Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"Waiting on Destiny..." pt. 2 - CounterSpy

Our Destiny is close...

Many have been counting the days, and we're down to four... and a bit. And as you can read or have read in Part 1 of this two-parter mini-series, with the impending arrival of something much anticipated, I always have that Jones for something, anything, to play, but am reluctant to invest too much in a bigger game. 

In Part 1, I subtly recommended Trials Fusion to pass the time (besides doing something really worthwhile with your life, but who DOES that anyway?) until Destiny arrives on Tuesday.

Today, here's another little Gem to ease your minds and itch those fingers, a Playstation Exclusive, Indie Cold-War Stealth-Action game named: 


The first thing you will notice, is the art - because calling it an "art-style" would simply not do it justice. It's something between Spy vs. Spy and Cold-War Comic Books, and it's just stunning, both in its execution and its inherent, tongue-in-cheek character.

Granted, the Cold War was not necessarily a "funny" time - although in hind sight, the enormity of this most boastful of conflicts could seem a bit ridiculous. It's no coincidence that the biggest single thing that stopped the two nuclear superpowers from annihilating each other (and the world) was called "MAD": Mutually Assured Destruction. Gotta love those acronyms, you really do...

CounterSpy's Setup is not too historical. CounterSpy is meant to be fun, and does not take itself too seriously - but in its setup, it already makes a fair bit of a statement. 

As an agent of C.O.U.N.T.E.R., you work against BOTH superpowers, the Imperialist Aggressors and the Socialist Aggressors, who plan to launch a nuclear strike at the Moon (You know, where that Wizard came from...). It's quite refreshing to have you NOT fight the "Red Menace" for a change - or at least, not exclusively. 

Being with COUNTER, you are tasked with infiltrating Military Bases on both sides and recover secret plans to stop the impending doom of mankind. Because if the Moon goes "Boom"... yes, you get it: Doom. Helping you in that endeavor is, once you've unlocked the respective blueprints found on missions, a healthy mix of Weapons (Stealthy and Not-so-Stealthy), Boost-Formulas you can buy for one mission, and the most deadly weapon of all! No, it's not that Barbara-Streisand-Mech from Southpark, and Michael Bolton has nothing to do with it. It's your MIND!

At it's heart, CounterSpy is a 2D Stealth-Action Game, but it comes with a 3D twist: Once you get into specific Cover, things turn 3D, and previously unreachable enemies become members of an animated shooting gallery. Don't let yourself be fooled, though, this does not turn CounterSpy into a 3D Third-Person-Shooter. It's more of a "Puzzler", in that aspect. 
Since you cannot change the camera when in cover, and enemies you can't see or shoot can most definitely can and will shoot you, each encounter has to be approached with a bit more tactic than you might think, choosing when and where to go into cover, or use the wider, yet flatter, view of two dimensions. 

Here you will also encounter what might be perceived as one of the game's short-comings, but most of that stems from what we, the players, are used to expect when "going into cover". CounterSpy simply is not, and once you understand its quite unique boundaries, you'll have a lot of fun experimenting. 

Stealth is recommended (tip from the Devs: Holding the Roll Button will automatically snap you into cover when you get close enough, for quick and sneaky Stealthiness), and if that is not to your liking, a fast dispatch of alerted enemies will do you good. Because DefCon is rising (that's like "Winter is coming", only Cold-War-ish). Once you get detected or killed, DefCon rises in different ways(actually it goes down, with 0 being the maximum DefCon; hey, I didn't invent that system, blame the Imperialists!), and once it hits zero, you'll only have a limited time to reach the end of the level and stop the rockets' launch. 

The DefCon level is also persistent between missions for each side, and since the final mission will play out where the highest (numerically lowest) DefCon level is, you should do what you can to keep it low (i.e. high. Dammit!). 
One way to lower it, and another lovely comedic nugget, is to subdue an Officer instead of shooting him. Because, as every enlisted Soldier knows, officers are cowards, and without backup will quickly surrender in the face of adversity. And thus lower your DefCon Level by One.

Speaking of levels, the missions are randomly generated from existing "building blocks". Which means that you might see the many different rooms on each side of the Iron Curtain several times during a playthrough, but no mission will ever be the same - which is good for people that want to play again and again, but bad for those that want to perfect "runs" or something.
If you do like to beat other people's scores, the game gives you challenges from friends or others, score challenges you need to beat. If you do, you can find your beaten buddy in the guise of a deceased rival Agent somewhere in the next level for a big cash boost. And make no mistake. You might set out with the noble goal of saving humanity from its own folly, but everything, Weapons, Ammo and Formulas, everything needs cash.

In the following gameplay, I have tried to show as many aspects of the game as possible, going stealthy, semi-stealthy, failed-stealthy and loud. Yes, that was on purpose. I speaketh the Truth!

As much fun as it is, CounterSpy is not without its issues. Some smaller bugs, like wrong animations, enemies that see through walls or seemingly cheap "You could not help but be detected just by entering the room" moments, can be seen in the vid above, but my personal biggest gripe, are the loading times on the PS Vita (and, from what I read around the net, on the PS3, too). Because those are excessive. Like 60 seconds for a mission.

That said, it still looks awesome on the Vita, and even better on the PS4, something the videos do not adequately capture (as I don't have a PS3, I cannot judge on that). The gameplay is fun and diverse, often challenging, and only sometimes (mostly due to little bugs) a bit frustrating. 

With Cross-Buy on all three Sony Platforms (PS3, PS Vita and PS4), as well as networked cross-saves, the small-budget price and bite-sized missions of CounterSpy do make a great distraction from waiting on your... Destiny. Whatever it may be.

For a look at the skillful and stylish Moto-Cross Simulation "Trials Fusion" check out Part 1 of this mini-series Here. (There. At the "Here". It's a Link. Just trust me.)

I hoped you enjoyed what you read, and watching my (potentially embarrassing) gameplay (as always, please watch in HD). And if you want to show your support, why not use one of the links to Amazon UK before you want to buy anything there? I'd sure appreciate it.

... Or, I guess, you could tell me how awesome this was in a comment, but... well. You know.

For all your Playstation or Xbox or PC Gaming needs, especially the European needs, head over to Amazon UK - best deals in Europe (mostly). For TV or Movie Streaming needs, as well. Yes, I do buy there myself. Exclusively. Unless I find a better deal, elsewhere...   

(All content property of its respective owners)

"Waiting on Destiny..." pt. 1 - Trials Fusion

It's less than a week now, that Bungie's ultra-hyped Destiny will arrive. 

Many have been counting the days, and we're down to five... and a bit. And maybe it's just me, but those last few days before an eagerly awaited release are the absolute hardest to wait through (there's a small phonetic pun here nobody will appreciate, but I know it and I am awesome). 

So... what do you do? I mean, apart from work, taking care of the family, your pets (animal or otherwise), cleaning up your room or flat, or generally doing something useful with your life instead of wasting it on video games... 
What do you do? Yes, you could explore Destiny's Planets with that cute little, Google Maps powered Destiny Planet View (which always manages to crash my Firefox, but runs fine on Chrome, for some reason), but... what do you PLAY?

A looming big release might have your fingers itching, but do you really want to invest in another big game (I'm looking at you, "Diablo 3 - Reaper of Souls - Ultimate Evil Edition" )? Despite the fact, that you might either leave a quite expensive game to collect dust on your shelf when your Destiny arrives, or become so engrossed in it, that in four weeks you'll wake up in the morning, thinking about your new legendary dagger and those Greater Rifts, and wondering if you ever even get to get on with your Destiny...? 

So, I have a two suggestions, one right Here, the second right There (via the link): two smaller games, at first glance shorter games, with less of a price tag, but just as much potential to keep your mind off of those insufferably long, final days until your Guardian can... save humanity. Or something. Definitely something noble and worthwhile. 

Trials Fusion

People familiar with the Trials series will know what I mean, when I say that rarely has there been a game that could be as skillfully gratifying - and frustrating - as Trials. 

What is Trails? Originating in real life, Trials are ridiculously strange and difficult obstacle courses to be traversed with your bike - be that mountain or motocross - by equally ridiculously skilled drivers. Seriously, seeing some of these people blithely violate all common laws of physics is a rare treat. The Trials-series brought that treat to the gaming world, and it has been going strong ever since. 

The latest iteration, Trials Fusion, also made its way onto next-gen consoles, and the upgraded graphics and smooth frame rates are a joy - even when its possibly surprising learning curve and difficulty might leave you a bit frustrated, mostly right at the start, and towards the end. Trials starts relatively easy, more as a flowing racing game of motocross, and once you get a hang of the controls (which is not as easy as it might seem, but it's really worth it to grit it out), and how leaning and landing correctly are really essential, you will be gleefully racing to beat your friends' scores in no time, or compete in online Tournaments that task you with finishing three courses in a row as quickly and cleanly as you can. 

Trials does get progressively more difficult, however, until a point may arrive (it did for me at the second "Extreme Difficulty" track), where after fruitless 30 minutes and 250 hopeless retries, you start thinking about visiting something "extreme" on the people that made these tracks, and, despite the frustration, still managed to make you want to try again. Because eventually you will get to tracks so cunningly difficult, you will have to bring all your skills, learn some new ones, and just hope you'll get to the end - which is an achievement by itself, and rarely have I felt more satisfied than when finally finishing a course I never thought I possibly could. 

The tracks are also not as obvious as a first time run might make them look - there's lots of hidden paths, hidden features, bonus levels and other stuff to find. To spice things up, tracks also come with specific challenges, and those are mostly not of the "easy" variety. But, just as the game itself, once you go for one, you will feel a very strong need to finish it - no matter how impossible your success might seem, or how embarrassing reaching it might have been.

Trials Fusion also introduced aerial acrobatics, but to be quite honest, those tracks are far less intriguing than the general Trials tracks - of which there are quite a lot, both from the game, the two-of-six DLCs that have already been released (and those are a good reason to get back on your bike for all you veterans), and the by now over 20.000 user-generated tracks made with Fusion's Track Editor. 

All in all, Trials Fusion, with it's Season Pass, is not only a refreshingly welcome change of pace from shooting things (although it should be mentioned, that at the end of each track, the rider is subjected to a crash and/or horrible death), but also a great investment for some short-lived fun that may just take over your life. Until your "Destiny" hits, that is. 

Yet, I would be amiss in not issuing a few warnings: 

First, since every DLC comes with new elements for the track editor, to be able to play those tracks, you need the DLC. Like, BUY the DLC, which is not the nice way to go about these things.
Second, and this can be a bummer, Fusion is not only a game you will not quite enjoy as you'd might think playing it on your PS Vita via Remote Play (no analog triggers), but touching the front touch-screen in anyway whatsoever will restart the whole track. It's an issue that has been lamented since Fusion's launch in February 2014, but it's still present - and breathtakingly annoying.
Third, unless you're really into beating your friends' scores and times, I would advise you to turn off their ghost images in the options menu. Otherwise you might find yourself constantly pressured by little icons on the screen showing you how much better your buddies where, and possibly miss out on much of the fun that comes from simply enjoying the intricately crafted tracks and their many hidden features. 
And finally... not even mentioning the most horrible Title Song, ever ("Welcome to the Future! Man! Machine! The Future!"), this is one game, where you might want to play your own music, too. Unless you have a PS4, that is... (Shame on you, Sony! Shame on you!) 

For a look at stylish Cold-War Stealth-Action Game "CounterSpy", visit the second part of this mini-series right Here! (No, you click on the "Here". The one right there...)

I hoped you enjoyed what you read, and watching my (mostly embarrassing) gameplay (as always, please watch in HD). And if you want to show your support, why not use one of the links to Amazon UK before you want to buy anything there? I'd sure appreciate it.

... Or, I guess, you could tell me how awesome this was in a comment, but... well. You know.

For all your Playstation or Xbox or PC Gaming needs, especially the European needs, head over to Amazon UK - best deals in Europe (mostly). For TV or Movie Streaming needs, as well. Yes, I do buy there myself. Exclusively. Unless I find a better deal, elsewhere...   

(All content property of its respective owners)