I should probably disclose that I've known the developer of Gunpoint, PC Gamer's Tom Francis, for a few years now, having worked with him on that magazine in the dark times before RPS. And that means playing Gunpoint has a peculiar flavour to it, for me. I'm aware of the kinds of games that have had a significant influence on Francis – such as the platformer N, Deus Ex, Hitman, Splinter Cell, and so on – and I can see these sorts of influences displayed right on the surface of Gunpoint. We are each of us our interests, of course, and I am sure this kind of thing is true of all indie developers, but seeing how someone's brain remixes and recompiles the stuff they love has never been quite so clear to me as when playing the post-IGF build of this intricate platformer.
Gunpoint is a side-on single-screen game about stealing information from a building. You play a gadget-enhanced agent, who can leap enormous distances, climb up walls, rewire building internals, and get shot, dying instantly and make me yell “Fffff-damn it!” Even in its incomplete, early state, it is enormously entertaining.
Each level is a puzzle of locked doors, guards, and other security elements, which you must bypass to achieve the mission's target. There's usually a sub-mission, too, such as leaving everything as you found it, or stealing an extra piece of kit that might be a little harder to get to without dying, or indeed, without knocking out guards.
One of the key gadgets is the cross-link. This allows you to link the action of one thing to another. At its simplest it means that you could make turning on a light open a door, but the potential for the complexity of this to escalate is where both the interesting challenge of the game lies and, I would imagine, the difficulty for Francis as a level designer. As a tool for the player it immediately creates one of those sorts of games where you begin messing about and experimenting with what is possible. After a few levels the solution is no longer obvious, and you have to do start empoloying that gamer's equivalent of the scientific method: apply previous techniques and adapting your approach until you find a way through.
What's most joyous about this is that Francis has, through a bit of experimentation, discovered something that speaks to his interests and influences, while also feeling like something quite unlike other games. It's the sort of reward that indie games throw up with fascinating regularity, and you can see why people anticipate these kinds of tiny victories from the indie circuit. They're one of the best things about both being a developer and a player.
What Francis also seems intent on doing it to provide a window on each level for your character to dive through as they complete their mission. Whether or not you actually need to dive through the window, you seem to end up doing it anyway. Or at least I do.
Yes, what underscores it all is Francis' silly sense of humour. The mission-dispensing dialogues at the start of the game – which will be a mini-RPG dialogue tree in the full game – currently have you in a fourth-wall breaking chat with the developer, and it's that kind of cheery gaminess that I think characterises Gunpoint as a whole. When you jump a guard you can punch him to knock him out, although the temptation is to frenziedly pummel him. And the game notices if that's what you do, leaving you feel a bit embarassed.
Anyway, I think there's every reason to be mildly excited by this Gunpoint. Francis was originally planning on giving this game away for free. People have (I believe) convinced him that he would be mad to do so. Which is good. Because he would have been.