CountersPy Part-Metal Gear, part-XCOM, part-successful

Good intentions and clever planning only win you half the battle. None of that means anything if you can’t deliver the goods on the day. An agent for a neutral, third-party spying collective caught in the middle of a thinly-veiled Cold War parody, your task is to infiltrate the bases of the US and USSR in order to stop either side from nuking the moon. Because nukes are bad and the moon is awesome.

Each 2.5D, randomly-generated stage contains up to four of the 20 pieces of the intel required to interrupt Armageddon, so depending on which missions you tackle (you always have a choice of one from each nation), you could ‘finish’  Counterspy in a few hours or a couple of days.

But there’s more going on here than creeping and killing. In an XCOM-like twist, there’s a strategic meta-game between levels. The reason you have a choice of missions is that the real enemy is not the simplistic enemy AI, but the respective DEFCON ratings of the two nations raised when you wander into the gaze of a security camera or fail to quickly kill a guard who radios for help. If either country reaches

maximum panic, it’s all over. With DEFCONs remaining persistent between levels, mistakes can rapidly snowball into unassailable nightmares. And with unlockable weapons and buffs staying persistent between games, Counterspy is clearly intended for multiple, iterative playthroughs.

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That’s the clever, well intentioned plan, anyway. But, just as the best map screen strategising can go resolutely sideways once you hit the missions proper, so too does Counterspy’s grand, tactical design often find itself hampered by a distinct lack of action-based polish.

Built around light, compulsive, side-scrolling sneaking, it encourages a high body count. Quiet headshots and chokeholds are the order of the day, with plenty of options to go loud if it all goes wrong. There’s a nice degree of exploration too, with optional floors and hidden vents filled with lots of bonus booty.

The trouble is, when things do go wrong, it’s too often caused by the game’s scattershot execution. While the AI is quite basic, it’s also twitchy and unpredictable in its detection skills. Clipping errors sometimes drop (or hurl) quietly-created corpses into other parts of a room, causing instant alerts.

When the above results in a DEFCON call-in from part of the stage that you can’t even see, let alone reach in time, the fallout is infuriating. Couple that with some illogically difficult opposition on higher settings (when a guard takes five headshots before going down, stealth is simply impossible), and the repeat plays Counterspy is  obviously intended for aren’t something it’s really built for.

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