Gunpoint Review: Wearing the Pants of Great Stealth, Puzzles

What makes the Crosslink system so effective is that it’ll have you spending time to plan your actions, rather than relying on sneaking and beating on guys to get through; what makes you a good spy in Gunpoint is that you’re smart enough to be cautious and fortuitous in your plans in order to perfectly execute a level. There is some degree to which you can screw up, panic, and beat down on guards, too, or lure them into traps. One of the cooler Crosslink upgrades you can get allows you to wire guns to switches or other systems, allowing you to make guards accidentally kill one another. It’s possible to go (very) lethal in Gunpoint, and it’s to the game’s credit that the puzzles available also support the action in making them more dynamic than just opening doors and turning off lights.

Completing levels (or jobs, more specifically) earns you money, which can then be funneled back into your equipment. Eventually you can get a gun, which allows you to use the game’s titular mechanic of holding up guards without killing them. You can also tweak Conway’s pants so that he can do things like leap through glass walls silently, opening up a whole bank of new ghosting options for your stealth runs. The longer you play Gunpoint, the more cool stuff you earn, and ultimately the more creative you can get in solving each level and solving it with minimum casualties or guards alerted. Its at this level of maximum freedom that the game is at its absolute best.

The story, too, is worth the price of admission, even if the gameplay weren’t already a lot of fun in its own right. Told entirely through text messages, the plot of Gunpoint unravels as Conway is contacted by various clients looking to hire him, manipulate him, frame him, and what have you. By the end of the game, you’ll unravel something of a noir mystery, but it’s made all the better by snappy dialog options and a hearty helping of humor in character interactions. After I screwed over one client in favor of another, for example, I accepted a job request from the former that read only “F–k you” — made all the more hilarious by the guy’s paranoid nature and willingness to pay me to screw over anyone and everyone in his industry.

Other intercepted messages discovered in each level paint a picture of the game’s world as depicted by incompetent guards and personnel getting reamed over security breaches I perpetrated. And Conway himself is a bucket of multiple-choice one-liners that create a great personality for the character even as you shape it a bit yourself. PC Gamer’s Tom Francis, who created Gunpoint in his spare time, deserves a lot of credit for pairing the game’s solid mechanics with a narrative that’s inventive and fairly deep — it actually works as a mystery and you’ll wonder if your choices of allegiances are the right ones — as well as funny enough to be engaging on a whole separate level.

If there’s a drawback to Gunpoint, it’s that the Crosslink system does have a tendency to leave the player out of the action in a sense. Some levels are a bit more like a game of Mousetrap than about infiltration or successful spying, and the game is at its best when you can couple those ingenious puzzle moments with using your spy skills in tandem. There could stand to be a few more of those, because when things go wrong, Gunpoint can get thrilling, and an ingenious autosave system that lets you bounce back a few seconds after a failure makes trying lots of scenarios easy.

There’s not much to say in the negative category for Gunpoint, though, and while it only lasted three or four hours when I ran through it, the game was hard to put down during that time. Additional bits of coolness like a level editor extend the experience, and the game simply feels highly refined and functional; everything is carefully considered, with nothing that’s tacked on or feels extraneous to the experience. What’s left is simple but challenging, easily learned but deep and rewarding, and funny if you’re into story, though the game doesn’t force it on you. It’s great, affordable fun, and a lesson in how far smart design, good writing and respect for players’ intelligence can take a game.

Pros:

  • Cool systems like Bullfrog pants and Crosslink allow for lots of freedom in solving each level
  • Though ostensibly a stealth game, really focused on smart, challenging puzzle elements
  • Smartly written story lends dark humor to a competent mystery with multiple choices and outcomes
  • Level editor lends value in the ability to create your own challenges
  • Hard to put down; lean, simple in its construction and smartly made with nothing that’s unnecessary
  • Pixel art and music fit the game’s tone and aesthetic beautifully

Cons:

  • Sometimes loses its most fun elements — situations going wrong and perfect executions of stealth and puzzles — in favor of more hands-off solutions
  • Over with all too quickly

Final Score: 90/100


Game Front employs a 100-point scale when reviewing games to be as accurate about the experience as possible. Read the full rundown of what our review scores mean.


Read more of Phil Hornshaw’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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