There’s an old quote which everyone should know – “War is a racket”. Running the risk of sounding too overtly philosophical, this is exactly the sentiment that’s echoed throughout the game “Counterspy”. In essence you assume the role of a spy that is tasked (by some neutral organization) to sabotage the nuclear programs of two superpowers. Quite obviously this game is a take on cold war era politics between the US and Russia (which seems to be creeping up again these days), where the most logical choice (as portrayed by the title itself) is to subvert nuclear aggression and build up of arms in general.
There are a number of things which make this title interesting and worthwhile; this includes the stylish 2D gameplay as well as the artwork in general. Both elements combine to form a unique game that presents an alternate history with a certain character which ultimately ends up making both parties look a bit ridiculous or insane. In this sense, Counterspy has pretty large ambitions; it pays homage to the tropes of the cold war era (in terms of things like base design and propaganda) even as it tears them down.
Stealth is a critical element of Counterspy’s gameplay, where you navigate a series of rooms in classic “Metroidvania” style, offing enemies, gathering weapon blueprints and launch data. If one were to compare it to something out there which already exists, “Shadow Complex” certainly springs to mind. Don’t think for a second that the game forces you into Splinter Cell mode though, because you can in fact go in “guns blazing” should you choose to do so. Rather than plunging you into a large and ponderous campaign, the action is delivered in bite-sized segments, which many will find appealing, especially if they don’t have the time to sit down and enjoy lengthy play sessions.
Visually, Counterspy has a fairly unique look, a sort of cel-shaded animated veneer that seems like something you’d see in a much less serious game. In other words, you might load up the game thinking there would be loads of comedic elements only to find that this really isn’t the case. Of course, at the same time, the game is presented in sharp detail and treats the eyes to a nice mélange of scenarios and effects. Part of what makes this title so interesting of course, is the atmosphere (as well as the level design in general and the use of procedurally-generated areas). Some might find issue with the enemy A.I., where occasionally they react as expected and in other instances they might exhibit near omniscience for spotting your location.
Any way you want to look at it, Counterspy is great platforming fun delivered by way of side-scrolling stealth action. For most people the selling point will probably be the way the game looks. All in all, the game’s style and art direction along with its deep gameplay make it into something that lots of different types of gamers will be able to immediately enjoy.