Gunpoint: What a Tangled Web We Weave
Gunpoint was a small indie game released on Steam back in the summer of 2013, around the same time as Rogue Legacy. At the time, I did hear it mentioned on a few of the big name gaming podcasts that I listen to, but I’ve always felt that it flew a bit under the radar and didn’t quite get the recognition that it deserved. And there was never any subsequent console release to give it a second wind as is often the case with Steam games, so I worry that it’s a forgotten treasure at this point. Regardless of it being overlooked or not, Gunpoint was a surprising burst of joy to me, as it came out during a time that I was under a lot of stress. Although it is a very well-designed stealth game, the writing and atmosphere of the game just carry a flippant, goofball energy to them that I found really appealing, and for that reason the game stands out to me.
Gunpoint is a 2D stealth game played from a cross-sectional viewpoint. The levels are usually large office buildings that provide a gauntlet of guards, cameras, laser tripwires, locked doors, and other security measures for the player to sneak through. The camera is zoomed out so that large portions of the level are visible at any given time which conveniently provides the player with plenty of information to plan their movements through the mission. The objective is in most circumstances to find a computer somewhere in the building that contains sensitive information that your character is on a contract to collect or erase. Credits are awarded at the end of each mission based on performance and can be used to upgrade the arsenal of spy gadgets available to the player.
In Gunpoint, the player takes on the role of Richard Conway, a freelance corporate saboteur who can probably be best described as a demented Inspector Gadget. Conway has at his disposal a number of eccentric gadgets to enhance his sneaking abilities. The most important of these are his “hypertrousers” which enable him to jump great distances at high speeds. He can also cling to walls and ceilings, and since jumping is faster than running, most of the game is spent darting from surface to surface to avoid the guards’ line of sight. Stealth games tend to be slow, methodical affairs which require the player to precisely time the moments at which they can weave between cover spots undetected, but Gunpoint tends to be a more acrobatic ordeal where the best way to hide is to zip to a place to hang just out of the guards’ purview.
If the guards catch Conway, they will immediately open fire which usually results in failure for the player since it only takes one bullet to kill Conway. But if your reflexes are fast enough, you can occasionally get away unharmed. The player can go on the offense by pouncing on guards from the shadows and beating them senseless, and there is a gun that is available as a high-level unlockable gadget, but it can only be fired once per mission (as it only carries one bullet). Occasionally, these offensive maneuvers are necessary, but as is usual for a good stealth game, the non-violent solution is often the best way through.
One of the hallmarks of a good stealth game is the ability to utilize a game’s systems to goof with unsuspecting guards. An important gadget available in Gunpoint is the “crosslink” device which allows Conway to rewire the circuits in a given building via remote control. Most importantly this device adds a slight puzzle element to the game, as it allow him to overcome electronic locks and avoid triggering security alarms. It also offers the player some creativity in neutralizing (read: screwing with) the guards. The crosslink gadget makes it possible to do things like rigging the building to lock the guards in certains rooms, playing with the lights so that Conway can stay concealed in the dark, or remotely opening doors as guards pass by to knock them out.
While Gunpoint is a lot of fun to play, what really elevates the game is the spastic storyline that spoofs convoluted spy fiction. Richard Conway is a man whose only loyalty lies with his bank account, and over the course of the game he gets entangled in the midst of an increasingly complicated revenge conspiracy. This is not a game about saving the world or anything like that. The main conflict is simply a lovers’ quarrel between some Very Serious People, and Conway, through no fault of his own, gets in a position where he’s playing both sides (and others) against each other. It’s a plot that’s filled with double-crosses and triple-crosses and double triple-crosses and “I know she knows he knows” and “I know he knows she knows I know” kind of stuff. The comedy is driven by how increasingly absurd and convoluted the various schemes that involve Conway become and the contrast between the seriousness of the Very Serious People who are hiring him and Conway’s own flippant and bemused attitude.
One specific thing that I think is interesting to mention about the game is that an important part of how the story is told is through dialogue choices the player can make for Conway. Unlike in most games which utilize a significant amount of dialogue choices, Gunpoint makes no pretense that these will affect the outcome of the story. Rather, the dialogue choices are used as a comedic device by contrasting the disparity between the various responses Conway can give. Conway can range from a strictly down-to-business professional, an empathic do gooder, a flippant idiot savant, or a babbling psychopath. These wild potential swings in Conway’s personality give the character a level of frivolity that makes the game funny despite the seriousness of the conspiracies that Conway becomes entangled with.
In a previous post, I recommended Gunpoint as a good Steam sale game for those that are curious, and that recommendation, of course, still stands. It’s not a particularly long game. I think Steam reported that it took me under 3 hours to beat, but for as short as it is, I found the game to be a worthwhile burst of fun. It’s both a very good 2D stealth game, as well as just generally being a fun, goofy experience. The game has also been updated with a level editor and Steam Workshop support, so if you’re still left wanting more, the game can be extended with a decent-sized catalog of user generated content.