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CounterSpy Review: Sony’s iOS port a hit

Nostalgic Cold War spy caper with modern visuals pulls in a variety of influences to create a fun – and suspenseful drama

Fewer and fewer of us will remember exactly what the Cold War was like; as time moves on, so do the memories fade of those years between the Second World War and the end of the 1980s, despite some recurring tension over the years. However, what we do have are movies – whether laden with propaganda, tales of American heroes, or stylish British spy adventures in the form of James Bond – we retain a interpretation of what it was like behind the Iron Curtain through contemporary media.

And that’s what CounterSpy, Sony’s latest tip-toe in to the world of the mobile platform, is. An amalgamation of these visuals over the years, that eventually ends up somewhere between an accidental parody, and The Incredibles. But do you know what, it’s a hell of a thrill!

Deep behind the Iron Curtain

Hide behind a block and you're given more of a 3D view to shoot your enemies

Hide behind a block and you’re given more of a 3D view to shoot your enemies

CounterSpy is set in the 1960s, both vintage in its engrossing soundtrack, and modern in its fast-paced and explosive atmosphere, and features a budding spy for the C.O.U.N.T.E.R. agency, apparently aligned to neither the Soviet Union, or the US. Sent on a series of missions deep behind the Iron Curtain, it’s your responsibility to navigate through the five stages, picking up blueprints for new weaponry, top secret information, and most importantly, the nuclear rocket plans. There are five of these in each stage, and while you can progress through the missions, you can’t commence the final one until all five plans in each level have been procured.

Those Soviets sure were full on with their artwork

Those Soviets sure were full on with their artwork

CounterSpy is published by Sony as a cross-buy and cross-save title across Playstation 3, 4, and Vita – though of course, it’s perfectly suited to mobile platforms too, so has swiftly made its way to iOS.

A 2D platformer in essence, despite the somewhat lazy title, CounterSpy contains backdrops that really look like they a 3D level – it’s so well produced that you’re constantly swiping up to try and move into other areas of the landscape, which is hugely frustrating and a hard habit to get out of. It also seems to be at odds with the stealth-nature of the game. How can you possible stay out of sight in a side-scrolling platformer? Well, that’s the great part of CounterSpy, it keeps things simple, while simultaneously throwing in little gameplay nuggets to enhance playability. As you move across a level and face Soviet guards, little pillars, or blocks are scattered about, which allow you to crouch behind, and aim your weapon using a cross hair at the guards in a semi-3D view.

Make sure you shoot out the security cameras so they don't see you

Make sure you shoot out the security cameras so they don’t see you

In other places, it feels like a bit of a point and click adventure – particularly when the guards aren’t around and you’re looking for the rocket plans – but without the engaging puzzles. Many times you simply have to walk into a room and grab the medical kit, and it’s frustrating that you have to physically walk up to each item by swiping sideways a few times, rather than just double clicking on the item straight away. Oh, that’s right. We’re playing a platform game, and you have to swipe… no, sorry, double swipe to run – otherwise you just get a stealth tip-toe, which only draws out the tedious exercise of procuring a medical kit.

In fact, this is the only part where CounterSpy feels more designed for console play than that of mobile platforms. The controls can be demonic in their trickiness, though it might be the panic of gun fire that makes you draw a complete, shall we say, blank, and forget all controls.

Mixed reviews

No idea where the Egyptian art work came from, but this guy's dead

No idea where the Egyptian art work came from, but this guy’s dead

Having said that, the gun fights are where CounterSpy really comes into its own. The game itself has actually received mixed reviews across its various platforms, with some complaining about an inconsistent AI, or lagging frame rate. We have to say, we experienced none of this, and gameplay was smooth throughout. The gaps inbetween the action, when you have to find items, actually became welcome as we progressed.

It’s not an easy game though, despite the fact it’s only five stages, you’ll find yourself more often succumbing to the Defcon countdown. If you get spotted too many times and allow guards to use their radio, then the you’ll get down to Defcon 3, 2, 1, and eventually, you have a minute to reach the end of the level before rockets are launched and it’s a big game over. What makes this difficult is that the Defcon rating doesn’t reset at the end of the level – the only way to raise it again, is to find an officer – if you aim your gun at an officer, they surrender and the level goes up one, but these are few and far between.

Oh, and if that doesn’t make it hard enough, the levels are randomly generated so you can’t even learn your way around. Damn.

Sneaky sneaky

Sneaky sneaky

Overall, CounterSpy is a little wobbly on its feet on iOS, but delivers a good looking, highly engaging experience, even for mobile users. A very impressive entrant from Sony, which doesn’t short change the iOS user, and delivers something incredibly strong for the price.

Price: $4.99 / £2.99
Size: 206 MB
Version: 1.0.131
Platform: iOS Universal

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