CounterSpy: A stylized approach to “Cold War” stealth

August 25, 2014


Stealth games have gone through somewhat of a renaissance as of late, augmenting traditionally rigid mechanics you associate with the genre for something more forgiving. This is a way to introduce the genre to new players without alienating the veterans, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. CounterSpy continues this new traditional in style, with randomly generated side-scrolling levels and a focus on maintaining the balance between pure stealth and action.

The premise is simple: fake United States and fake Soviet Russia are racing to blow up the moon, and a secret agency in the middle, known as C.O.U.N.T.E.R., is on the case to prevent it. Why do they want to blow up the moon? What does C.O.U.N.T.E.R. gain from getting the middle of these two superpowers? None of these questions are answered. It’s simply an excuse to get you into the action as quickly as possible.


As you begin, you can pick a mission from either side of the conflict and are tasked with infiltrating a base to steal launch plans. Each nation has a DEFCON level, and the more you’re spotted, the higher it goes, raising the stakes for that particular set of missions. This forces you to jump between the two to keep them as balanced as possible. If one side’s DEFCON level gets too high, focus on the other. Outside of aesthetic differences, both sides are nearly identical, but allowing you to jump between the two to avoid failing completely is a nice way to balance the increased difficulty.

The crux of the experience is simply getting into a level and collecting as much as you can before completing it, getting seen as little as possible along the way. The stealth mechanics, while relatively simple, are solid enough to allow you to do all of the basics. You can take cover, knock someone out from behind or even sneak past them altogether to avoid an encounter. It doesn’t do anything crazy, yet its simplicity is almost its greatest strength, making it less about a laundry list of mechanics and more about pure moment-to-moment stealth-action.


You will inevitably get into a few gunfights here and there; thankfully, the shooting is responsive and incredibly satisfying. Once you unlock a silenced pistol, you’ll find yourself taking out enemies even if you don’t have to simply because it’s so fun. Your character can’t handle taking too many bullets, so the later shootouts will get tough, but if you’re well-prepared, you can handle most situations without much trouble.

CounterSpy manages to balance both stealth and action excellently. It may favor stealth, as the ever-present DEFCON meter will prevent you from running into areas guns-blazing, but like any good modern stealth game, you won’t feel like you need to start over whenever spotted by an enemy. As a bonus, the wide array of weapons you can unlock might make certain encounters more enjoyable as a result. It knows when to let the player have some fun, despite how tightly focused it is otherwise.

The missions themselves are randomly generated, so you’ll never run into the same scenario twice (supposedly). This is a neat way to keep things from getting stale, but the differences between levels aren’t significant enough to matter. You’ll still run into very similar rooms with very similar enemy placement and very similar locations of intel or other secrets, leaving you wondering how much the “random” elements are covering up the obvious lack of variety. In most situations this might be a huge disappointment, and truthfully it is, but CounterSpy’s length isn’t long enough to make it too apparent. It’s a game that knows not to overstay its welcome.


If you’re looking for a stealth game on par with recent indie efforts like Mark of the Ninja, CounterSpy might disappoint. It doesn’t do much new and what it does do is relatively simplistic. What CounterSpy does offer is a tight, refreshing and sometimes challenging experience that will satisfy those hungry for more stealth-action in their gaming diet.

Pros: Satisfying stealth and gunplay, nice variety of weapons
Cons: Repetitive levels despite random generation

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.