It’s fairly rare that an action-oriented game gets Stuff’s App of the Week thumbs up, but this side-scroller from Sony’s PlayStation Mobile division has wormed it way firmly into our affections.
Set at the height of the Cold War, it casts you as a new recruit for C.O.U.N.T.E.R., an espionage agency allied neither with the Soviets nor the West. Your task? To sneak into enemy facilities and pilfer launch codes, all the while avoiding or eliminating guards and other security measures.
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Each level consists of a number of rooms, and each of these is procedurally generated, ensuring you’ll experience a different array of guards, cameras, loot caches and secret passages every time you replay. As you progress through the game, your pickups unlock new weapons and capabilities which can then be purchased using money (in-game money, not actual real-life money – CounterSpy is a premium game and happily shies away from an in-app purchase model), thus improving your chances of beating the next level.
The gameplay is a potent mix of stealth and action. Some screens are light on guards and can be passed without the need to pull out your gun, while others become a full-on leadfest as you attempt to mow down several enemies while avoiding their bullets, grenades and rockets. The occasional handily-placed explosive canister helps clear dug-in soldiers quickly.
Fresh to Defcon
Get spotted by cameras, leave alerted guards alive or allow them to radio for help and the Defcon level rises. If it hits Defcon 1, you’ll only have one minute to finish the level before it’s game over and time to try again. Another way to fail? Get shot to death or blown up, natch.
Feverish action games rarely fare well on mobile, where a touchscreen’s lack of twitchy accuracy can be a real cause for frustration, but thankfully CounterSpy’s pace falls on the right side of sedate – just.
Swipes and double-taps form the bulk of the controls, and the only sections where you might find the touchscreen’s lack of precision a burden are the sections where your spy dips into cover and then pops out to shoot enemies. Here, the perspective shifts slightly, and you hold one finger to drag your aim around and tap another anywhere on screen to fire. At times, your finger gets to the edge of the screen before you’ve pulled your weapon’s laser sight to where you need it to be. A tad irritating, but not a deal-breaker, and we reckon the game's trickiness is well balanced – each level presents a significant challenge, but you'll usually be blaming yourself for failure, rather than the control setup.
It’s a well-presented game, too. The cartoonish art style owes a lot to Valve’s Team Fortress 2, but works well in the context, and it’s backed up by evocative jazz music and loading screens bearing interesting nuggets of Cold War trivia.
We’ve been playing CounterSpy on a Nexus 4 smartphone and Nexus 7 tablet and have found both devices, while not what you’d call cutting edge in terms of power, handled the 3D graphics more than adequately – there’s nary a stutter in the animation or scrolling. We suspect, however, that older devices might struggle to render the scenes without protest.
While many people refuse to pay for mobile games these days, CounterSpy represents excellent value for money: for less than the price of a pint of beer, you've got a stylish, enjoyable mix of action and sneaking that changes every time you play. Go get it.