CounterSpy is a slick operation. The stop-and-go nature of your average stealth game often makes it difficult to strike a balance between proper pacing and mechanical consistency, as dodging vision cones and memorizing patrol patterns forces the flow of combat to pop and sputter. However, CounterSpy’s responsive espionage action and polished movement keep the tempo moving at a steady clip. Precise gunplay and close-quarters combat gives you tactical freedom when clearing out rooms of grunts, and rich customization options present new ways to play each of the procedurally generated missions. A few nagging AI inconsistencies and the stunted runtime are disappointing, but CounterSpy’s superb presentation and satisfying executions make for a sterling package that deserves the spotlight.
It’s CounterSpy’s simplicity that makes it so instantly appealing. Instead of encumbering you with complex systems, the side-scrolling missions have you simply jumping and shooting your way through a series of safeguarded rooms in order to grab critical intel. Natural cover provides a bounty of openings to slow down and pick your shots, but quickly raising your weapon and popping off a few rounds once you elevate suspicion can be just as efficient. You’re encouraged to silently snap necks and deliver hot lead between your opposition’s eyes, but your crafty spy has enough dexterity and raw firepower to deal with the repercussions of being spotted.
It’s easy to pick up and play, but that doesn’t mean that the game lacks depth. Peeking over cover alters your perspective, transforming CounterSpy into more of a third-person, gallery-style shooter than a 2D side-scroller. Leaning against walls emphasizes that effect by letting you fire at enemies in the distance, deepening the environments. This perspective shift occasionally breaks a few key mechanics; I often awkwardly wrapped my arms around guards who were standing in the background, for instance. What did and didn’t grab someone’s attention also seemed to shift from one cover spot to the next, but effortlessly emptying rounds into enemies on multiple planes without alerting a single soul is genuinely satisfying.
The most obvious armament to have at the ready is your silenced pistol, but if things get hairy, you have options. Collecting schematics unlocks new weapons to take into the field, giving you the ability to go loud with a shotgun if the numbers begin to stack against you. Modifiers, on the other hand, offer competitive advantages like greater endurance and silent steps even as you dash across the screen. Of course, everything costs a bit of in-game cash, and since purchased modifiers disappear after completing a level, you have to cleverly budget your resources in order to tackle the more difficult missions with the most effective loadouts. But as long as you play smart and explore the supplementary screens of a given location, you won’t be short on money.
Getting spotted won’t result in mission failure, but there are consequences if you don’t practice restraint in combat. CounterSpy takes place in an alternate Cold War setting, meaning there’s an ever-present threat of a nuclear attack–in this case, on the moon–hanging over your head. It’s a constant race against a doomsday clock, and being seen on security cameras or letting a soldier alert a superior of your presence over radio will expedite the launch. As an agent of the impartial C.O.U.N.T.E.R organization, it’s your job to keep both The Imperialist States and The Socialist Republic at bay by monitoring the separate alert states for each fictional nation.
The ’60s setting is best represented through its smooth jazz jingles and cel-shaded aesthetics, which are sharp on both the PlayStation Vita and home consoles. Period-appropriate uniforms and propaganda create a strong sense of place, while the reactive shadows and deep reds and blues produce a consistently soothing tableau. CounterSpy never breaks character, and while you’re often scoring headshots and snapping necks, the game still finds time to add a healthy dose of dry humor into the sparse dialogue.
CounterSpy is just a cool cat, but regrettably, it’s over before you’ve had enough. No two levels are the same, so you can keep rolling the dice before reaching the game’s conclusion in order to discover fresh level geometry. However, it took me about two hours to reach the credits, and I still wanted to see more. You can spend additional time finding weapon schematics or boosting your high score on the global leaderboard, but I wish there were better reasons to continue playing with the game’s refined systems.
It might be short, but I enjoyed almost every minute of my time with CounterSpy. The movement and gunplay are smooth and responsive, and the lovingly crafted presentation remains stunning throughout. This is a stealth game that makes you feel as silent as you are deadly, and is wonderfully, wholly refreshing.