|Release: August 19, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Violence|
by Becky Cunningham
Ah, the Cold War. That era of propaganda and posturing between the Eastern and Western worlds, backed up by gigantic nuclear arsenals that nobody actually wanted to use, overshadowed much of the last century. With aggressions simmering between Russia and the United States once again, it's a great time for a game to come along and cheekily remind us of the absurdity behind Arms Race thinking. Indie developer Dynamighty's CounterSpy does exactly that, while also providing an interesting take on side-scrolling Metroidvania gameplay.
CounterSpy doesn't take sides in the Cold War—that would be contrary to its point. You'll be part of the rogue spy organization C.O.U.N.T.E.R. that is beholden to neither the Imperialists (the USA stand-ins) or the Socialists (the USSR). Your goal is to infiltrate bases on both sides and steal intelligence before either is able to explode missiles on the moon, causing Armageddon. Causing too much of a ruckus raises the DEFCON level of the nation you're currently infiltrating, so you'll need to be smart and sneaky to complete your mission before anybody hits DEFCON zero and launches those missiles.
It's easy to get into a Cold War mood with CounterSpy's pitch-perfect presentation. Its world looks like it was pulled directly out of old Soviet propaganda posters, all angular art and grainy coloring. The soundtrack is a touch classic Bond, a bit Pink Panther, and all perfect for your espionage activities. Both bases are covered in posters that poke fun of their respective sides, although you'll need to read Cyrillic characters to understand the Socialist jokes (what I could make out with my rusty Russian was the expected messages extolling hard work and the occasional vodka gag). It's a very unique style that makes the game world interesting to explore and absolutely nails the mood of the era.
Sneaking around in CounterSpy's military bunkers is great fun. Gameplay alternates between a standard side-scrolling view while exploring and an over-the-shoulder view when you duck behind cover to aim at foes. Your goal is to loot as much intelligence as you can in each 10-15 minute level while leaving behind no witnesses to your activities. To do so, you'll have to carefully scope out corridors, discover secret passages, avoid or take out guards as silently as possible, and make sure nobody is around to hear when you blow up safes or pull the plug on computers. If you leave a room with an alerted guard, die, or let a guard call in about your presence, you'll raise the DEFCON level. At DEFCON 0, a missile launch countdown begins, and you'll need to get to the countdown computer at the end of the level and shut it down. It's best if you can avoid that race and reach the computer with the lowest DEFCON level you can manage.
Tackling CounterSpy's levels requires an extensive spy arsenal. You'll start out with a basic pistol, but you can find weapon plans and formulas in the bases that greatly expand your options, as long as you've collected enough money to pay for them. I found the silenced pistol to be the most useful, but more heavy-duty weapons are good for hectic firefights. Formulas are per-level buffs that you can purchase to be stealthier, sturdier, or otherwise help you navigate safely through the levels. They're balanced by their cost and by only allowing you to choose three at a time. You'll need better gadgets and formulas as your enemies adapt to you, wearing bulletproof helmets so you can't get headshots and putting bulletproof armor on their security cameras.