Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Counterspy (PS Vita)

CounterSpy is a side-scrolling stealth/action game available for Android, iOS, and Playstation (PS3, Vita, and PS4). I'm reviewing the PS Vita version, but I don't expect the Android version to be much different, and the PS4 version was pretty much identical.

The game consists of sneaking through a military base, pilfering secrets from safes, killing or avoiding enemies and security cameras, and finally recovering ammunition or health from various cabinets. The controls are pretty basics, and the initial tutorial does a great job of covering all the basics and then letting you go wild.

The story is ignorable and tongue in cheek, giving you nothing except an excuse to pilfer bases from both American and Soviet sites. What's interesting to me is that the game gives each side an alert level (called DEFCON) that persists from one level to another, ensuring that if you screw up on one side, then your next visit to that side will be much harder and more prone to failure. The game does give you ways of lowering DEFCON, either by threatening officers (which can only be done after you've killed every other soldier around them) or by paying.

There are also weapon upgrades that can be found, which lets you turn the game from being a stealth game into a shooter. The game's not great as a shooter, with basically duck and roll being the only options other than the joystick controls, but it's serviceable and still fun. Once the shooting starts, however, you usually have a limited time to kill everyone off before someone gets on the radio and calls for help, raising the DEFCON level and making life hard. One nitpick here is that on a level with multiple locations, sometimes someone standing at a different location will get on the radio and then you won't have time to stop them before the DEFCON goes up because the travel time is too long. This is a nitpick because as long as you pick off everyone quietly it shouldn't happen.

This is all great until you get to the final level, where you're required to stealth into the base of the highest DEFCON side you've got. Well, that means you have to do more missions to attempt to lower the DEFCON before attempting the final, tough mission. Fortunately for me, I triggered some bug trying to do so which gave me the lowest DEFCON side instead for my final mission, and successfully beat the game without much trouble.

The game provides network play by telling you about other rival spies (users) with the same amount of score. If you beat that rival's spies' score, you get to loot their body, which gets placed somewhere randomly on the next mission.

All in all, the game was fun. On the technical side, my biggest complaint is that the loading times for levels are too long (each level is randomly generated, so my guess is that their generation algorithm is single threaded) on my PS Vita, though the PS 4 version wasn't much faster. The game ended up staying on my PS Vita for a long time because in many ways it's the ideal mobile game: each level takes just a few minutes to play through, and there's not a ton of context carried over level to level so you're never lost. Since the Android version is $5 (I got the game as part of this month's Playstation Plus subscription) and has no micro-transactions (what a concept!), it definitely deserves your attention.

Recommended.

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