Gunpoint begins with two adjacent buildings, cross-sectioned and zoomed out, the whole scene visible. Smooth jazz is backed by ambient rainfall when, suddenly, the calm is punctured by a person smashing through the left building’s high window. The trenchcoat wearing figure bounces his fedora-clad head off the opposite apartment’s wall, smashing through the skylight and landing in the lobby below.
Meet your protagonist – Richard Conway, freelance spy. He’s been set up – in the classic noir tradition – to take the fall for a crime he didn't commit. It's your job to thwart this plot.
With Richard being a spy-for-hire you generally have a choice of jobs to take to clear your name, which are accessed through his phone between missions. Your communications with Richard’s employers are genuinely funny, with a variety of brilliantly sarcastic retorts available for selection. There’s more character in these sprites than in any David Cage game.
Each mission has the same objective: hack a terminal, then escape via a subway tunnel to the right edge of the screen. It sounds simple, and it is. Especially if your definition of simple is completing a Rubik’s Cube with your face.
Gunpoint begins in a relatively straightforward fashion, teasing its systems before letting you loose. At its core, it’s a game about clinging to walls, being sneaky, pouncing on people and – if you choose – combining these with punching guards in the face until your index finger breaks. The slapstick violence is immediately gratifying, with satisfying slaps and lightning-fast strikes. Every punch is direct and violent, landing as fast as you can click your left mouse button, like a machine gun that fires uncooked steak.
Richard is a nimble fellow, empowered by his Bullfrog Pants, which allow him to jump great distances and fall from any height. He can climb any surface just by jumping into it, like a genetically modified Velcro Man. Jumping is performed by holding down the left mouse button, tracing an arc for the jump. Bounding across the levels feels fantastic, bestowing you with the freedom to move around the world with ease and precision. A red mouse cursor highlights a dangerous location best avoided.
If you’re seen jumping around, you get shot. Not only will the suddenness of it scare the shit out of you every time, but one shot is enough to kill you, heightening the tension. The quick save system is efficient enough for this to not get frustrating, with multiple game states available to load instantly.
Taking the sentries down intelligently is the focus, with the Crosslink adding a strategic twist to the stealthy shenanigans. This allows you to rewire electronics, like cameras and light switches, dragging and tethering them together. You can combine these for hilarious results, with one device triggering the other. At its simplest, you can hook up a light switch on the ground floor to the second floor’s lights, darkening that floor. The guards on the second floor will then try and trigger that floor’s lightswitch – what that is hooked up to is your call.
The trick is to turn sentries into your thralls, especially when the armour-clad Enforcers are introduced. These can’t be pounced on, so you must think of ingenious ways to despatch them. Lure the beefy guard to a window and tackle him through it. Open up a trapdoor beneath him. Lock him in a room. There are countless solutions, most best left discovered on your own. Slapping an ordinary guard with a door hooked up to a light switch never loses its novelty.
Missions increase in complexity in tandem with Richard’s growing arsenal of gadgets. Sound sensors are introduced later on the game and these have you jumping in and out of each building from different sides, calling elevators to trigger the mouse traps you have laid out and setting them off with a satisfying ‘ping’. Success comes by combining stealth with clever manipulation of the level design. Performance is tracked based on a number of criteria, giving it replay value beyond its optional objectives and community-made missions, and a branching story that will keep you coming back.
What makes Gunpoint so good, is how it makes the player feel like a genius. Each solution feels like your own. The game hands you a Swiss Army Knife made out of other, smaller Swiss Army knives and lets you loose in the shed, with ALL the wood. It’s refreshing – in the age of ‘follow the man’ – for a game to trust you within its confines. You’re trusted not to break it. It’s a testament to the quality, with so many complexities to take into account, that it’s rare you get trapped by the level design – if you do, it’s your fault. Gunpoint is a champion of the indie game scene, and should be experienced.
Completed campaign in 3 hours