It’s pretty easy to win me over with cel-shaded graphics. All the colors pop and the atmosphere feels full of whimsy even when you’re blowing the heads off Russian soldiers.
CounterSpy is a 2.5D side-scrolling stealth shooter that takes place during the Cold War. You play as a mercenary who’s hired to gather intelligence on Russia, so you travel through levels, shooting down soldiers, crawling through vents, and hacking computers for information. It’s a fun game that thrives off critics’ gut reactions because it’s great for a couple hours, but then it’s done, over, and you’re back at the app store with a whet appetite.
CounterSpy looks a lot like Pixar’s The Incredibles. Between the pops of color, character designs (the general shape of people), items, objects, explosions, and even the Russian soldiers’ gaits — specific, I know, but the influence is there. Because of that, the game is reminiscent of when Mr. Incredible breaks into the island compound after realizing he was set up.
This is by no means a slight, I think it adds to the experience — it’s simply worth noting. Plus, the humor in CounterSpy feels very ‘Incrediblian’ satirizing the media and even making light of murder. Additionally though, some of the most funny bits come from the gathered intelligence. Each piece of intelligence is a parody of the Cold War’s scares with titles like “How to tell a Communist by his facial twitches.” I mean I say parody because that’s the intent, but I understand that, in all likelihood, that could’ve been taught (see Men Who Stare at Goats).
There are two elements to the game: side-scrolling and stealth shooting. The stealth shooting plays a lot like a shooting gallery; once you’re ducked behind an object, you simply aim and shoot. And the side-scrolling platforming is adequate. You’re supposed to swipe to move and tap to stop, but more often than not, it’s swipe to move forward one square, then swipe again and again. The controls are not the best, but they’re not frustratingly bad because it’s a leisurely game. Even if you accidentally dive roll, into a guard, the game is very forgiving.
Game Design Problems: Length & Lack of Variation
The game is fun, make no mistake about it, but it’s not worth $5. The game lacks length and variety and falsely promises both. The covert agency that hires our protagonist mentions the importance of intelligence and foreshadows that they may need him to steal intelligence from his native land in the USA. The protagonist is wary about betraying his country, but not opposed. This leads the player (i.e. me) to believe that there are going to be more missions after Russia… but there are not.
Once you gather the intelligence for Russia, you’ve completed the iOS game.
The game’s length conflicts with one of its more innovative mechanics, randomized level design. In each level, there’s 5-7 rooms you need to go through and each of those 5-7 rooms are randomly generated, so (ideally) you never walk through the same compound twice. While that element would keep things fresh and be conducive to replayability, the game is too short for the randomness to matter. By the end, you walk through every possible floor plan.
Another slight against the game is the upgrades system. Throughout each mission there are hidden rooms that provide intel on various weapons and upgrades. The upgrades are items you can use once per level like “make your run silent,” or “reduce the effectiveness of cameras.” However, none of the upgrades change the way you play the game, they just make it easier for you. This reduces the game from being fun to being boring when you factor in the randomized levels.
See, I’ve come to the conclusion now that the randomness was the trade-off for a difficulty curve. Because each level is randomized, each level needed to be the same degree of difficulty. That way, no matter which level you start the game on, you’re able to succeed. The obvious problem is that, when you’re at the end of the game, it’s even easier than it was when you started.
CounterSpy is a fun game, but not good enough to replay. In doing my brief research for the game, I saw that it was released to consoles and there were numerous screenshots of locations outside of Russia. As I understand it, the iOS version must just be a piece of the whole pie… but even then it’s not enough to get me to purchase the console version because I imagine the weapons problem is still present.
As it’s Dynamighty’s premiere game, the iOS version is a good introduction to the company. I haven’t lost faith, if anything I’m more intrigued to see what else they come out with, but undoubtedly, I’ll be doing more research and the product will be under harsher scrutiny.
For more iOS reviews, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive