REVIEW: CounterSpy (Vita)

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It’s a plot worthy of a James Bond parody in MAD Magazine: the 1960s super powers of Russia and America are locked in a deadly race to blow up the moon. Their only opposition is a shadow agency loyal to neither side, C.O.U.N.T.E.R., which is apparently the only pan-global entity concerned about the ramifications of dropping the moon out of the sky. As a C.O.U.N.T.E.R. agent, your mission is to infiltrate both sides of the Cold War and shut down the missiles before they launch.

“CounterSpy” lets you ride a middle ground in a tense era, refusing to present either side as morally superior. In fact, the larger point is that both countries are just as warlike and oppressive, marked with differences that are superficial at best. Compared to a history of North American entertainment media that always presents Cold War Russia as the bad guy, “CounterSpy”’s take is refreshingly direct and honest.

Infiltration missions are identical, no matter which half you decide to tackle. Both sides operate underground caverns of missile silos, military bunkers and research facilities, and all of them are easily accessible via air ducts. From a flattened, almost-two-dimensional viewpoint, your lanky spy sneaks through hallways and control rooms seeking out hidden information that can stop the missiles. One of the game’s tricks is that you switch to a dramatically different camera angle when hiding behind cover, allowing you more control in picking off targets.

As you progress, you unlock new weapons and upgrades, letting you tweak your style towards machine guns or tranquilizer pistols. Your new gear is purchased with funds gained by stealing top secret intel, driving home the point that no side is purely a saint in this fictional spy story.

Stealth is rewarded in “CounterSpy,” as the game can get intensely difficult if you trip the alarm too many times. Represented by the classic “DEFCON” level, when the alarm reaches the maximum, the missiles launch and your game is over. Unfortunately, “CounterSpy” drops a confusing “do you want to continue” message at that point, where answering “no” means you start the entire game over, not just the current mission. That’s a major instructional flub.

The game’s biggest hook is that each mission level is randomly generated from a maze of stock room types. This means you’re not memorizing maps and enemy placement, you’re learning how to respond to various situations. This unpredictability keeps each mission fresh and adds a wonderful amount of replay value.

All of this smart-yet-simple gameplay is wrapped inside a 1960s design aesthetic that absolutely nails it. From the colors to the font work to the propaganda posters, “CounterSpy” is a polished take on the Cold War, as filtered through our most romantic memories of a dangerous era.

This review is based on product supplied by the publisher. “CounterSpy” is available for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. Image courtesy Dynamighty.