Since 1962, nearly every spy movie, book, game, and comic has been influenced by the James Bond movies. And often for the better. Just consider CounterSpy, a smart, stylish, and ultimately supremely fun side-scrolling shooter for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita that’s like an interactive version of a Bond movie’s opening credits.
Made by a new studio called Dynamighty, and published by Sony, CounterSpy casts you as an agent of C.O.U.N.T.E.R. named, uh, Agent. When a Cold War between The Imperialist States and The Socialist Republic heats up, it’s up to you to infiltrate their secret bases and steal their secret plans so you can cool down this conflict before either side can blow up the moon. Which is totally something a villain in a James Bond movie would do.
From the start of CounterSpy, it’s clear that the good people at Dynamighty are very familiar with Bond’s cinematic adventures, especially those from the ’60s and ’70s. Not only do the visuals recall the angular style of the movies’ logos, posters, and title sequences, but the swingin’ jazzy music also recalls those films. Heck, even when you shoot a gas can, it explodes and take out nearby enemies in totally cinematic slo-mo way.
Though it’s obvious that CounterSpy is also influenced by parodies of spies, such as the Austin Powers movies, the ’60s show Get Smart, or the original 1967 version of Casino Royale that has Woody Allen playing James Bond’s nephew, Jimmy. Not only will you notice signs that say “No Spies,” but, well, I won’t spoil any more than that. Just pay attention when the boss is talking.
As James Bond-ish as CounterSpy may be, it’s equally as inspired by such modern day side-scrollers as Shadow Complex and Strider, as well as such stealth action games as the Metal Gear Solid series and early Splinter Cell installments (which is why you need not be a Bond fan to enjoy this, though you’ll enjoy it more if you are). Not only do you sneak up behind people, and shoot out surveillance cameras like someone who owns stock in ADT Home Security, but you can also use your gun to force officers to surrender, which not only gives you more points, but it lowers the alert level as well.
CounterSpy also has more depth than you might expect. Sure, you can find new ammo, medical supplies, even blueprints for new guns if you search cabinets. But you can also find formulas that will upgrade your health and some skills. It also helps that the levels, which are randomly generated, are often intricate and varied. Sure, you’re (almost) always going left to run, but it’s never a straight shot. Especially if you’re smart since, in classic arcade fashion, there’s plenty of secret stuff in to be found.
The same can be said for when you use cover in CounterSpy. Not only can you dive into cover, or out of cover, or from cover to cover, but you can even do takedowns when you’re in cover.
What unique about CounterSpy is that it adds a challenge if you don’t neutralize guards quickly. If you don’t take them out quickly once they’ve spotted you, they will alert central command, who will raise the alarm in the base. And if it’s raised too much, the enemies will start a launch sequence for the missiles, and the only way to stop them is to get to the end of the level before the countdown gets to zero. Which, of course, puts absolutely no pressure on you whatsoever.
The thing, it’s in shooting those guard quickly that CounterSpy runs into problems. While you can just pull out your gun and shoot someone, most of the gunfights happen while you’re in cover. The problem being that you aim with the right thumbstick, which can be somewhat sensitive. Which isn’t to say that the targeting in CounterSpy is bad, just that it takes a little time to get used to.
What kind of helps — and by “helps” I mean helps your spy guy but makes this game flawed — is that, at times, the enemies in CounterSpy aren’t the most competent. While they’re situationally aware, and will be on their guard when they hear an explosion or gunshot, they never move from the assigned areas. As a result, you can kill a guy without worrying that someone on a gangplank above will climb down a ladder to investigate.
There was also an incident where a guard shot a container of gas, killing himself and his coworker, but this seemed to be more of a workplace accident than gross incompetence. Regardless, OSHA are investigating.
Then, oddly, there’s times when CounterSpy runs counter that what we’ve seen in spy movies, books, games, and comics. First off, Agent isn’t issued a silenced pistol right away, he has to find the plans for one, and then buy it from the C.O.U.N.T.E.R. store. And while any guns you buy are yours to use whenever you like, you oddly have to buy ammo before each mission. Similarly, once you’ve found one of the aforementioned health or skill upgrading formulas, you have to buy then anew before each mission. Which is totally not what you’d have to deal with as an agent of MI-6. Or S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Or S.M.E.R.S.H. Or even K.A.O.S.
The thing is, while CounterSpy may have problems, none are all that problematic. It’s easy enough to get used to the shooting controls, and to compensate for the shortcomings in the cover mechanics. And you usually have enough money for ammo and a health boost. But they are worth mentioning, if only so you know they’re coming. Though I do hope someone at Dynamighty remembers to fix them when they make The CounterSpy Who Loved Me, Tinker Tailor Soldier CounterSpy,or whatever they call the sequel. Because even with these problems, CounterSpy is such an engrossing and immensely fun game that even Doctor Julius No M.D. would get a kick out of it.