Game Review: CounterAttack (Steam)

Sometimes, being around gaming as long as I have has it’s advantages. Being able to remember when the likes of Space Invaders and Pac Man made their debut makes you appreciate the more simpler games that focus on gameplay rather than visuals or deep storylines. In fact, I’d much rather spend the time I have with an old-school arcade game than the latest modern AAA title. So when a side-scrolling shoot-em-up like CounterAttack comes along, it seems like it’s just the game I’m looking for…

What is CounterAttack

Released on Steam (the version I played) and XBox and developed by Relative Games, first impressions lead you to believe that it’s just a generic arcade shooter. Futuristic, alien invasion of Earth (by a robotic race known as the Automatons), side-scrolling, choice of ships, power ups, bosses. It ticks all the boxes that countless others have done before it.

But it’s when you look closer that you realise that it’s much, much more. And it turns out to be quite possibly the deepest, most varied shooter you’ll ever come across in the genre.

What’s So Special?

There are a number of things that make CounterAttack stand out from the crowd. The one that will impact on players primarily is the weapon systems and frankly I’ve never seen anything like this before. Innovation in an arcade shooter really is something to be praised and shouted about so let’s delve into this first.

You start off with a choice of 8 characters each with their own craft. Each ship can be customised in terms of its colour (this is a sign of things to come) and has different abilities from each other. They are all rated for speed and power differently so that will impact how they play. But more importantly, each has different weapons including the special weapon used in game, so your choice can dramatically affect how you play.

Weapon Systems

That’s the ships out of the way, but when you get past your character and vehicle selection, more choices await. Once you’ve chosen your game type and difficulty setting, you’re presented with one final screen before you start. This gives you the chance to fully customise your ship.

Six slots are available – three for modules which enhance your ship’s basic abilities and a further three to upgrade or add new weapon types. A selection for each are available at the start of the game and new ones can be unlocked and collected during play and the configuration can be tweaked between stages. Some add-ons have a cumulative effect and are more effective than others for different ships so it adds a great strategic element to the gameplay.

Power Ups

It’s not just the slots that take a new approach either. In game, the power up system works in a similar way to Gradius and countless other arcade shooters in the genre. Collect green orbs dropped by the Automatons and as each power up is highlighted at the top of the screen that you want to use, hit a button and it’s ready to use. Each weapon has several levels that it can be upgraded and most will feel familiar. In fact, most reminded me of the Amiga classic Project X during play which was no bad thing to be honest and I felt right at home with it straight away.

But there’s a twist… In addition to all the regular weapons, the penultimate option (before the extra life) is called Add On. What this does is upgrades all of the other powerups giving them all an extra level they can be boosted to. What’s more, this can be done multiple times during the game so there’s really no limit to how powerful your craft can become. At this point it adds a new strategic element to the use of powerups – do you go straight for the Add Ons or build up the regular weapons first?

And There’s Even More…

It doesn’t end there… to add even more choice for the players, any new weapons you have fitted to your ship or collected will be available each time you start a new game. This allows you to progress further each time. But if you want a truly fresh start, you can simply reset the weapons and build them back up from scratch. It’s just another extra touch that adds to the extra longevity that the game has hidden away for the players.

Look At The Size Of That Thing

Before I get onto the game itself, CounterAttack is no slouch in it’s sheer scale either. There are several game modes on offer for both multiplayer and single player (with multiplayer offering local and online play). Most players will opt for the longer campaign mode which is set over a series of stages, with a map allowing you to choose your route at the end of each.

There are four starting stages to choose from and from there the game map branches out at the end of each boss. With over 32 stages in total, depending on how you play and your choice of routes this expands the lifespan of the game immensely. Before you start, each stage indicates how difficult it is so you can play the game at your own level.

Endless Longevity

CounterAttack has been designed to keep you coming back for more though. In addition to the campaign and multiplayer games, there are several endless play survival modes and something else I haven’t seen in an arcade shooter before – a level editor! While it’s incredibly complex, it allows you to design entire levels and even full campaigns to share online with other players with full attack waves, powerups, altering background visuals, attack patterns and so on. It’s a powerful tool and with the ability to download other user-created content it offers almost unlimted gameplay.

Gameplay

I’ve left this until now as I wanted to get all of the mechanics out of the way first. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first as it didn’t look like the most stunning game visually. But after just a few minutes with CounterAttack, the intensity and depth of gameplay drew me in. Before I knew it on my first play session, I’d been at the PC for a couple of hours playing it non-stop. I’ve said before that I love arcade shooters, but usually I’ll play them in short bursts then move on to something else. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I played one for so long in a single sitting.

But that wasn’t a one-off novelty on my first go. Every time I’ve loaded it up has been the same. I actually planned to have this review live days ago but the game keeps getting in the way. What meant to be “just one more go” to make notes or double check a feature out ended up being another couple of hours with the controller stuck tight in my hand. It really is that good.

Weakest Link

If CounterAttack has one weakness, it’s in the visuals… but not by much. The background graphics and sprites are average and don’t really stand out and the background visuals seem to be quite bland at times. Where the in-game visuals do spring to life are the effects for the weapons and explosions. When the game is in full swing, there’s so much going on on-screen, it’s an explosion of light and colour and it doesn’t slow down for a moment and it certainly looks the part.

It manages to do well in terms of sound with a great electronic soundtrack playing throughout, and plenty of meaty explosive sound effects. There’s no in-game speech to accompany the effects unfortunately, just a short voiceover at the start and beginning but this is just nit-picking at this point.

Accessability

While it doesn’t cover everything, as you’d expect from a PC title it does offer several options when it comes to controls – joypad, mouse or keyboard and all three can be fully configured to whatever is best for you as a user.

There is also a wide range of difficulty settings to suit all playing abilities in addition to the aforementioned varying difficulties of each of the stages that I mentioned in the Campaign Mode. While there will be those who argue against the need for easier or variable difficulty settings, it makes games more accessible to those who just want a more relaxed gaming experience or who have more restricted movement.

Overall

When I first received this, as a shoot-em-up fan I was looking forward to playing it, but I genuinely never thought I’d be blown away by how good CounterAttack really is. While it’s not the best game you’ll find on a technical level, it’s undeniably one of the deepest, most addictive and fun arcade shooters you can buy on Steam and one that no self-respecting gamer should be without.

About Simon Plumbe 210 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe

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