Independent games are usually all about that arty farty stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I love the weird, navel gazing, introspective nonsense as much as the next loser writing about a children’s hobby (joking) on the internet. Sometimes though, sometimes you just want to play something with damn good mechanics and intensely fun gameplay. Sometimes you don’t care about story or art or good music, you just want to have good fun.
Gunpoint is one of those rare creations that ticks all the boxes and gives you every ingredient in your metaphorical game burrito. In a world filled with forty hour games that you get bored of half an hour in, Gunpoint is a slick two to three hour presentation that will thrill you, make you laugh out loud, and definitely make you wish there was much, much more to the package. Tom Francis has created a little slice of indie goodness that outstrips many a game with an infinitely greater budget.
You play as freelance spy Richard Conway, a man with dubious motivations and an intense desire to reply to every PDA message with scathing sarcasm or a pithy joke. Or maybe that was just my version of Conway, a projection of my own jerky self. You are tasted with infiltrating buildings for various clients and getting up to acts of corporate espionage, subterfuge, and derring-do. You are aided by an array of bizarre and useful gadgets, such as the crosslink, which lets you rewire electronics to cause cameras to open doors or light switches to summon elevators. Later you can use it with great mirth on the weapons of your foes, causing gunshots to turn off lights, or making turning on lights cause gunshots. The possibilities are endless.
You also have springy rocket shoes, called Bullfrog Trousers, which let you jump great heights through windows, and plummet from ten story drops and remain entirely unharmed. You have these shoes they are cool and fun and there doesn’t really seem to be much justification for their existence otherwise, but who cares? You’re a futuristic wise cracking cyber hacking spring heeled jack gumshoe detective who can jump through windows. You don’t need a reason for moon shoes.
Early on, Conway is framed for murder and you gradually uncover a tangled web of intrigue as you progress through the game. You accept missions, communicate with clients, and buy upgrades from your PDA device and it’s a simple mechanic which works excellently. The game has no voice acting and all dialogue is delivered outside of missions through your PDA, giving excellent flavour to the game world but ensuring that every level becomes an intense battle of wits against silent and violent foes.
One of Gunpoint’s most excellent features is that no level is strictly linear. There’s always a recommended path through the hordes of guards and security cameras, and while the crosslink lets you hack most electronics, you occasionally have to activate a breaker to allow you to access some of the devices, and often they are colour coded. This is more a concession to give the game a sense of difficulty rather than any sort of limitation, but within each segment of each level, there is ample opportunity to do things a little differently. Extra gadgets help mix things up, and the upgrades allow players to choose what they’d like to focus on upgrading, meaning the experience can vary nicely. Each level feels like a mini puzzle that you solve through a combination of wits and quick reflexes, and even in dire situations, your use of the jump mechanic and quick fire cross wiring can save you even if you’ve messed up the puzzle.
The game rates you depending on your performance in the level, encouraging you to be quick, avoid getting spotted, and avoid violence. The better you do the more money you get to buy further upgrades. The graphics are minimalist but effective and characters are given personality by the stellar dialogue and branching narrative (because their faces are no more than pixels). What’s interesting in Gunpoint is that the story isn’t linear and can change depending on how you react to events. As you unravel the conspiracy and try to unframe yourself, there come opportunities to frame others, even if they may not be the true culprit. Your search for your real quarry can end in violence or in justice depending on your actions throughout the game, and this will make you want to return to play again just as much as trying to beat your high score will.
The difficulty curve is sublime. Each level introduces a new mechanic or foe and ramps up nicely towards the finale. You always feel outgunned and outclassed but death never feels unfair and victory never feels easy. The satisfying feedback loop of improving your skills, getting new abilities, and unravelling the story as you jump back into the wonderful, rain slick, neo-noir world of East Point city will keep you enthralled for the games’ brief running time, and if you fancy really challenging yourself, some of the Steam Workshop player made levels are insanely difficult. There is potential to enjoy the gameplay and mechanics endlessly outside of the main story and with there being so many different paths to take in the story, so many ways to shape the outcome, the replay value is significant indeed. The graphics are nicely minimal but still gorgeous, and the music has some seriously great tunes, the kind to make you look up Gunpoint OST on YouTube.
If nothing else you should take it as a solid endorsement from me due to the fact that I haven’t been half as sarcastic in this review as I usually am. Unless that was sarcasm too.