Posted: June 23, 2014
Richard Conway is a private detective in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shortly after strapping on his new pair of hypertrousers he finds himself on the receiving end of quite a few pointed fingers, the result of making himself seen on a security camera seconds before a key figure was killed in the same building. Rather than come clean and hope the police believe his story, he decides to take the easy root of breaking into the companies headquarters and destroying the footage, and hopefully getting out with his new coat blood stain free.
Tom Francis's Gunpoint isn't what you might think. This isn't a game about guns, or about pointing them; it's about jumping through windows like a maniacal frog and rewiring security systems to suit your needs. To an outsider I imagine this sounds incredibly silly, but that's part of why it's so brilliant. It manages to be both self aware and hilarious, yet remarkably smart in every aspect of its design, and the pieces come together so perfectly that it never ceased to blow me away as I dug deeper into it.
You could call Gunpoint a platformer, but if anything it's more of a human catapult simulator. Using your futuristic hypertrousers you can jump incredible distances without the worry of a quick death when you hit the ground, or more accurately, smash through a window or onto an unsuspecting guard. Movement is made even more fluid by Conway's spider-like ability to climb walls and cling to ceilings, essentially turning you into the ultimate cat burglar as you effortlessly move through buildings. It's an extremely impressive move set that feels amazing and as if its constantly evolving as you play, with new levels making use of moves you may have never used or even known were possible before, creating a constantly satisfying and stylistic loop of continual mechanical growth.
Standing between you and a parkour bonanza however is a plethora of electronic doors, security switches, cameras, alarms, and other traps that will send you home in a body bag if the guards are alerted, or simply stuck in place. Luckily Conway comes prepared with the ability to hack and rewire these devices to his own uses, with the animatronic like guards being more objects that need to be rerouted than anything resembling human intelligence. This is where Gunpoint evolves into something beyond a clever hook into a ridiculously smart puzzle game, allowing you to quickly reconfigure circuits to set off other devices, open doors, disable guns, and on the whole make you feel like a tech wizard. It's not so much the great mechanics themselves that make Gunpoint an amazing game though, as it is how they are balanced so effortlessly between being clever and keeping the player moving forward, something all to often lost with puzzle games but that Tom Francis has got down to an absolute science. There was never a moment when I felt I wasn't doing something useful in Gunpoint, and even when I failed the brilliant auto save let me quickly restart just seconds prior..
It can't be stressed enough just how much style Gunpoint exudes, from its subtle but unique art design to its masterful noire tinged soundtrack. The graphics are simple yet have a ton of detail squeezed into every pixel, with superb use of lighting setting the mood for a dark detective story and smooth animations allowing you to forget how simple the character designs actually are. Gunpoint succeeds most where so many "retro" games fail in making itself instantly identifiable and memorable, and using its aesthetics to compliment its mechanics and narrative.
I said it before but I'll say it again, it blows my mind when I think about how amazing every single moment of Gunpoint is. The writing is witty yet crafts an engrossing, compelling narrative that didn't need to be complex for me to devour every line of dialog eagerly awaiting how it would all end. The mechanics fit together as if they share a cellular bond, evolving and challenging the player while keeping them in constant control and giving them the option to approach encounters however they see fit. The absurdly polished presentation makes it effortless to sink into its world for the few hours it takes to complete, which left me satisfied yet eager to go back and see how I might could play through it differently. It's an absolutely astounding accomplishment for something almost entirely developed by one person, and a brilliant experience that topped any expectations I might have had before hand but have since been all but forgotten.
Now if I could just get a pair of those pants for myself...You can read more of my writing on Kritiqal[kritiqal.com].