I’m not good at stealth in real life – while I can walk fairly quietly, I’m far too clumsy to be able to be any good at creeping around. This is why I’m thankful for the stealth genre that lets me skulk through the night (or sometimes day), murdering people and stealing things in perfect silence. Both Payday 2 and Metal Gear Solid V have been decent in that regard, and I stumbled upon Counterspy in the PS+ games last month, so I figured I’d give it a try.
It’s an interesting game, basically a side scrolling platformer, but with nifty 3D aspects that let you see further into stages, making levels seem super deep. You’re also able to crouch down next to blocks that let you see the world in a proper 3D way, which gives you the opportunity to take proper aim at the guards that populate the various levels. While it’s not a ground breaking idea, it’s been very well executed and offers an excellent perspective into each level. The overall aim of the game is to sneak your way into military bases and nick as much intel as you can, hidden in computers or filing cabinets, while trying to keep the DEFCON level as low as possible. You’re tasked with grabbing this data from both the imperialists and the socialists, who plan on building and sending nukes to hit the moon.
It may seem fairly straight forward, but one tiny slip up can really screw you over, as the DEFCON level persists between levels, so if you raise it too frequently, every mission suddenly becomes a lot harder. You’re able to switch between the two rival nations, and both count equally towards your goal, so if you do make one nation slightly too uneasy, you can always switch over to the other for a bit. This feature is decent, and it’s made all the better by certain guards – or officers – that are scattered around levels, who, if you threaten them by pointing a gun at them, will surrender and lower the DEFCON level to give you a little more breathing space.
The levels are all procedurally generated too, so while you may think you can just get to grips with a level and repeat it if you screw up, you’re sorely mistaken. Each level consists of a number of different sections, which are randomly selected, but are all individual chambers that are really well designed to maximise both your ability to sneak your way through a level, and to challenge you at the same time. The number of enemies you face, as well as the number of items you can pick up are also randomly generated, so even though you may be familiar with a certain room, that can all change with a few extra unfriendly faces dotted around, or a few security cameras blocking the way to an unlocked filing cabinet.
I do think that the way they’ve done the procedural generation is cracking, and I am a big fan of it, but there is one thing that really lets it down – the loading times. I’ve actually clicked on the “Start Level” button, and then watched my Vita slowly time out while the level generates itself. It’s incredibly hard to keep in the zone for the game if you’re constantly waiting to get into it, and while they do give you a few funny hints on the screen, it’s still excruciating waiting for the level to load.
There is also little consideration given to the performance of the game when generating levels. If you make some heinous error and you end up with sixty seconds to reach the end of the level and prevent total global annihilation, you’ll need to run through levels lickity split to do it, ignoring all who are in your way. This is fine, and generally, works well, but, in the extremely long loading time, nothing seems to be in place to prevent too many soldiers getting loaded in. What this means, is that as you sprint through the level, leaping over as many obstacles that are in your way, you’ll be hit by some terrible lag and frame rate drops, and that is never a fun thing to experience.
The last thing that irked me about this game isn’t something that really is an issue – but the depth of each of the different chambers are so enticing, yet you’re unable to explore them. They’ve crafted some intricate and intriguing sections that look ripe for exploring, but you’re only able to move left or right. It’s seriously disappointing when you think you should be able to just saunter down an open corridor to realise that your character isn’t actually able to proceed that way. I know this is how the game is designed, but still, I’d have loved to be able to wander around a bit more freely.
Counterspy is good, and what it does, it does decently. It just isn’t a great game. I’d pick it up and play it, but by the time it loads a level up, I’ve normally forgotten I’ve even got the Vita on and I’ve turned to my phone or DS to play something else. It’s a shame because in general, the game is pretty decent. It has a good concept and is generally executed well, but having to wait so long before being able to play it makes it a really middling title. Considering it was free, I can’t complain, but I probably would complain had I bought it properly.