Gunpoint – from reviewer to developer.

I didn’t have high hopes for this game.

It wasn’t a lack of faith in the abilities of the writer – Tom Francis was a long-time contributor to PC Gamer, and I’ve been a follower of his blog for years now. So his skills and credentials as a writer weren’t in question. Perhaps it was the fact that this was his first game, and despite the coverage from his blog, I found it difficult to trust that his first attempt at a game would be any good. Plus, my interest in indie games of that type had seriously begun to wane. I enjoy stealth gameplay to some degree, but my preferred method of stealth has always been circumnavigating, rather than evading. Games like Dishonored allowed me to do that; skirting across the rooftops rather than evading based on a pre-established patrol route, such as that found in the Metal Gear Solid games. Gunpoint was looking an awful lot like one of the latter.

It was largely out of fan-loyalty that I bought it, and considering that I waited for it to pop up in the Steam Summer Sales, that speaks volumes for the effects of that. And my initial fears were confirmed; the main character can be placed flat on his back by a single bullet, sometimes whilst in mid-air. Death came swiftly and often, Conway all too often being sniped by the supernatural aim of the guards.

But I missed a factor during my hasty assumption of the game. Tom Francis worked as a reviewer of video games. He knows the usual gripes and bugbears of the community from experience, and he knows not only what it is that makes a video game good, but most importantly what makes them bad. And nothing kills the fun of a video game quite like having to repeat the entirity of a level based on a single mistake. There is a market for such a thrill – Dark Souls has proved that very well. But Gunpoint‘s autosave function lets you return to an instant before your death. Two seconds earlier, up to eleven. Whilst this seems like too short a period of time, the fast-paced nature of Gunpoint means that this is more than enough time to correct your mistakes and despite my many, many deaths, an autosave never meant that I was irrevocably stuck – rather, it always led to my salvation.

In one instance, I found myself stuck in a room with three patrolling guards. There was no way to turn the light off, and even if I could, my opponents were professionals, able to see in the dark and even faster on the draw than the standard guards. I had already died attempting to ambush one from behind: flinging myself from the roof, I landed atop my target, but before I had chance to politely relieve him of his conciousness, his partner had turned around and shot me in the head. The turning point had happened mere seconds before – a revert to two seconds earlier saved my life, I evaded the guards and completed my Wirejack.

It’s here that Gunpoint truly shows a brilliance; in engineering scenarios that feel like a spy movie. And the best kind of spy movie at that. The technological brilliance of Q mixed in with the absurdity of Inspector Gadget. The Crosslink device, the game’s unique point, allows the player to rewire devices on a colour-coded system. Reconnect a light switch to a door, and pressing the button causes the door to swing open. Rewire a light on the floor above to your light switch and watch as the guard suddenly can’t turn the light back on and is forced to go about his patrol in a suddenly dark room. And as we all know, the night is dark and full of trenchcoats. His switch could have been wired to something else entirely – if I had been feeling particularly psychotic I could have wired his light switch to a power socket, which would electrocute anyone silly enough to be nearby. It can get even more complex, depending on the situation; I set a switch on my level to call an elevator to a floor three levels above. The ‘ding’ of the lift arriving set off a sound detector that opened a hatch that I could then jump through. I planned and executed all of this myself, and the game facilitated every crazy idea.

In one example, I had only seconds before the guard patrolling on the balcony above would walk forwards and spot me. I was waiting for a guard two floors down to trigger a motion detector that would open the roof hatch. I tensely waited, either for the bullet that would end my sneaky life, or for the open hatch that would mean escape. Seconds before I was spotted the hatch popped open and I soared out into the night sky, a leaf on the wind.

A few moments later and it could so easily have been me that was gunned down. A single moment earlier, I might have been shot as I jumped through the hatch. I’ll never know. But I knew that if I had failed, I was going to be able to try again, instantly, without worry of having to play through the whole level again. And that’s what kept me going through the pain, the plans, and the bullets. It was fun in the purest sense of the word.

That fun extends over to the narrative. Tom’s writing is beautiful – Conway can be played as a straight-up professional, a snarky wiseass, or someone who just doesn’t care. Throw in a couple of references that the audience will ‘Shirley’ get, and you’ve got yourself a game that’s a helluva lot of fun to play.

Problems? Well, it’s a tad short, but for one man working in his part time, that’s to be expected. The storyline took me an afternoon to blow through, and whilst the option to replay older missions is present, there really isn’t much reason to do so. The writing I mentioned earlier gives some replayability with multiple choices giving multiple paths through the story line, but ultimately, it’s been a week since I finished the game and I haven’t felt much of a reason to dip back in.

The addition of community-made missions and challenges and would change that entirely. What about trying to complete a level whilst restricted to only touching the floor for a maximum of five seconds? Or without alerting a single person to your presence – a true ghost run. The achievements give a little of this, but a dedicated challenge mode would be a great addition.

I realise that I’m asking a lot of a new, lone developer, and Gunpoint isn’t a game that’ll crumble without these additions. It’s a great game, and one of the best things about it is that it still has time and space to expand. Gunpoint is good fun, and I can’t wait to see what Tom Francis surely has ahead of him in regards to adding to this game.

Go and get this game. It’s great and you’ll have a fun time.

Gunpoint is available on Steam, right now, for the paltry sum of £6.99. Tom Francis’ personal weblog can be found over here, and a free demo is available.

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