Video game review: Counterspy, by Dynamighty

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 10:12pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 10:24pm


Even in our post-9/11 world of flag-waving counter-terrorist "heroes", there's something still to be said for classic spy-fiction clichés: witty, dashing rogues and bikinied babes, exotic locales and dirty jazz soundtracks, comically exaggerated villains and their pop-art-like "hidden" lairs.

It's unrealistic and far from what a real sleuth would do, but that's what makes 1960s spy stuff so much fun. And that's a large part of Counterspy's appeal, a download-only cross-buy for all Sony systems (PS4, PS4 and PS Vita).

Nostalgia is practically the name of the game here: apart from the major Bond-like winks and nods, the game's side-scrolling dynamics are heavily influenced by such '90s efforts as Flashback and the original Prince of Persia.

It's unfortunate then that it's the gameplay that ends up faltering, far from matching up to the wonderfully old-fashioned aesthetics and clever storyline.

Players take on the role of an unnamed agent of COUNTER, an apolitical spy outfit that's out to prevent both the Americans and the Russians from being the first to nuke the moon. Your specific assignments are classic nail-biters - or they were to cinema audiences 50 years ago. Data collection, mostly: sneaking, sleuthing and generally eluding your enemies as you collect various launch plans in ever-changing levels. But it's not so much the missions that are the issue here as how they're played out.

Counterspy has made a fairly big deal about its innovative AI and level design, randomly generated rooms that are never the same twice - in theory, this would create a game that can be replayed without ever getting old. In reality? It's a series of similar-looking levels where the difficulty is crudely measured by number of bad guys per square metre.

That creates problems with its very elements of spy gaming. Because as with most in its genre, Counterspy offers a mix of stealth and action: as a spook, you're rewarded for your use of the former as much as possible. But as the levels get harder, you're often faced with rooms full of bad guys and no choice but to blast your way out. Not very "secret" for a secret agent.

The sum of its parts doesn't always add up to a satisfying whole, but that's not to say that some day, when your guard is down, Counterspy won't sneak its way onto your console and force you to defect to its super-cool retro aesthetic.