Originally published in 2014, for The Australia Times Games Magazine
Format: PS4, PS3, PS Vita
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Since its release in 2012, it’s safe to say PlayStation Vita hasn’t had the smoothest of rides.
Whether due to Nintendo’s popular 3DS – or the even more dominant smartphone market – Sony’s powerful handheld just hasn’t been able to gain a firm foothold within the competitive videogames market.
Still, ask anyone who has gone out and actually purchased a Vita will tell you, its failures aren’t due to a lack of great games. Indeed, with titles such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Killzone Mercenary, Tearaway, Gravity Rush and a gamut of fantastic indie titles, the sleek little console has gained a loyal following of fans who relish the quirky library that harkens back to the glorious, Japan-centric days of Sega’s Saturn and Dreamcast hardware.
In this writer’s opinion, one of the most promising new games to come to camp Vita is Dynamighty’s CounterSpy, a peculiar espionage title that harkens back to the days of Splinter Cell on Game Boy Advance – though unlike that game, I’m sure Dynamighty’s effort will be played by more than three people. Ahem.
Set during the paranoid times of the Cold War, CounterSpy places you in the silent shoes of ‘Agent’, a shadowy operative who works for the super-secret organisation known as C.O.U.N.T.E.R. Caught in the middle of a conflict between the ‘Imperialists’ (America) and the ‘Socialists’ (U.S.S.R), Agent must foil the ultimate plan that both nations have – to blow up the moon.
Possibly just as much a social commentary as it is a tongue-in-cheek concept; CounterSpy is nevertheless a game that does not take itself too seriously – with witty writing that permeates the game’s randomly-generated levels, and bizarre Cold War factoids that litter the loading screens.
Wait… did I just say randomly-generated levels?
Yes, indeed I did! You see, CounterSpy’s stages are set in either the Imperialist or Socialist strongholds. The reason for this is that a balance must be maintained throughout the title’s six hour campaign, thanks to the ‘DEFCON’ level. Each side begins with a DEFCON level of five, and it is in Agent’s best interest that they don’t raise to the maximum level of zero. If that happens, then a mad dash begins to the end of the level – lest nuclear annihilation occurs (and even worse, a game over! Gasp!). DEFCON is raised by basically making mistakes, like getting spotted by soldiers or getting killed in action. However, Agent can help alleviate political tensions by capturing officers in the field, completing levels, and equipping a special upgrade.
As I alluded to earlier, CounterSpy emulates Sam Fisher’s GBA exploits by taking place primarily on a 2D side-scrolling view, with the occasional 3D shooting section. This odd gameplay works surprisingly well; as it gives the whole thing a nice, arcade feel. Despite being a stealth game, I felt capable of speed-running through the latter hours of the game – dispatching foes like some sort of badass ghost. This is because the mechanics are very easy to learn, and as such provide a smooth and satisfying experience that neatly accommodates the score-chasing aspect of the package.
All this results is a surprisingly addictive title – and those who wish for even more challenge can rise through the online leaderboards, and perform special, no-kill runs that really test Agent’s metal on the field.
Unfortunately, there are some issues I had with the game. Because of the random aspect of the levels, the layouts can get very repetitive, with only two themes throughout the entire game (desert or snow). Additionally, this system can result in poor cover and enemy placement. Too often I had no choice but to blindly walk through a door, only to be greeted by the unpleasant gaze of an enemy or gun camera. Also, I found the load times to be far too long for a game this simple.
Graphically, the game is very appealing. I loved the stylised 007-style aesthetic, as well as the simple polygonal art-style that effectively hides the limitations of the Vita, whilst ensuring a smooth experience all round. In terms of sound though, it’s a mixed bag. The soundtrack is suitably smooth and jazzy, but the SFX leaves a lot to be desired (apparently all American soldiers are name ‘Johnny’).
Yet overall, I still enjoyed this game while it lasted. CounterSpy is a quality title; though a little lean considering the high price. If it was at least half the cost then I’d highly suggest diving into this espionage world.
6 out of 10