In recent years the Cold War has been quite romanticized in all types of pop culture— From literature to film to video games. New gaming studio Dynamighty tackles the modern birth of espionage, intrigue, and warring nuclear states in their first title, Counterspy. Counterspy is a fun, quick-paced side scroller that draws players in quick by promoting bite-sized gameplay and a high replay value.
Founded by David Nottingham and John Elliot (both veterans of LucasArts), Dynamighty began modestly but grew to include Mark Holmes and Mark Erman. With the inclusion of Holmes, Counterspy took a very specific aesthetic, due to his long-standing career with Pixar, working on such projects as The Incredibles, Monster Inc., and Wall-E.
Art Direction & Gameplay
The art direction in Counterspy is absolutely superb. The procedurally generated stages, character models, and gameplay are all light and colorful adding to the romanticized version of the Cold War era setting. Instead of depicting a dark and gritty, war torn nation or the washed uniformity of a military base, Dynamighty strove to tackle a difficult subject with a new perspective while remaining reverent. This same principle was applied to the gameplay.
The player is thrust into a procedurally generated level that takes approximately ten to twenty minutes to complete. Taking a more traditional stance, navigation is done via side scroll, which harkens back to older games and simultaneously an older subject matter. However, when players come across enemies they can quickly snap to cover, which then places the camera behind the character giving him a 3D perspective in order to plan out his (hopefully) silent attack.
The AI can unfortunately be a bit wonky. Sometimes they behave accordingly and rigidly to form, so judging distance, sight, and speed are relatively consistent. At other times, the AI will notice you as soon as you walk into a room or by something that happened several rooms away, which makes it arduous to judge and play the situation out stealthily. More focus on the enemy coding as well perhaps ‘a cone of vision’ type aspect would have been helpful. This results in some frustrations, but it doesn’t ruin the overall game.
The object of the game is to finish the level without alerting the guards (which will raise your overall DEFCON level affecting future levels), whilst scrounging the area for money, war plans, formulas, and weapon schematics. The levels are fun but short-lived. There is a wide range of customizing that can be accomplished between levels and overall the campaign can be completed in less than two hours. The replay value is high, though; all unlocks and upgrades carryover to a newer, more-difficult setting and in order to unlock and use everything a good three (or four) play throughs are necessary.
Interestingly enough, the game doesn’t pit the player as either the US or the USSR (and neither does it label them as such), it instead places the protagonist as a neutral party, Counter, and has him complete mission in the Imperialist or Socialist homeland. It is a great tack to take. It aids in the romanticized version of the Cold War, but it also removes the inclination that either side was really right or wrong— It was a tense time fought in the shadows and behind curtains of money and power. Dynamighty manages to hit this complex notion straight on by crafting a colorful, amusing game that’ll have any James Bond playing through over-and-over again.