WHILE IT BILLS itself as a stealth game, it rarely feels as if CounterSpy has been expressly designed with that fact in mind. Even when it doesn’t transform into an unsatisfying and awkward shooter as it does far too often there’s a sense of sloppiness about CounterSpy’s stealth mechanics and a lack of clarity about how enemies will respond to the player’s actions.

This is a game that at least has some interesting ideas, though. Using an irreverent Cold War-inspired setting as its basis, CounterSpy asks the player to choose where they’d like to undertake each mission in the Imperialist West or the Communist East. You have to weigh up a number of factors in making that decision.

Some missions will contain more of the intel that you’ll need to collect to unlock the game’s fi nal mission, others have more weapon parts for new guns, or formulas that provide you with perks that can be utilised in later missions. Then there’s the DEFCON rating for each faction. Being spotted by enemies and cameras can lead to the DEFCON level being raised, so you’ll have to monitor each faction’s DEFCON rating and, when appropriate, take on missions that contain offi cers, who
will lower the DEFCON level when forced to surrender. Being able to infl uence the course of your campaign in such a way, to decide what your priorities are, control the game’s pacing and make judgements about the level of risk you’re willing to accept adds a layer of strategy that, while perhaps a little superfi cial, genuinely enriches the experience of playing CounterSpy.

When it comes to undertaking your missions,you’re plonked into a 2.5D environment, pleasingly rendered in a cartoon style. The objective is to get from one end to the other whilst keeping the DEFCON level as low as possible (though if you want to make any real progress, you’ll have to explore the level to collect the aforementioned intel and upgrades to be found along the way). This will involve making use of familiar stealth tools in order to achieve your goal sneaking, silent takedowns, headshots and so on. It’s also periodically necessary to snap into cover, at which point the player’s perspective shifts onto another plane (hence 2.5D).

While it’s possible to take out a few enemies without being spotted in these ituations, they invariably turn into shooting galleries, which is unfortunate, given that describing them as such makes them sound far more exciting than they actually are.

These sections are perhaps necessary, though, to ensure that an experience that is fundamentally lacking in terms of depth compensates with variety. That same motivation is presumably behind CounterSpy’s protestation that its levels are randomly generated. It won’t take you long to realise that what that means, in this case, is sticking together the same series of rooms in a slightly different order. You’ll quickly recognise patterns that you’ve seen before and, in that sense, the variety offered by the game’s ‘random generation’ is something of a misnomer. The same can be said of the upgrades that can be collected throughout the game. There are one or two weapons and perks that change things up a little, but none shake up the game’s core mechanics in a way that’s truly surprising or innovative.

CounterSpy is a game with some notable weaknesses, then, but that doesn’t mean that it’s never fun. There are moments of enjoyment to be gleaned from swiftly taking out a group of enemies with minimal fuss, satisfaction to be gained from successfully stripping a level of all its secrets and some pleasing pondering to be undertaken as you choose how to approach the game’s campaign.

CounterSpy fails to elicit those positive reactions frequently enough, though. Consequently, it never manages to peek its head above mediocrity.