It’s not everyday that one single indie game, an indie game that’s the first effort of a former gaming journalist, causes the whole of the gaming press to pause and take notice. But that’s what we have with Gunpoint, the rookie effort of now-former PC Gamer writer Tom Francis. I say that he’s now a former PC Gamer writer because the commercial success of Gunpoint has given Francis the financial freedom to pursue game development full-time.
So could the debut effort of a man who hasn’t made a game before and put it together in off-the-shelf game making software be worthy of all the praise it received? Yes. Yes, it can.
Gunpoint puts you in the shoes of freelance spy Richard Conway. He gets caught in a massive web of corporate espionage when he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As Conway, you do missions for a few different people with varying interests in how this web gets untangled.
The story is played on in pre and post-mission text messages with your client. You have some choices that can affect the game going forward which I won’t get into for the sake of avoiding spoilers. More of the story is told through some of the optional laptop hacking objectives in the missions.
The dialogue is very well written. While it can be hard to convey differences between characters, changing moods and dark humour in the written word, Francis has done a damn good job of the text message dialogue sections that are your bridge between missions.
The actual missions have two core mechanics that get you through levels and completing objectives. The first is the movement with your Bullfrog hypertrousers which I like to call hyper pants. These pants allow you to jump tall buildings in almost a single bound. You can jump far and fast on to buildings, walls and guards.
The other big mechanic is the electronic hacking tool called Crosslink. This allows you to remotely connect electric and electronic devices together to help you get through a level. For example, you could use Crosslink to hook a light switch to a door to open it. The Crosslink can also be used as a weapon. You can hook that light switch connected to a door to slam it in the face of a patrolling guard to take them out.
The reason why this game is referred to as a stealth-puzzle game is that direct confrontation with the security guards that populate the game won’t work. If they see you, they’ll shoot you and you’re dead. You have to rely on stealth to get around or behind guards to move through the level or knock-out or kill the guards.
The puzzle element comes in because there is no one way to play a level. Where you might jump in through a window to get in the building and use that noise to draw a guard over to you so you can pounce from above, I might use a motion detector to trigger a door to let me in and use Crosslink to male a light switch turn off a light on another floor to blind the guard so I can get the jump on him. It’s the ability to take multiple approaches to the same puzzle (completing a level’s given objective) that makes Gunpoint such a fun and refreshing game.
It never feels frustrating to play Gunpoint because you have scads of options to approach a level. While Portal is a fun game, there’s only one way to solve a puzzle. In Gunpoint, you can take the stealthy, non-lethal approach or the haphazard, full frontal assault. It doesn’t matter if a guard sees you or not because you can still salvage a level as long as you don’t get shot. You just have to change your approach on the fly.
The graphics are retro inspired but not the 8-bit and 16-bit inspired graphics that we’ve come to know. They’re closer to the old PC games of the early 90s. However, it works without being the near cliché that 8-bit graphics has become in indie gaming.
The soundtrack, though, is an absolutely joy. It’s a sort of detective noir style jazz soundtrack. Not only do we have the smooth jazz version of each song on the soundtrack, there’s a synth version of each song that is automatically played when you activate the Crosslink.
I asked off the top if Gunpoint was worth all the praise that’s heaped upon it. When the only downside to the game is that it is only two to three hours long, I’d say that it’s a pretty good sign that you’ve got a good game on your hands. If you’re looking for something different or a game that’s reminiscent of the classic point-and-clicks of the 90s, you need to pick up Gunpoint.
Scratch that. If you like video games, you need to pick up Gunpoint. It’s definitely in the conversation for indie game of the year and might even contend for a game of the year award in six months’ time.
Cross-posted from et geekera.