Today I wanted to delve back into the rich and eclectic world of Indie games, since I had so much fun with Kerbal Space Program. There are so many to choose from these days, particularly from the mainstream distribution platforms, so picking one to play through was tricky. A glance through the selection reveals swathes of cutesy and colourful titles, selling on promises of alternative gameplay styles and artwork rather than raw production value. However, there was one title that caught my attention as it happens to have been created by a former writer of PC Gamer magazine – Gunpoint. I’m known to be partial to the odd puzzle game so I was keen to get stuck in and see what it was all about.
Gunpoint is a charming little 2D platforming puzzle game, which sees you assume the role of a private investigator taking on jobs infiltrating buildings and sneaking through security systems in order to complete some objective – usually picking up data from a computer terminal. The way in which you’ll overcome the armed guards, locked doors and such is refreshingly clever, your character is capable of hacking into any basic electrical system and redirecting its wired connections in order to cause unexpected results and slowly unravel the puzzle. You want to repurpose that light switch to unlock a door? No problem! How about rigging that lift button to electrocute an unsuspecting guard standing too close to that plug socket? Sure! Maybe even rewiring a guard’s weapon so it turns off the lights instead of shooting you in the face? OK, that’s just weird…
Activating “Crosslink” mode instantaneously strips back the walls to expose a colourful criss-cross of straight lines that basically tell you what switch currently does what. Usually the levels begin set up as you’d expect – each light switch controls the nearest bulb and the keypads that only the guards can use control the doors to the sensitive areas of the building etc. It’s your task to survey this information and come up with a plan of attack.
What I love about this mechanic is that there’s never any rush to do anything before you enter the building, and even once you have there is often a safe corner in which to plan your next move. The game encourages you to be imaginative inside the play space, it knows what it’s strengths are and plays to them. Often there are only a few items you are able to physically reach at any “stage” of the level, for example a light switch and a lift button, but the crosslink mode provides the means to increase your character’s sphere of influence over most of the screen, that’s what’s so clever about it. All the items of one colour in this mode are incompatible with items of any other colour, this gives the levels some extra focus and prevents players that are struggling on a level from needing to trial and error dozens of different combinations to brute force a solution. That’s not to say the game is too easy – I struggled immensely on the last level and it was hugely satisfying when it all fell into place.
Your character isn’t totally defenceless; you are able to jump onto guards from behind and knock them out, or even shoot them from distance once you have earned enough money to buy the revolver upgrade. I really liked this as it gives an easier route to level completion for people who find themselves up against the wall, but as the game rewards you with a lower score if you used violence or made noise there’s still a powerful incentive to complete the game in the sneakiest way possible. It always feels like there’s a “perfect” way to complete each level, and teasing that solution out of the game is very compelling.
The conversations you have with the other characters in the game are replete with sarcastic witty cracks and jokes, you’ll get the opportunity to switch sides, lie to characters and explore some backstory all just in the short textual exchanges designed to set up your next assignment. The discourse has been lovingly scripted, the story is intentionally convoluted to allow the characters to poke fun at it which is unnecessary but adds a nice touch. Even the Steam achievements are funny and pop-up at unexpected times. I got one when I accidentally triggered a door to open from a light switch just as a guard was passing through, which promptly knocked him out cold. It’s these unexpected ways in which you can interact with the environment that keep you laughing and experimenting all the way along the game’s relatively short journey.
Yeah, the game is over rather quickly, but it costs less than a couple of pints of lager (especially here in Finland, sigh…) and will give you much more in return. It’s charming, funny, challenging and replayable – remember that most full-price boxed games don’t tick all those boxes. What it lacks in polygons it certainly makes up with in style and playability.
P.S. There’s a great payoff at the end of it all when you get to generate a mini summary of your experiences in the game, I don’t want to spoil anything so after you’ve played the game have a read of mine and see how it compares to yours!