Wot I Think: Gunpoint

By Alec Meer on June 5th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

Gunpoint is an action-puzzle game about speed-hacking electrical systems and leaping over (or through) tall buildings in a single bound. This high-tech detective saga-ette comes primarily from Tom Francis, best known for his long stint on cheery RPS tribute magazine PC Gamer, and it’s his first game. Has he successfully crossed the Rubicon? Let’s find out.

Important Disclaimer: I used to sometimes hang around with Gunpoint lead creator Tom Francis back when I lived in the oddly yellow city of Bath some five years ago. I consider him to be A Good Egg. Additionally, he used to commission me for work on PC Gamer when I was a freelancer. But I’ve barely seen him since I left Bath, I don’t work for Future Publishing any more and the only communication we’ve had about Gunpoint was the exchange of playable code. I consider my judgement unaffected, but please do seek an opinion on this game from elsewhere if you’re worried.

Gunpoint’s a funny name for a game about being a guerilla electrician, isn’t it? I can’t think of even a single reason why it’s not called Powerpoint. A lack of imagination, I call it.

In fairness, there are guns in Gunpoint, but if you want to get anywhere you’ll be steadfastly avoiding said guns. What you should – and will – be doing most of the time is hurling yourself off the top of buildings, or through plate-glass windows into buildings. Once inside, you rewire doors, security cameras, motion detectors and powerpoints to trigger things they’re not supposed to trigger. You’re a malevolent cowboy builder, able to turn a building’s wiring to your optionally muderous advantage, and without having to actual touch any wires in the process. A remote gizmo does that hard work for you, able to affect any relevant device anywhere in the building, regardless of where you and your oversized trenchcoat are lurking.

Flick your mouse scrollwheel up and you enter hacking mode, from where a simple Drag Line From Thing To Other Thing system enables you to arrange for lightswitches to open doors, security cameras to activate lifts and lifts to activate a sort of taser effect from power sockets. All the lines and colours in screenshots might make it look complicated, but it’s exceptionally, smartly simple in practice. Do you want a motion scanner to turn off a light in a guarded room you’re trying to sneak into? Drag a line from the motion scanner to the light. Walk into the motion scanner. Job done.

By the end of the game this straightforward mechanic starts to move towards complexity, as doors operate on a timer, hackable electrics are split into colours (so a green switch can only open a green door, for instance) and you need to quickly chain a few actions together while evading enemies. When it comes down to it you’re pretty much making things open doors though, because doors are the essential nemesis of a guy whose job is to break into places and steal information. Said guy is you, and you – he – get to wear a sweet hat and a trench coat with a particularly high collar as you attempt to earn a living from corporate espionage.

As well as the devious rewiring aspect, your other key ability is to jump huge distances and fall even huger ones without being harmed, at least presuming your arc of travel doesn’t pass the eyeline of an enemy, whose guns kill with a single shot and are accurate enough to take you out mid-flight, in the manner of someone shooting a bow and arrow at a passing seagull. The speed and fluidity of this super-jumping (something to do with techno-trousers, apparently) is excellent – I wouldn’t really have expected such responsiveness from something so comparatively lo-fi-looking. That’s not the only way in which Gunpoint evokes a more genteel Hotline Miami. And, on the other side of these elegant, window-smashing superheroics, the glorious pratfalls of landing from a great height: usually on your face, often in front of an unimpressed dude with a gun. It’s like an overclocked Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em simulator.

Controls are, as with the hacking, brilliantly simple and rapidly intuitive – click and hold left mouse, drag a line where you want to go, release, and you’ll stick like Spider-Man to any surface you hit. Unless it’s glass, in which case you’ll smash noisily through it. Unless you’ve bought the upgrade which muffles that tell-tale shatter-tinkle sound. Leaping can also be used to jump enemies from behind, and then knock ‘em unconscious or, if you so wish it, beat them into a bloody pulp (again, summoning the proud ghost of Hotline Miami). This contributes towards post-mission assessments of your lethality and stealth, and speaks to another of Gunpoint’s clear, and smart, inspirations, Hitman. You can be a noisy psycho if you wish, a ghost, or something in between. While there are plot affects, really it’s about scratching your own itches, and it’s done so subtly, without browbeating or judgement.

Again, the reason for all this leaping, rewiring and optional man-punching is that you’re performing generously-paid jobs for a string of amoral CEOs, hardbitten police officers and terrified stitch-up victims. I must confess that I found the text-based tale of the warring, weapon-making megacorps responsible for hiring you, framing their own staff and double-triple-quadruple-I-lost-count-crossing everyone involved a little over-involved and even hard to follow, but a steady stream of gags and comedy profanity (very recognisably in Francis’ voice, if you’ve followed his games journalism at all) meant I sort skipped along happily enough and just presumed everyone was probably a bit of a dick so it didn’t much matter who I ultimately sided with anyway. Dialogue options in every conversation broadly offer the choice to be polite, rude or glib, so I very much had a developer-approved option to not things seriously throughout.

It’s one of many ways in which Gunpoint reflects Francis’ other career – he’s played hundreds, if not thousands, of videogames good, bad and from the endless beige area in between, and is no doubt as acutely aware as I am of when his time is being wasted by some over-indulgence, lack of player empathy or cynical exploitation of compulsion. Gunpoint is lean, gets straight to the point and is very nearly annoyance-free. If you want to just get straight into a mission and bypass all conversation, Gunpoint lets you. If you want to save and exit at any point, Gunpoint lets you. If you screw up and only want to have to replay the last second of a failed mission, Gunpoint lets you. If you want to not bother with being taught how to use a new item, Gunpoint lets you. Lots of little things like that, which when collected together create a game that feels very much made with maximum good times and minimum down time in mind.

It might just be a little too lean, however. Much as the unrestricted ability to rewind time by approximately 1, 5 or 10 seconds in the event of death was a blessed relief in terms of not having to repeat all my actions up to the point of my folly, and the option to have any upgrades I didn’t like/use be refunded in favour of something else, I did at times find there was a certain sense of challenge missing. Especially in the later missions, it was almost too evidently a given that I would succeed, that all I really needed was time: far from an unusual scenario in singleplayer games, but here I was perhaps more conscious of it than usual.

Additionally, while ‘solving’ a level has the appearance of freedom in terms of having a few options with regard to what you wire and how/whether you neutralise enemies, ultimately it’s about opening doors in sequence and picking up coloured keycards (specifically, activating fuse boxes which allow hacking access to other devices in the building) in the grand old tradition, and that at times limits the variance that the controlled chaos of Gunpoint’s mechanics would so suit. I reckon third-party maps – there are already a couple – will go on to construct exceptional things out of Gunpoint’s jigsaw pieces, mind.

Coupled with the fact that, at 3-4 hours, it’s a short game which screeches to a halt before its mechanics have had the chance to become especially elaborate, I did feel that Gunpoint had given me slightly too easy a ride, or more that it was just the start of something bigger. Maybe it is just the start of something (especially as it managed to reach number one on the Steam charts on launch day – I guess Tom Francis is now Rich Tom Francis), but then again for £6 and this level of finesse, brains and player-understanding I really shouldn’t grumble. Also, its final level offers the opportunity to kick doors down with a boot, often into people’s faces, which is outrageously satisfying and once again happily evokes the brutal fluidity of Hotline Miami.

It might stop a little short of its systems’ potential, but for a debut Gunpoint is enormously impressive, with a killer mechanic I’d love to see more of, and draped in confidence and style. I’ll end this with special praise for the brilliantly-suited soundtrack – noirish piano noodling that I could listen to for days, and successfully keeping Gunpoint’s mood that of a hi-tech Maltese Falcon rather than the more familiar cyberpunkery it might otherwise have been.

Gunpoint is out now, costing $9/6 for the standard edition. You can by either on Steam or direct from the dev. There’s also a demo, sensibly.

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61 Comments »

  1. dE says:

    Gunpoint is such a great game, if a tad short, and probably the first one, where I even enjoyed the achievements. They fit right into the tongue in cheek narration of the game. Controls, graphics, atmosphere and music – it all fits so well.

    I agree on the Keycard Thing (well circuits). I found myself hoping to create ludicrous contraptions out of all the different things, a perpetual what the hell!? as the entire building would shuffle elevators, flick lightswitches and randomly open doors. All the base elements are there, but in the end, the different circuits breaks that option consistently. At most you’re stringing along 3 or 4 objects and then need to relocate and activate another circuit. Which is fine, but felt really limited to me.

    • Bluestormzion says:

      I agree. I would have liked to see basic circuits in Red, Yellow, and Blue… but maybe wirejacking the circuits could COMBINE them into compound colors. Wirejack Yellow to Blue and now both of them are combined into a Green circuit. In some maps you could even (after appropriate amounts of sneakery) also combine the third circuit to put the entire building on a White Circuit, where we can rube goldberg everything together.

      Another thing I’d like to see is a Maximum Range for connections. This way I can’t just connect the front room light switch to the elevator all the way down the block. Make me attach that to the light in the hall, connect that to an elevator call switch, connect the sound detector to an outlet connected to a computer to make it overload and catch fire (WHY CAN’T WE DO THAT?!) to make guards come running to put it out, tripping a motion detector that in turn activates the target device.

    • crinkles esq. says:

      Watching the trailer, with the trenchcoat, the spy stuff, the cheesy jazz music, makes me think of the old Japanese anime and NES game Golgo 13.

      I remember being really intrigued by earlier coverage of this here, but the excessive Superman flying about puts me off. A little bit of ninja jumping is acceptable, but this is just too over the top. It breaks the believability of the gameworld. This is of course just from watching footage, and perhaps while playing I’d overlook this problem.

  2. Bluestormzion says:

    Having played through the game in its entirety, I can truly say that there IS a reason the game is called Gunpoint. It’s not even a spoiler or a mindfuck at the end or anything. It’s rather simple.

    The story of the game revolves heavily between the rivalry between two gun companies. These gun makers both reside in East Point. East Point is a neighborhood made prosperous in the past by the gun market. East Point now has a gun ban. But this doesn’t seem to stop every jerktard in every building I’m sneaking in from having a gun.

    So, East Point was made by gun, hates guns, is the nest of gun companies, and is still full of guns. Hence, Gun Point.

    Still a little misleading, though. I’d have called it “Projectile Trouser Coat Man.”

    • colossalstrikepackage says:

      I’d buy it even if it was titled ‘game by Tom Francis’.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      In the early development of the game, you could hold guards at gunpoint, if you were quick enough before they drew their gun. This was one of the early key ideas that Tom was working on, but it didn’t develop into anything useful. Once you had a guard at gunpoint, all you could really do was shoot him, or jump away. The crosslink turned out to have for more scope for interesting decisions, and became the new core of the game.

      There is even a “Title Finally Relevant” achievement that makes fun of this: “Help justify my early, not entirely wise choice of game name by holding someone at gunpoint with the Resolver”.

      • MrLebanon says:

        That feature was still in the beta I played less than a month ago… was an end game purchase with limited ammo. haven’t played the launch version yet

        • HothMonster says:

          The mechanic is still there it’s just not useful.

          • MadTinkerer says:

            It’s useful in a few places: forcing a guard to back into a motion detector, forcing them to keep still while you jack a new circuit, backing them into a room you’ve rigged to shut in one of a few different automated ways.

            Each mechanic has just a few uses, but the challenge lies in combining those mechanics together, not just with the crosslink, but accounting for guard behavior and figuring out a plan to have them foil themselves.

    • The Random One says:

      I’d find it misleading if “Projectile Trouser Coat Man” wasn’t about a man who can fire trousers out of his coat.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Why the guards have guns (and you can’t have theirs) is explained in a couple of the laptops.

  3. Xocrates says:

    I found this to be a rather brilliant game, and one I heartily recommend.

    I don’t quite get the complaints about the story in the WIT, especially since one of the things I liked was that I felt they kept it simple. Yes, there’s double-triple-quadruple crossing and moral ambiguity, but I felt that was rather in keeping with the theme and that the game kept everyone’s intentions rather clear.

    • Krouv says:

      I agree, I found the story quite easy to follow, and I liked the fact that you were allowed to make changes to the plot without necessarily influencing the missions: it gives the imagination more freedom in this way, and without requiring Tom to waste more time creating levels.
      I think the problem with the game is not so much the shortness, but more of a feeling that the mechanics didn’t evolve to their fullest extent. There was no feeling of build up like in other puzzle games, notably Portal.

      • MadTinkerer says:

        It helps if you go back and force yourself to come up with different solutions than you used the previous time. I’ve found at least two solutions for every challenge where it looks like there’s only one solution.

    • Geen says:

      The writing is grim yet hilarious, and overall fantastic, and by the end just becomes magnficent. Seriously, I’d still buy it again if the gameplay was only half as good for the story. You gotta love the ability to introduce yourself as ‘Richard Conway, hat fancier extraordinaire’.

  4. colossalstrikepackage says:

    My favourite writer on RPS reviewing a game made by my favourite games journalist. Bought. Will play when I get a second to myself.

  5. sbs says:

    Hooray for demos!

  6. Erinduck says:

    It’s a short game, absolutely, but this feels like one of those games that will live by its level editor, if a good enough community can be built around it.

  7. phelix says:

    I’ll be trying this one. Can’t go awfully wrong for 9 dolla’s, I suppose.

  8. ran93r says:

    I’m loving it so far, discovering by accident that you can knock guards out by opening doors on them made my evening.

    • TheMoatMonster says:

      Be careful, you can also hit YOURSELF in the face with doors. I found out the hard way.

  9. Dermott says:

    If you can read german language here is another article about gunpoint. http://indiecrowd.de/gunpoint-der-stealth-puzzler-mit-syndicate-charme/. And yes i like gunpoint. Great game!

  10. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    What might be fun is to have some kind of added challenges. Like least-violent runs, most stealthy runs, or the fastest run. Like, say, Dustforce did.

    Of course such high-score competition is limited and it might be good to have some more variety content-wise.

    • Xocrates says:

      There are “awards” for speed, violence, noise, and stealth. True, there are no leaderboards, but I enjoyed trying to get the Gentleman/Ghost/Ninja combo (that’s no violence, no noise, no witnesses) in all the levels. Sadly, I think that’s impossible in some of the tutorial levels.

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        Gentleman/Ghost/Ninja is everything I aspire to be.

      • thristhart says:

        Just FYI, I managed to get Gentleman/Ghost/Ninja on all the levels except the last one – totally doable. (The one where you learn how to knock people out is tricky, but possible)

        • Xocrates says:

          Good to hear. Need to have another go at it then.

          • Nixitur says:

            There’s a few things to keep in mind.
            The Hushcracker is necessary to get Ninja in a few levels, so be conservative with your gadget charges.
            If you run into a stationary guard’s back (be it normal guard, enforcer or professional) and then immediately jump out of sight (up being the most obvious and easiest choice), they’ll turn around and will not spot you. However, they will start patrolling which makes avoiding them much easier.
            Use the noise of elevators to get guards to turn around.

  11. derella says:

    This is not my usual type of game, but I happened to stumble upon a video of it, thought it looked funny and the crashing through windows part seemed entertaining so took a chance… And I loved it, and ended up playing it from start to finish yesterday without taking a break.

    Short, and maybe a touch too easy… but so much fun, and brilliantly satisfying. Definitely worth the price tag, and when it ended I was left wanting more! I hope that Tom Francis releases some additional content for it.

  12. Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

    MISOGYNY!

    No, hang on. PRODUCT PLACEMENT!

    Arrrgh.

    NEPOTISM! That’s it. NEPOTISM, Meer you charlatan!

    I’m not sure how long that simple gameplay mechanic’s going to last me – I think I do want my master-spy-electrician (?!) fantasies to be a bit complicated rather than slimmed to a relatively straightforward puzzle mechanic – but I’ll give the demo (h’ray!) a go and see how it goes. Even if it does turn out to be a bit simple, £6′s about right for the length (just), and the length’s (potentially) enough a single simple game mechanic to play itself out without getting tired (see Portal).

    • Colonel J says:

      Actually sir you should rant CRONYISM! not nepotism. (you’re welcome)

      Unless in fact Mr Francis and Mr Meer actually are blood relatives in which case the plot thickens and I Think We Should Be Told.

  13. hemmingjay says:

    The game is great fun and I don’t regret my $9 purchase. However, I think the sweet spot will be $5 for this game in a month or two.

    Another fun game is seeing if you can spot the missing “u” in the article.

  14. Milky1985 says:

    Gotta say I am enjoying the game, odd how i actually am thinking about refunding the ability to land quietly because I found the animation and idea of landing on your face after those jumps very amusing.

    My personal best moment so far was in a mission where the objective is on the bottom floor, you can enter via a trapdoor in the ceiling and there are 3 panes of glass you can drop down. I threw myself down the hole , smashed all the glass and landed triumphantly on the bottom floor…

    ..directly in front of a guard who paused just long enough that I could imagine a “oh crap” moment happening before he shot me in the face.

    Its rare to have a game where screwing up is as enjoyable as succeeding.

  15. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    I think this game is awesome, but at it’s current length I feel $9 is steep. Stingy, I know…
    It really is so much fun it makes it that much more disappointing that it’s over once you’re really getting into it.

  16. Laurentius says:

    A wonderful game, yes a bit short, i mean you want it to last becasue it’s so enjoyable and price may seem steep but it’s great fun for this money. Seriously i tried to finish Dishonored ( barly couple hours in ) and i couldn’t, got borde almost immediately but this and FEZ and i keep playing from start to finish. Don’t even get me started on Spec:Ops-the Line.

  17. PopeRatzo says:

    There’s another new game that I was hoping to see in an RPS:WOT, but I can’t remember the name of it. Maybe it will come to me.

  18. Hilden2000 says:

    I knew this game was magic the moment I slammed a door in a guard’s face.

    For gunpoint 2 I want more characters with different skillsets, more locales espionage on a global scale ( bring on the secret underwater and volcano hideouts!) just…MORE.

  19. Totally heterosexual says:

    It still has the level editor right?

  20. Lanfranc says:

    …enemy, whose guns kill with a single shot and are accurate enough to take you out mid-flight, in the manner of someone shooting a bow and arrow at a passing seagull.

    Is… is that an “Ancient Mariner” reference? Because that’s the only way I can make sense of that analogy.

    • Tagiri says:

      Could be Tomb Raider. I spent an embarrassing amount of time shooting seagulls out of the air for that “shoot X number of birds” achievement. Shot one with an explosive arrow by accident once, it was pretty surprising.

  21. Ergates_Antius says:

    How long before someon uses the level editor (assuming it has one – the existance of 3rd party maps suggests so), to build a functioning computer?

  22. karry says:

    I must say i was left completely unimpressed by this game. It’s utter lack of challenge, pointless dialogue choices, visual style that makes characters blend in with environment, unimpressive upgrades… good thing i didnt buy it. Youtube does make itself quite useful, on occassion. Re-played a better game instead, a very similarly themed game, a free game – Art of Theft.

  23. belgand says:

    “guerilla electrician” makes me think about DeNiro’s character in Brazil which, while this isn’t really that game, would be an excellent game.

    We really do need to have some games based on Brazil.

  24. benkc says:

    I, too, bought it immediately after finishing the demo, and played through (to one ending) the night it released.

    I found the dialog and the gameplay both highly entertaining. Yes the game is short but there’s definitely some replay value there, trying to go back and get your preferred ratings on each level. (Mine are of course Gentleman/Ghost/Ninja.)

    My favorite moment in the whole thing was probably this: There was a door I needed to open, and the only way I could see to open it was a camera. Now given that walking past a camera is what got me into this whole mess to begin with, I try my best to avoid them, but I didn’t see any other way with my current gadget load out. So I try to create a bit of a delay by wiring the camera to the door to the handprint scanner back to the camera to try to get the camera to automatically turn off shortly after it sees me and opens the door.

    It almost worked.

    I walk past the camera, the door opens up, I step out onto the balcony, the camera turns off — and the door closes, simultaneously knocking me unconscious and off the balcony, past the line of sight of a guard, who one-shots me as I fall to the ground 3 stories below.

    Achievement pops up: So This is Why People Don’t Like Me.

    • benkc says:

      Also, while I found the plot a little confusing, it’s entirely because I sometimes couldn’t remember names of people, especially people that I hadn’t interacted with, only snooped emails about. There is a dialog option at one point that lampshade-hangs the whole losing-the-plot thing, which I appreciated.

  25. tomeoftom says:

    Just finished it. Boyo, was that enjoyable. I didn’t expect it to be so consistently funny!

  26. ChrisN says:

    So I load up the first level/mission/whatever, fall through the glass, “I don’t want to talk about it” happens, guy buzzes me into the building, he gets shot by some other agent, and I’m now trapped in the lobby, with all doors closed, including the second floor one and the one I just came through. Only the light switches can be interacted with. So now I’m totally stuck literally thirty seconds into the game.

    • AlexW says:

      I recommend you jump Conway up to the roof, take a look at the view, and think about which doors are necessary for your purposes and which aren’t.

  27. Gofi says:

    It’s ironic that you only get six bullets in the entire game,
    when the game is called gunpoint.