The Cold War goes hot in Sony’s CounterSpy.
I don’t normally play handheld games for more than an hour or so. Usually, they get repetitive after that point and lose their luster. I sat down to play CounterSpy briefly today while I exercised, and still have it loaded on my PS Vita as I write this. Preventing nuclear annihilation has never been this fun.
CounterSpy is kind of like Austin Powers, XCOM, Rocket Birds: Hard Boiled, Metal Gear Solid, and Archer all had a baby. Your mission, if you choose to accept it (which is pretty easy since it’s free with PlayStation Plus right now), is to prevent the U.S.S.R. and the United States from destroying the moon. It’s a nuclear space race as ridiculous as it sounds, and the humor prevades all the game’s subtle writing quirks.
Preventing nuclear annihilation has never been this fun.
At its core, CounterSpy is a light hearted response to 2009’s Shadow Complex. The game plays out primarily like a 2.5D platformer, with the ability to go into cover and take on a third-person shooter perspective. Despite both genres rarely meshing that well in the past, CounterSpy makes it feel natural. The camera shift in cover gives you just the right view to line up headshots. Even with the Vita’s twitchy sticks, it’s easy to aim.
The XCOM influence is clear from the get-go. You have to choose from different missions with varying rewards and difficulties, all while trying to keep either nation from reaching Defcon 1. Every time you die during a mission, the Defcon goes one step closer to launch, so getting out alive is generally more important than being a perfect ninja.
CounterSpy understands how to actually make choice and consequence matter.
Going loud can complicate things, but if you have the skills, you can clear entire rooms before an alarm goes off. If you can be the best stealth operative under C.O.U.N.T.E.R.’s command, you are certainly rewarded for it, but you can also clean up your mistakes with a snappy trigger finger.
The game emphasizes exploring its randomly generated levels, but how far you dig in will vary. I was able to clear the game in about seven hours, but a scoreboard system and various unlockables that carry over across playthroughs keep you coming back. There are also three different difficulty settings that change enemy compositions and level layouts. Different Defcons also change the current mission layouts and enemy types.
However, it’s also in this shortness that you may begin to find repetition.
For a single playthrough, there’s enough content that you won’t notice a ton of repeats, but by the time I started my second playthrough, my loadouts and the levels became more predictable. Still, there are surprising moments that keep things fresh, and it’s great for bite-sized play while on a car ride or waiting for Netflix to load.
Praise also needs to be given to the game’s art style and sound design.
Every music track sounds like classic James Bond, and the visual aesthetic makes it look like you are walking through a living propaganda poster. The extra bits of humor written into the background are hilarious, and I have to admit, even the skyboxes look good. It all ties together cohesively and fit the tone perfectly.
However, problems crop up once you load the game on your Playstation 3.
Whilst the Vita version takes a minimal hit to graphics quality, the console version of the game seems to be far buggier. Weirdly long load times, misbehaving AI, and more all cause a surprising amount of annoyance. Nothing truly breaks the game, but I don’t seem to remember the Vita version failing over three times to save my file to the cloud.
What it feels like, waiting for the game to properly save, error after error.
CounterSpy is the type of game the PS Vita has needed for years, but it came way too late into its life cycle. If you have the handheld, then without reservation, buy it and/or download it if you have Playstation Plus.
Note: I was not able to review the game’s tablet version, but in all honesty, this is not a game you should be playing on a tablet. This was clearly made with analog sticks in mind.
CounterSpy is available on PS3/PS Vita/PS4 for $14.99 via Crossbuy. It is also available on Google Play for $4.99.
(Disclaimer: This review was written based on impressions of a PS Vita/PS3 commercial copy. GameSkinny and its writers strive to generate genuine, unbiased, and honest reviews – regardless of how the review unit or product was acquired.)