GAME REVIEW: Gunpoint

Gunpoint is a 2D stealth strategy game released by Tom Francis released in 2013. In it, you play a private detective specializing in infiltration of secure buildings (mostly breaking into secure office buildings, stealing/planting data and then escaping it). As the game starts, you get a call to visit the office of a friend but when you get there you find that she’s been murdered in the short time since the phone call. You don’t see any clear evidence but the building security camera recorded you entering her office.

A friend of your dead friend contacts you, warning you that you’ll be the primary suspect for the lazy local police force. She wants the real killer to be found so she contracts your services to break into the five offices that store the automatic offsite backups of that security feed.

After that, the game is a series of other individual jobs that are mostly centered around the initial murder: trying to find evidence of the killer by retrieving evidence, planting real or fake evidence, other tasks that involve breaking into secure compounds. Before and after each mission you have a chat conversation with your employer, and you can make conversational choices. Some of them don’t affect anything, other than to decide whether you want to wisecrack or play it serious, but others will branch the plot to determine whether or not you catch the killer in the end, whether innocents are imprisoned in the process, etc.

On to the gameplay. You have a couple techie gadgets that you will use constantly. The first are your Bullfrog brand pants which let you leap several stories in a hop, and to survive falls from a height without any injury. The second is your Crosswire phone app. Your Crosswire lets you hack into the wiring/security systems of buildings and reroute causes and effects. That is, you can rewire a light switch so that instead of turning the light on or off, it will open a door. There are various triggers (switches, motion detectors, sound detectors, etc) and various effects (doors opening, alarms sounding, elevator call).

In the early levels you have pretty full control of all the causes and effects and freely rewiring between them. A few levels later, the difficulty level ramps up by adding multiple wiring frequencies. You can only initially hack into an unsecured frequency, which is the way you get into the building. Once inside the building you have to find a wiring terminal for each secured frequency so you can attach a widget to it. Once you’ve hacked the frequency, then you can rewire things from that frequency BUT ONLY to other things of the same frequency. It sounds complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple. You’ve just got to play with it some. You can play a demo of the game to try it out before you lay down your money.

What are the stakes? All of the buildings have armed guards who will shoot you dead on sight. You can tackle them from behind and knock them out, or just try to avoid them. They’re not very smart, and you can use their predictable reactions to your advantage, but they are lethal if they spot you.

After each mission, you can go to the store and purchase gadgets that will help you in gameplay–something which will silence your landing when you fall from a great height, or muffle the breaking of glass, or let your crosswire tool work on guns so that you can really mess with the guards.

I’ve only played through the game one time at this point, making choices of behavior on a whim. I’d certainly be happy to play the game some more and explore some of the other plot branches while I hone my Crosswire skills.

Visuals
Simple, but serviceable. Nothing to write home about.

Audio
The audio isn’t vital, but it adds to the atmosphere, reminiscent of what you’d expect in a story about a private dick.

Challenge
Reasonably challenging with a reasonable learning curve. The difficulty ramps up at a reasonable pace. You can tailor your style to the kind of challenges that you like–trying to go through the levels fast to beat the time trials, or taking your time and trying to get bonuses for stealth.

Story
Entertaining mystery story with branching plotlines for your choices.

Session Time
You can’t save in-level, so it’s not as easy to put down on a moment’s notice as some games. But the levels, especially the early levels, are all of a smallish size, I think most of them took less than fifteen minutes.

Playability
Easy controls, WASD for movement, mouse to use the Bullfrog pants. Space to toggle the Crosswire on and off, and a simple click-and-drag interface while using the Crosswire. Although the guards kill on sight, when you die you have the chance to roll back just a few seconds, or longer so you can easily undo your mistake and find a different way forward, giving you time to think. Unless you’re playing for the time trial, there’s no particular rush on the levels so you can take the time you need to plan out your efforts.

Replayability
Lots of potential for replay. Levels can be beaten in a variety of ways, so it could be fun to just retry things. You can try to explore the different narrative choices, which will result in different endings–determining whether you find the killer or not, and other major impacts. You can retry the levels for challenges like time trials and bonuses for stealth–and once you beat the game you can go back and play the levels with all the equipment you had later on.

Originality
Very original gameplay, never seen anything like it, a combination of stealth and puzzle. Very fun. The plot is fun, if not overly original.

Playtime
I played all the levels in the game once in about 6 hours.

Overall
The full list price on Steam or from the game site is $10 for the base version–enhanced versions with things like developer commentary for higher tickets. Plenty of bang for the buck, especially if you think you’ll replay it more than once to try out the story lines, or if you think the time trials or stealth bonuses are worth pursuing. Unique gameplay combining stealth and puzzle. Branching mystery plot where your choices greatly affect the final outcome. Snappy, funny dialog between your character and his clients. Gunpoint is a solid game, through and through.