CounterSpy for PS4, PS3 and PS Vita
CounterSpy had one of the best first impressions of any of the PS+ games that I’ve played so far. The first few levels were amazing and clicked with me instantly; alas, diminishing returns set in and CounterSpy ended up settling as a ‘good’ experience rather than an excellent one.
CounterSpy takes place during a Cold War inspired conflict between two nations clearly analogous for the United States and the Soviet Union. Both sides are working towards an apocalyptic weapon strike and you play as a Spy for the intergovernmental agency known as ‘Counter’ and infiltrate both sides to stop the attack. The story isn’t really a focus here, but the little writing that is featured is quite amusing and quippy.
This is a 2D stealth game, although it’s considerably slower and more methodical than something like Mark of the Ninja. It’s also much simpler, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Each level sees you bringing your spy through a 2D stage, stealthing your way through to a terminal at the end. Along the way you collect intel which gives you money, blueprints and plans which bring you closer to the end of the game. If killed or spotted by a camera, your ‘defcon’ level lowers, with the defcon system essentially acting as lives. Each side has it’s own defcon meter, although not a huge amount is done with this mechanic. You can choose whether to infiltrate the US or Soviet side after each mission, but there’s not much difference. You can raise defcon by holding particular soldiers hostage. The stealth take downs are fun, but the most interesting mechanic is a hybridising of 2D and 3D gameplay. When you snap into cover, the camera pulls into an over the shoulder 3D aim as you take out the foes in front of you with a variety of weapons. It’s pretty cool and works well, with grenade lobbing enemies preventing you from cowering in cover for too long. Stealth is certainly the best way. Although simple, I found the core mechanics of CounterSpy very enjoyable, but the whole experience is let down by one fatal flaw; the levels are randomly generated.
Now, I’m really not into procedural generation, but I can see how it works for some games, like Binding of Isaac or Spelunky. Sadly, it just doesn’t work here. The lack of handcrafted levels mean that the stages begin to feel extremely same-y very quickly. CounterSpy made a great first impression but I kept expecting something more that didn’t arrive. I can see that they were intending to make a very replayable game, but I’d rather play a great game once than play a decent one over and over. The mechanics are good but without proper level design CounterSpy fails to elevate beyond mediocre.
Thankfully, the general style of the game is excellent. The whole thing is steeped in 1960s spy thriller music and tone, with an attention grabbing cel shaded art style. There are some fantastic looking assets too, but the procedural generation means that it all begins to fade away and lose its allure by the end.
CounterSpy was a frustrating experience because there were so many elements I loved, but it’s dull level design (or lack thereof) killed the whole thing for me. There are some great things here, but just not enough.