This past year was my first time attending E3, the gargantuan gathering of gaming gluttony held in Los Angeles every June. And it’s overwhelming in all of the ways people tell you it is: everything is flashing, blaring, throbbing or on fire. If you’re a member of the press, you get an extra-special dose of that sensory overload, injected straight into your cortex.
But the game that stuck with me, among all the Call of Dutys and Destinys and Far Crys — hundred-million dollar games with entire pavilions erected to their glory – was a PlayStation Network game called Counterspy.
With a vibe that seamlessly blends Connery-era Bond and the retro-deco gloss of The Incredibles, Counterspy plays out in a world gripped by nuclear tension: Two countries (basically the US and the USSR) are poised to start World War III and it falls to an agent of C.O.U.N.T.E.R. to play both sides against the middle. Stealing launch plans, missile schematics, secret formulas – all to lower each nation’s respective DEFCON level and stop everyone from blowing everything up.
Essentially, Counterspy is a sidescroller. Every level is a left-to-right affair. The controller buttons let you interact with the environment, aim, shoot and dip into cover — which then clicks the game into a third person shooting-gallery. There are guards around every corner that need killing or eluding.
It’s a simple game — but it does everything right. The mechanics are smooth as silk. The design work is fantastic. There’s a sense of humor running through the game that’s both fatalistic in its obsession with Armageddon and nostalgic for a time when espionage was carried out with a brassy jazz score.
There are bigger games coming down the pike this fall, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that fulfills it’s mandate with such panache.