I have often said that sometimes simplicity in game design is the most effective, and that is often true, particularly with the smaller, digital games and indie games. The more detailed, the more confusing and messy a game can become. That seems to be something the developers of Counterspy have taken to heart. They have created a game that has some complexity, but is mostly enjoyed due to its simple formula.
Counterspy is essentially a 2D stealth/action platformer in which you take control of a secret agent who needs to invade bases on both sides of an impending war which is going to result in the destruction of the moon. Your job is to infiltrate these bases and recover mission plans in order to stop the war before it happens. Because both sides of the war have the exact same idea on how to attack, and you are somewhere in the middle, you can move between infiltrating either side to discover the plans in order to stop the war from going on.
Once thrown into a level to retrieve these files you get to see how Counterspy separates itself from other platformers. The levels are made out of 5 to 10 areas where you will need to search for hidden documents, intel and of course those war plans. You will also find weapon upgrades and formula upgrades which I will get to a bit later. The gameplay is not overly unique and is split between the action where you take out enemies and platforming sections where you need to explore each section to find hidden areas and hidden items.
The action section is done a bit differently. For this you can stick in the standard 2D format and shoot enemies, but more effective is taking cover which will result in a change of view to a cover type system where you can shoot enemies in a more strategic method. Maintaining stealth is key so you will want to take out enemies silently if possible or at least without alerting nearby guards. Should you be seen one of the guards will raise the defcon level. If this level reaches the highest point you will need to race towards the end to retrieve the files and get the hell out of there.
That is not the ideal situation of course. What is meant to happen is that you do keep stealthy and unseen, and if seen take out the guard calling it in before the defcon level can be reached. If the level is raised you can also reduce it by finding and holding hostage certain officers on the base. This balance between the five different defcon levels is key to completing the game as the level will carry through to the next stage.
The combat is pretty solid throughout. There is not much to the hand-to-hand combat but it does look pretty slick. The shooting, especially in the cover system, is great fun and racking up combo kills for extra points has a good deal of fun about it. There are also some neat weapons to use such as standard handguns, silenced weapons, darts and more, each proving effective in their own right, but they do need to be unlocked.
I also mentioned formulas earlier which can be unlocked. By discovering these you can get certain advantages at the start of each level. These include things like taking less damage, being able to run and remain silent (as opposed to having to walk slowly when creeping up behind and enemy) and of course more formulas that can be used to change up the game.
Counterspy is an enjoyable outing but it doesn’t change up too much to keep all that fresh, and the main game can be finished in as little as 2 hours, possibly even less. You can replay if you want to and try different approaches and this is aided by the fact that the levels are randomly generated. This means that you will never play the same level twice. That sounds great, but in truth, no matter where things are moved around to, the game still feels exactly the same whenever you play it with little other than aesthetic differences. Sometimes it just moves around where you can find ammo cases or medical aid kits, and in some of the dumb randomly generated levels these appear right at the start before you could even possibly take damage.
Counterspy is a fun game, especially as its presentation is quite unique. You will get some replay value out of the ever changing levels but the fact that the game is over in such a short time is rather a let down. It’s still great while you are playing it and one of the more enjoyable stealth games due to its simplicity. The fact that it doesn’t offer a hell of a lot outside the main elements is a little bit disappointing, but the game itself is well worth a purchase if you are looking for something different to play in between your ‘main’ games.