sun 27/09/2020

CounterSpy | reviews, news & interviews

CounterSpy

CounterSpy

Visually striking stealth-action game leaves one stirred, but not very shaken…

'CounterSpy': Beautiful aesthetics, shame about the pedestrian level design…

CounterSpy looks brilliant. This stealth-action adventure delivers a perfect Man From U.N.C.L.E. spy aesthetic in videogame form. And largely delivers on the premise in gameplay terms too.

Two superpowers are locked in a pointless and potentially genocidal arms race. Enter C.O.U.N.T.E.R. – on the surface, this sneaky outside agency is there to disarm both sides and stop them from blowing up the moon. Yes, the moon.

CounterSpy looks brilliant. This stealth-action adventure delivers a perfect Man From U.N.C.L.E. spy aesthetic in videogame form. And largely delivers on the premise in gameplay terms too.

Two superpowers are locked in a pointless and potentially genocidal arms race. Enter C.O.U.N.T.E.R. – on the surface, this sneaky outside agency is there to disarm both sides and stop them from blowing up the moon. Yes, the moon.

CounterSpy steals its aesthetics from 60s and 70s spy TV thrillers such as Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Bond films. The US side's levels are filled to bursting with hordes of dimwitted troops, paranoid notices and blandly unnerving Tannoy announcements about bodily fluids. Meanwhile, the Russian levels are snowswept, with guards with their chests puffed out and giant austere agitprop sculptures.

CounterSpy - stealth-action spy storyYour skinny spy's job is to infiltrate bases to steal secrets, while trying to studiously avoid escalating the Defcon level for that side. Triggering camera alarms or letting guards radio in alerts up the Defcon status (moving from 5 to 1). So you can choose whether to move through levels like a tornado, not leaving anyone alive long enough to radio in, or to get sneaky. And you can get weapons for either choice – silenced pistols, mind control darts or assault rifles.

The game runs in a pleasing side-scrolling manner unless you duck into cover, when its perspective shifts to let you aim accurately in 3D. It's a conceit that ensures the game's unique visual style is played throughout well. Meanwhile, play itself is a good mix of tense stealth and brief bursts of all-out action.

CounterSpy - stealth-action spy storyHowever, by the mid point in the game it sags somewhat. There's too limited a repertoire of levels. They're meant to be (buzzword bingo) "procedurally generated" – in other words, limitless in variation and partially randomly generated. But the same crawlspaces, ladders and cameras kept showing up in roughly the same places over and over.

The addition of harder and more troops also tips the game's direction away from stealth significantly – making quickfire shootouts simpler to do. And in ratcheting up the difficulty without adding any checkpointing for levels that can take over 20 minutes, the game artificially and repetitively boosts its length. If you want to avoid a significant Defcon cost, you often have to restart an entire level 15 minutes in because you made one brief mistake.

Despite this, CounterSpy is always good fun. A silly spy story told well.

Hordes of dimwitted troops, paranoid notices and blandly unnerving Tannoy announcements about bodily fluids...

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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