., and your role is to sabotage both sides and bring an end to this nuclear standoff.
Each mission follows the same structure. You choose between attacking the Imperialists or the Socialist Republic via the map interface, and you’re given an overview of what collectibles are present in that level, from weapon blueprints to general intel. The important one is weapon launch plans though, each level has a varying number, and your main task is to locate these plans and remove them.
Counterspy ostensibly plays out as a sidescrolling stealth game, with a few light platforming elements thrown in too, however dropping into cover sees the camera flip into a third person perspective and allows you to align your shots with a reticule before quickly popping out and firing a silenced bullet into the back of a guards head, or performing a stealth takedown if they wander too closely. The constantly shifting dynamics keep the game play from feeling stale and for the most part works well, although I found moving the reticule was a little bit slow for my tastes.
Stealthy play is strongly encouraged. Each side has a Defcon Level, ranging from 1-5, which is raised if you are discovered. When the Level reaches 1, a 60 second countdown timer starts and if you don’t reach the computer that signifies the end of the level within that minute you’ve hit game over. Starting a level with a high Defcon level is a genuinely tense affair, because one missed shot can doom the whole playthrough. You can lower the level by causing an Officer to surrender by pointing a gun at them, however they’re few and far between and shouldn’t be relied upon.
Despite a relatively short length (I hit the credits within 3 hours), Counterspy does add in a degree to replayability by having each stage as procedurally generated, meaning each playthrough you do will be different. There’s a nice mechanic within the leaderboard system too, in which if you beat a friend’s score their spy’s body is hidden somewhere within your next mission, and you’re asked to locate them for a bonus.
Aesthetically, I’m a big fan of Counterspy. Both the Imperialist and Socialist Republic stages look noticeably different, with the latter including the necessary Cossack headgear on guards and propaganda posters adorning the walls. The controllable character is merely a silhouetted figure with piercing white eyes, and fits perfectly with the idea of a spy infiltrating enemy locations. The sound is also well matched to the era portrayed, with a jazz number gently serenading you in the background.
Also worth mentioning is that Counterspy makes use of Playstation’s Crossbuy initiative, and as such buying the game will grant you access on Playstation 4, Playstation 3, and the Playstation Vita too. Better still, Cross-save functionality is implemented, meaning you pick up and continue on a different platform. Whilst the vast majority of play time for this review was done on the PS4, I switched onto the Vita to test it out and found that, true to the developers word, my home console progress was present and correct on the handheld. Counterspy does work well as a portable game, although the smaller analogue sticks take a bit of getting used to, and load times are a little lengthy for my impatience. Overall though, a positive experience.
Make no mistake, Counterspy is unlikely to trouble anyone’s game of the year lists. What it is though, is a stylish, charming and, above all, fun stealth game, that’s equally comfortable on a home or portable console. Well worth the bargain asking price.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Format: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita Release Date: 19/08/2014
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Counterspy by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of a week on a PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.