Thoughts On: Gunpoint

Gunpoint 4I have mixed feelings about Gunpoint. It’s certainly a very slick game, and at first it really ticks all the boxes – gameplay, writing, music, visuals are all top notch. The problem is that there’s not enough of it – not nearly enough.

The game is set in a cyberpunk world – mega-corporations, trenchcoats and hackers abound. The setting is very vaguely defined; just enough to establish the right atmosphere and tone, without having to get into any heavy exposition. The chunky visuals and neo-jazz soundtrack do the rest of the work, complimenting the writing perfectly to create a really cohesive aesthetic.
You play a spy-for-hire, performing acts of corporate espionage for the highest bidder. The twist: at the location where you were to meet your latest client, you instead find their corpse, implicating you in their mysterious murder. In your efforts to clear your name, you find yourself more and more tangled in intrigue and conspiracy.

I’ve perhaps made the game sound more serious than it is with that description – while it does tell a dark and compelling murder mystery story, it’s also a very funny game, packed with jokes and meta-references. It takes a lot of wit to achieve the best of both worlds in this way – luckily, wit is something Gunpoint has in spades. A mission chain in which you are employed by the chief of police to investigate a murder suspect who, unbeknownst to him, is actually you, is particularly deft – your attempts to satisfy him without incriminating yourself are both genuinely tense and brilliantly farcical.

Gunpoint 3

Gunpoint is essentially a puzzle game with stealth trappings. In a typical mission, you are presented with a secure building and must get in, steal something or hack something, and get out. Guards will shoot on sight – you must either evade their notice or incapacitate them.
Helping you in your task are two special abilities.

The first is your jump – you can leap huge distances, take no damage from falling, and stick to walls and ceilings like Spiderman. This gives you huge mobility and freedom in the 2d space, ensuring that what could have been a very slow-paced game is instead hyperkinetic.

The second is your hacking – this is where it starts to become more puzzler than action game. With this ability, you are able to rewire electronics within a building to your whims, no matter how apparently nonsensical; a door could be set to open whenever a nearby lightswitch is pressed, with the lights instead set to go on and off whenever the lift arrives at that floor. This allows you to make your path to where you need to be, no matter the locked doors and security cameras that might be in your path – and, more importantly, you can play all sorts of cruel tricks on the guards to keep them out of your way; locking them in rooms, plunging them into darkness, dropping them through trapdoors, or whatever other cyber-devilry you can come up with.

It’s all really good fun – fast and fluid, rewarding precision without unduly punishing experimentation and mistakes, and giving you plenty of room to just mess about in its levels, seeing what you can come up with. The problem is, just as it really starts going somewhere, it suddenly just…ends. Just as the story is getting interesting, just as the level design is starting to reach an interesting complexity, just as you’re getting really good at manipulating its unique control scheme, it grinds to an unexpected and anti-climactic stop.

The game is literally only 2 hours long. It can be ok for a game to be that short, if it feels complete within that time, but Gunpoint doesn’t. It feels like a proof of concept, a demo for a larger game. It needs to keep going – to keep adding new tools and new obstacles, building and building in complexity à la Portal 2 or Stealth Bastard. As it is, it doesn’t feel like it lives up to its potential.
Some might argue that there is enough replay value to justify its short initial running time – you’re scored on each level in a number of different categories, including how quickly you complete them – but I’ve felt no urge at all to go back to earlier parts of the game. There just isn’t enough meat to those levels to make me want to see them again and again. They just make me yearn for more, a lot more.

Ultimately I’m left not entirely sure what to think of Gunpoint – I very much enjoyed my time with it, but having finished the game I look back on it as something more shallow than I thought, lacking true depth of story and gameplay. It’s a strange thing, to be disappointed by a game because you want to play more of it, but that’s where I find myself. I’ll tell you one thing – I’d be really excited to see a Gunpoint 2. I just hope developer Tom Francis finishes what he started next time.

Gunpoint 1

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Posted in Thoughts On, Video Games

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