(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 4 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 4 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 3.5 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 3.5 Stars
- Bottom Line
- Worth a Look
- Street Date:
- August 19th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Bill Braun
- Review Date:1
- September 8th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Sony Computer Entertainment
- ESRB Rating:
- T (Teen)
Digital PS4 version reviewed. 'CounterSpy' is a cross buy title and a single purchase yields the PS4, PS3, and Vita versions of the game.
Dynamighty, a small team based out of San Francisco, has partnered with Sony to bring their first game-development efforts to the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita. Billed as a stealth-based action game set in the cold-war era during a twisted space race to nuke the moon, 'CounterSpy' promises fresh gameplay experiences through procedurally generated levels. With a style that clearly resembles the glory years of Ian Flemming's 'James Bond', its focus is on epic espionage. Now it's time to see if 'CounterSpy' has substanc as well as style.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Straddling the line between the Imperialists and Socialists – an obvious representation of the Americans and Soviets – 'CounterSpy' assigns the playable character missions to recover both the nuclear weapons' plans and flight paths in an attempt to hinder all-out war between these two powerful nations. In terms of progression, the player has the choice of which side to infiltrate, which really comes down to a choice of when but is a nice break from the often-linear path most videogames force on the player, while still providing smaller, bite-sized missions to complete.
Sneaking into weapons complexes on both sides of the border, the player is tasked with eliminating these threats through stealth or force, while controlling the fluctuating DEFCON meter. Being spotted by either enemy guards or security cameras results in said meter rising to an eventual mission-ending status. Then, if the countdown clock begins, the player still has a final, last-ditch opportunity to race through to the end of the level to stop the missiles from launching, but by that point the mission has all but failed.
Developed as a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer, 'CounterSpy' adds an interesting point-of-view element that seamlessly alters the player's perspective. When using any number of the clearly identified cover spots, the camera immediately shifts to an over-the-shoulder view, allowing for better aiming and shooting mechanics. Although this drastic change in perspective is initially jarring, it quickly becomes a nicely realized mechanic to what begins as an otherwise routine sidescroller.
While the objectives from one mission to the next are generally the same, there are numerous opportunities to search for and locate weapon blueprints and skill formulas that can be purchased and equipped for later levels. These upgrades help you to better prepare for the inevitable increase in difficulty the further along you progress, and are worth taking the time to find.
For such a small development studio, I was impressed with Dynamighty's ability to deliver an incredibly smooth playing experience. The controls are tight and responsive, and the automatic change in perspective when taking cover is a unique mechanic. However, with such a focus on stealth (albeit, not entirely forced), I was never confident in my abilities to sneak past armed guards or incapacitate them when the opportunity arose. This mostly speaks to inconsistent AI response. Some guards would wander the room with blinders on, while others would see me coming from a mile away, resulting in my playing much more offensively than what I feel the game was designed for. One shootout led to the next, and I often left a pile of bodies in my wake.
While a relatively short game – an initial play through can be completed in approximately 4 hours – 'CounterSpy' provides enough entertainment value to justify its reasonably low price. The quick, 10-15 minute, missions help to fill in the gap between longer play sessions of other games currently in rotation, and the setting touches on events in our history not often accounted for when developing a video game.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The art style of 'CounterSpy' jumps from the screen and is a nice break from some of the more 'realistic' visuals video game developers have been attempting to perfect over the years. It is vividly colorful, while often focusing on the dark and shadow aspects to help enforce the stealth mechanics of the game. When in-between missions, the graphic design of the loading screens did a wonderful job of representing a 1960's vibe. The minimalist visual approach to a world map - missiles launching in the background - further immersed the player into the setting.
I also appreciated the little details that may have otherwise gone unnoticed when compared to the more impressive art style. Flecks of dust and dirt, often associated with reel-to-reel footage, pepper the screen at the most appropriate moments. I couldn't help but feel I was in a dark basement, filled with cigarette smoke, memorizing the infiltration plans one last time before entering the mission.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Further enhancing the overall theme of the game is the soundtrack. Its execution builds upon the stealth and action-based mechanics of the game's foundation. With voice acting limited to an occasional mumble or grunt from the enemies you have dispatched, the soundtrack nicely fills in the gaps with a classic James Bond music style fans of the film franchise have come to know and love.
Developed to accommodate cross-buy and cross-save capabilities across Sony's three platforms – PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita – continuing and replaying the game has never been easier or more inviting. Adding the simple-to-navigate control scheme makes playing 'CounterSpy' on the smaller handheld a real treat. Additionally, procedurally-generated content allows for fresh gameplay experiences with each attempt to better the mission scores for both the player and PSN friends, as does a moderate amount of hidden content.
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when first starting 'CounterSpy', but the theme and tone of the game immediately struck a chord that stayed with me throughout the experience. The easy-to-understand controls ensured that I was able to navigate the game quickly, while the shorter gameplay sessions fit nicely into my schedule and allowed me to accomplish as many missions as I may have had time for. I came away impressed with Dynamighty's first game and look forward to future offerings this small, yet determined, team may have in store for the future.
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