Putting security companies out of work
Gunpoint begins with a man falling several stories out of a shattered window. The man, Richard Conway, is a freelance spy, subscribes to the Humphrey Bogart school of fashion, and is the owner of a newly acquired pair of Bullfrog Hypertrousers -- the reason he finds himself hurtling out of a window and through the air.
Some puzzle games will leave you scratching your noggin, attempting to find a single perfect solution to a tricky quandry, but Gunpoint is not such a game. It's extremely forgiving, encourages experimentation, and is over in a few hours. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Conway is rapidly approaching the pavement outside his dilapidated apartment.
As luck would have it, Conway's Bullfrog Hypertrousers ensure that he doesn't become a grotesque bundle of shattered bones and squished organs when he finally hits the ground. He's going to be doing a lot of window diving, so it's rather fortuitous.
No sooner than he's brushed the glass from his coat, he's contacted by the CEO of a major gun manufacturer. Conway is, according to the CEO, the prime suspect in the murder of one of her employees, but she knows he didn't do it. What begins as a mission to clear Conway's name becomes a web of conspiracies, cover-ups, affairs, and the framing of innocents.
Considering that the narrative plays out in texts -- further fleshed out through stolen emails -- it's surprisingly compelling stuff, with Conway playing for different sides and even making moral decisions. By the game's fourth quarter things do end up getting tough to keep track of, unfortunately, and with four or five different parties all wanting Conway to help them, it threatens to become confusing.
Thankfully, the gameplay never suffers from this, remaining surprisingly simple, yet always rewarding. Conway's missions always involve him breaking into a building to steal data for a client, but between the spy and his quarry are a great number of obstacles. Increasingly tough security guards and police officers, security doors, CCTV, and alarms all get in his way.
Conway has an ever-expanding arsenal of tools and tricks that allow him to make a fool out of security companies, though. Not only does he have his Hypertrousers -- allowing him to jump preternaturally high and far and clamber up walls -- he eventually unlocks a firearm, upgrades that make him quieter, and most importantly, his Crosslink device.
Every bit of electronics can be linked together by the Crosslink, turning obstacles like security cameras and even guards into ingenious solutions. To get through a locked door, for example, Conway could link it to a motion sensor, wait for a guard to pass it, and then casually saunter in as the door automatically opens.
I recall a moment of glee when I distracted two armed guards in two separate rooms by crossing the wires of the light switches next to them. I killed the lights in one room, which made one guard walk over and switch them back on. By doing this, he switched the lights off in the other room, prompting his colleague to flick his switch as well, turning them back off. They ended up in a loop, constantly turning the lights off and on, allowing me to sneak past them. Silly guards.
Rather than the reward being the completion of a level and the attached cash and the upgrades one can spend the money on, the joy of Gunpoint comes from the clever ways you can make all the obstacles work to your advantage. It's amusing to think that a simple locked door would stop Conway in his tracks if it wasn't for all of these extra security measures.
The challenge increases once multiple security networks get introduced. Certain objects will be connected to sealed-off circuits, locked away in initially inaccessible rooms. Thus, the objective becomes finding a way into these areas so that Conway can rewire these circuits, giving him access to the objects connected to them. Hovering the cursor over these circuits reveals which objects are connected to them, color coded, and they can only be linked to security features and electrical fixtures of the same color.
Scattered throughout the various levels are laptops which, when hacked, reveal a little bit more about the characters Conway is dealing with and their motivations. Finding these laptops isn't necessary, but it adds more challenge to the short missions and fleshes out the intriguing narrative.
It's a wonder that it never devolves into frustrating trial and error, but Gunpoint consistently makes it clear how all of these circuits are related, and gives players plenty of options. Those who get a kick out of being as sneaky as a ghost can attempt to get through every level without being spotted, but jumping at guards like a predator and beating the shit out of them -- even killing them -- is a completely legitimate way to play the game. The end of each mission gives players a rating, but it's far from strict, more concerned with rewarding than punishing.
The save and checkpoint feature echoes this philosophy. Players can save the game whenever they want, and if they get shot by an over-eager guard, they can respawn between one and ten seconds before the incident without having to worry about how it will affect their final rating.
The understated, fantastically animated pixel art -- presented side on and zoomed out -- and excellent, quirky jazz soundtrack matches the game flawlessly. It's a homage to noir and neo-noir, yet it's an irreverent game that doesn't take itself too seriously. Dialogue is smart and snappy, with Conway being a delightfully sarcastic private dick. While there's little time for characterization in this all-too-short romp, it still manages to ooze personality from every pore.
Its short length might be seen as a flaw, but a robust level editor soundly nips that issue in the bud. I foresee plenty of devilishly difficult custom levels being designed by evil geniuses, and frankly, I cannot wait to put my skills -- of which I have few -- to the test.
If you've got a lazy afternoon coming up, do yourself a favor and fill it with Gunpoint. Leaping over buildings, smashing through windows, uncovering police corruption, and rewiring security systems is likely to be a lot more worthwhile than whatever else you were planning on doing.
THE VERDICT - Gunpoint
Reviewed by Fraser Brown