The stealth genre is one that, until recently, I didn’t really get on with. When playing a stealth game I want to feel like a badass ninja, skulking in the shadows and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Instead, most stealth games usually cause me to cower in a dark corner for minutes at a time, until finally I slowly make my way to the next safe spot, praying to high heaven that I won’t be seen by a guard and instantly sent back to a checkpoint from ten minutes ago. Recently, games such as Dishonored and Mark Of The Ninja have proved that games about hiding from your enemies can be fun and challenging, while also making the player feel empowered. In this aspect Gunpoint, a 2D stealth-puzzle game from first-time game developer Tom Francis, certainly succeeds.
Gunpoint sees you playing as Richard Conway, a fedora-donning, trenchcoat-wearing, freelance spy. Conway's bread and butter is infiltrating secure buildings and obtaining information for clients. Set in a noir, futuristic world, Gunpoint's tale of conspiracy and betrayal is pretty standard fare for the genre, but Francis’ witty, well-written dialogue keeps the story interesting. Each mission begins with a skippable conversation between Conway and his client, with the player able to choose Conway’s responses, some of which are laugh out loud funny.
Conway uses an array of high-tech gadgets on his missions, such as his Bullfrog trousers, which allow him to easily leap great distances, usually smashing through a window in the process. The Bullfrog, combined with Conway’s ability to survive falls from any height, and sticky gloves which allow him to scale walls and ceilings, make him an extremely agile spy. Although he is impervious to the effects of gravity, Conway isn’t bulletproof, and it only takes one gunshot to put him down. Thankfully, Gunpoint also features a generous autosave system that checkpoints the player's progress every few seconds, meaning you’ll rarely be frustrated at having to replay sections of a level.
Conway’s main weapon for espionage is the Crosslink. Inspired by the hacking minigames of Deus Ex and Bioshock, the Crosslink allows the player to rewire any electronic device in a building. Activating the gadget with a scroll of the mouse wheel replaces the muted colour palette with a dark blue overlay and brightly coloured lines representing circuit connections. An early example of using the Crosslink - behind a locked door lies the computer containing the information needed to pass the level, and just outside the door is a switch that controls the lights. Using Crosslink, the player can reroute the connection so that flipping the switch opens the locked door. Fairly simple stuff. However, it's not long before more complicated puzzles are introduced involving security cameras, motion trackers, trap doors and sound detectors.
This is where Gunpoint’s gameplay really shines: it’s very satisfying to see your elaborate trap dispatch an enemy guard, or set up a series of events that allow you to pass a guard unnoticed. The Crosslink is an extremely fun game mechanic, and after finishing the campaign I found myself immediately replaying earlier missions just so I could find new ways to use the unique gadget. It's not long before the missions are over though, as most players will finish the game in 2-3 hours. Any concerns about the game’s short length should be alleviated by the built-in level editor, which ensures there'll be plenty of user-created buildings to break into in the future.
The puzzling levels are made more complex with the inclusion of multiple circuits: the player can only connect devices of the same colour, which is easy in early missions, where all security devices are coloured red. But after a few missions, blue, yellow and green circuits are introduced, forcing the player to put more thought into their hacks. If any of that sounds like it might get too complicated, you needn’t worry. Gunpoint’s levels are designed to allow for multiple solutions, and money earned on missions can be spent on gadgets that facilitate the user’s play style, such as the ability to turn the guards’ guns against them, or a device that muffles the sound made by crashing through windows.
Gunpoint features a pixel art style, which is a style that I personally love, and it’s used to great effect in the game. The noir theme is portrayed perfectly by beautiful cityscape backgrounds and rainfall on dark, gloomy streets. Character animation is smooth and has moments of comedy, such as Conway's Superman-esque pose when jumping, or the way guards drop like a sack of potatoes when they're hit by an opening door. It’s worth mentioning that Gunpoint also includes a colour blind mode for the significant percentage of players who would otherwise struggle with the colour coding used in the Crosslink.
The audio in Gunpoint is outstanding, particularly the music. A mixture of spy movie theme music and moody jazz, the game’s soundtrack plays like it was ripped straight from 1950s cinema. Switching to Crosslink causes the vintage-sounding songs to seamlessly transition into an electronic, cyberpunk version, with double bass and piano being replaced by electric guitar and synthesisers. The resulting mixture of musical styles works very well and effortlessly captures the mood of Gunpoint's setting.
With his debut game, Tom Francis has produced a stellar experience. His combination of puzzle and stealth work brilliantly, and in the Crosslink, Francis has created a tool that I'm sure will be subject to much imitation from developers. The unique and original game mechanics, combined with great presentation and storytelling, add up to an excellent title that no one should miss.
Gunpoint (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
The stealth genre is one that, until recently, I didn’t really get on with. When playing a stealth game I want to feel like a badass ninja, skulking in the shadows and waiting for the perfect moment to strike.