“Gunpoint,” as a title, is somewhat misleading. Richard Conway (protagonist and cyber-spy extraordinaire) does not pack heat by default. The single usable handgun is an expensive optional upgrade that is only required for one segment in the final level, and actually firing it incurs strict punishments by way of score and difficulty. If you play the game well you’ll never have to be at gunpoint either, since Conway perishes from a single shot. Make no mistake, this detective-noir inspired gem is a game that will tax your neurons, not your trigger finger.
Like the similar indie stealth-em-up Mark of the Ninja and the acclaimed sneaky portions of the Arkham series, the player in Gunpoint makes up for their lack of firepower by acrobatically dominating their environment. Thanks to an array of anachronistic technology, Conway can clear buildings in a single bound, survive any fall and scale walls and ceilings like a spider. But this set-up is something we’ve all seen before.
Where Gunpoint sets itself apart is its fiendishly original hacking mechanic. While manipulating technology is also a common trope of the stealth genre, most games opt for placing complexity/challenge in the act of hacking itself, usually via some kind of minigame. The consequences of hacking in any particular instance are usually simple and discrete: Hack this security camera > You can now walk around with impunity. Hack this gun turret > It will now shoot your enemies, ain’t that neat. Gunpoint, on the other hand, has a very different system that needs some unpacking.
The central contention of Gunpoint is this; the convenient yet flawed technology in the many buildings you are hired to infiltrate are all interconnected and operate on a few logic circuits. This means that a savvy hacker using a “Crosslink” can remotely rewire any machine to operate any other machine on the same circuit. The breadth of possibilities with this system takes it far beyond previous (and more recent) hack-a-thons. In Gunpoint, you can not only hack a camera so it won’t trip an alarm if it sees you, you can make it turn off a light in another room which causes a guard there to seek a light switch which you’ve rewired to activate the gun of the guy behind him, which shoots the first guard in the back. This mind-bending network of hacking possibilities is why Gunpoint is primarily a puzzle game rather than an action game.
With games like Gunpoint that offer a system with multiple methods of approach, there’s an ever-present danger of imbalance. Make a level too restrictive and it will seem like the player is only knocking around for the one “right” answer with the illusion of choice. Make it too open-ended and it can become trivial and unchallenging. Gunpoint’s levels sometimes err on the side of restriction, but for the most part tread the line quite well. This is especially good considering the brevity of the levels: each only takes minutes to complete yet offers quite a few different routes and strategies. Length is, however, a wider concern: the game is very short, and my first run lasted just over three hours. In theory, replayability in a game like this should be wrung out of repeating levels in pursuit of high scores. But unfortunately, the scoring system is so forgiving that I was able to net A+ scores on many blind runs. There is, however, a level editor packaged with the game along with an online collection of fan-made levels for the player who craves more content.
The graphics are somewhat standard pixel-fare, though they opt for fine detail rather than the blocky, geometric styles of many indie games. Conway, despite having no facial features, is proportionally accurate rather than being half-head, like most pixel platformer protagonists. This is somewhat refreshing, yet sometimes details are easily lost. Without strong outline, shape or colour distinctions, on a few occasions enemy sprites and pickups blend too much with the backdrop and are difficult to spot. They character sprites are, however, superbly animated. Conway’s varied jumping animations that change depending on the arc of his leap, his trenchcoat fluttering in the wind as he falls, the little flourish as he whips around the door of a fire exit, are all more detailed than they need to be. Screenshots do not do this game justice.
Gunpoint’s fusion of cyberpunk and noir is also complemented perfectly by its jazzy soundtrack. As you sneak, you’re treated to soulful saxophones roaring over heavy bass. But upon turning on the Crosslink, the backing track will transform into a techno-fied version of itself, will raw brass being replaced by echoing synth. The storyline also won’t disappoint fans of mystery. The dialogue is witty and energetic, and the plot is densely packed with twists, betrayals and bluffs. In a world where the biggest selling videogame franchise is “about” military espionage and yet is not valued for its story, Gunpoint is a game that will remind you how fun pure intrigue can be.
Without the benefit of big budgets, indie games often live or die by the value and freshness of their ideas. To that end, Gunpoint genuinely brings something intelligent and new to the table. The Crosslink system pushes the player not only to flex their intelligence but their creativity. It helps, too, that the mechanic is wrapped in a thematically appealing package. Gunpoint is a short experience, but one that is unquestionably worth your time.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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