Tuesday, August 26, 2014

REVIEW - CounterSpy.

CounterSpy is a fine example of a game which prizes style over substance.  It's lovely.  It has an excellent 70s spy-groove soundtrack, bold, beautiful, poppy art direction from ex-Pixar artist Mark Holmes.  Its menus are stylish, beautiful, minimalist retro menus.  Its cutscenes are all silhouettes and horn-heavy jazz.

It's lovely - it's just not much fun.

It's a game that's far more about the tactics of what you're about to do than actually doing those things.  Good planning wins the day, here, as the game seems intentionally designed to limit the agency and power of its stylish hero when it comes to actual movement and combat.   The titular spy is only quick when it comes to snapping in to cover (note the two walls with arrows in the image above - those are the two cover points in this room), and just a bit too sluggish at everything else.

Shooting and its single-button-press fisticuffs never feel particularly satisfying - even with some pretty great headshot animations - both because there is no real player skill involved in the former and the controls of the latter never comfortably click.

There are intelligent choices, regularly made, on the part of Dynamighty.  When in cover, you can sweep your aim over the room before you in the form of a very large circular reticle, giving you an approximation of where your weapon will be aiming when you tap L1 to aim and sweep out to take your shot.  Enemies that are alerted to your presence but unseen - or close enough to hear an un-silenced gunshot - appear as icons at the edge of your screen.  Clever!

There are intelligent choices made, here.  But they don't equate to a game that's particularly fun - they just permit a game that's a bit boring to be very manageable.

Yes, tragically.  Boring.  CounterSpy features randomized levels - it's designed for infinite replayability - but after a single playthrough on its normal difficulty, you'll have seen and experienced everything the game is capable of throwing at you.  You'll have more weapons and purchaseable powerups to unlock, but beyond that, the game has blown its wad.  Subsequent playthroughs on its harder and hardest difficulty reveal no greater pleasures or surprises.

It's paper-thin.

That would be forgiveable if the act of silently sweeping through its military bases were as slick, sleek and snazzy as its presentation, but it quickly grows stale, and is thrown into stark relief when one suggests that fellow stylish stealth indie Mark of the Ninja exists, and manages to be infinitely more fun with a simple, linear campaign, gloriously expressive movement and customizable character skills.

CounterSpy is a fine first try for developer Dynamighty, but it's nothing you should spend money on outside of a very low sale price.  It's a six-out-of-ten game with nine-out-of-ten presentation.

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