I miss the good old days of Cold War paranoia, eerily lifeless suburbanesque nuclear test towns, McCarthyism, and communist propaganda. The days when spies wore three-piece suits and practically sipped martinis while in firefights with each other. When every self-respecting villain had a hidden lair either in an active volcano on some deserted island or in an undersea cave with a submarine dry dock. The days of gadgets and wood paneling, of dames and evil henchmen.
In short, everything that was appealing about the spy movies of that era, anything similar to the first spate of James Bond films. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself incredibly interested in anything that lets me experience the overall feeling of that time – or at least of the way that film and television depicted it to be, a highly romanticized version of it. But that’s all right. So whether it’s games like (the admittedly subpar) XCOM Declassified, TV’s Manhattan, or going back into the aforementioned Bond films, even proxies like Archer and The Venture Bros. – anything to scratch that itch – I’ve been delighted at anything that has been able to scratch this particular itch just lately.
Enter Dynamighty’s side-scrolling stealth platformer, CounterSpy.
CounterSpy tasks you to take control of a seemingly neutral third power, situated on the outskirts of the Cold War between the United States and Russia, working for neither one side nor the other, but being an equal-opportunity infiltrator. Deployed by anonymous watchdog organization C.O.U.N.T.E.R., you must steal both American and Russian missile launch plans, codes, and generally anything related to the Space Race. At least you’re given a license to kill, so you’ll also break necks on both sides of the globe with equal gusto.
Luckily, you have an arsenal of top-secret armaments to outfit yourself with (once you’ve unlocked them by finding plans scattered throughout levels, then paid for them), as well as experimental formulas that grant specific bonuses to your stealth, speed, or other stats, though only for one mission at a time (again, each one must be unlocked by collecting plans during missions). So as you sneak your way through missile bases, military complexes, and office areas crawling with soldiers, the motto of the day is to remain undetected – or survive the ensuing firefight if you do get spotted.
Being spotted by a foe may cause him to radio headquarters about your presence, causing the DEFCON level – think of this as your “lives” – to get lowered by 1. In keeping with the Cold War theme, the DEFCON level is a countdown from 5 to 1, indicating how close your foes are to calling for all-out nuclear strike, resulting in a global extinction level event. Being spotted by enemy soldiers, getting caught on surveillance cameras, being shot to death – all cause the DEFCON level to count down by 1 each time, and opportunities to raise it back up again are precious few and far between.
So far, I’ve managed to run through the game a few times, as progress towards unlockable weapons and formulas is carried over, and levels are always randomized to keep things fresh, sorta. And of course there are multiple difficulty levels, though I’ve had a rough time at anything beyond the “Normal” setting so far. Honestly, while I’m still enjoying the overall ’60s spy-vibe permeating through the game, I have my doubts whether it still has any teeth after a few run-throughs – the mechanics are already getting a bit stale, and the randomized base layouts show predictable patterns alarmingly quick.
But for now, the party still continues. And for the price of free, that’s certainly praiseworthy. I just have a feeling I’ll be basking in the somber glow of lava lamps and psychedelic tie-dyed wall art long after the magic of CounterSpy has faded away.