Gunpoint

It’s easy to sell me on a stealth platformer like Trilby: The Art of Theft or Mark of the Ninja, so Gunpoint was without question my type of game. There was a big engine change on the week I picked it up, and I had no performance issues, but I took issue with the low sense of reward in replaying levels, and the shallowness of most purchases and the upgrade system.

Performance on each stage received a grade, and more money was rewarded for playing these stages well, but previous records were simply overwritten without the game recording any personal bests or providing special rewards for ghosting every level or whatever–if that was even possible. The game only appears to track your original numbers anyway, so you probably can’t iteratively improve your endgame kill counts with the replay function, except by restarting before the mission ends–it seems like replays were intended to be done from scratch, without upgrades. That said, the upgrades give you near-pointless things like faster jumping and extra battery life, and most purchases feel tacked on: they’re cool to use, but many only work in combat or when detected, which means you’re already playing in a substandard way according to the game’s own scoring rubric.

It makes up for most of that with writing that won me over from the opening cutscene, a bitchin’ soundtrack, and very clever hacking mechanics, where you can wire a light switch to send an elevator to another floor, setting off a sound sensor on another circuit, perhaps to open a door, or make a guard’s gun misfire, or even–god forbid–turn a light off. The main character’s signature jump move can be a lot of fun, and makes the game seem much less finicky than the small movements and occasionally questionable controls found in Trilby.

If I could suggest a few changes, I’d want some cool abilities rewarded for accomplishing stealth and nonviolent objectives, instead of spending money on them. These could be classics like temporary invisibility, making guards turn around with a distraction, that sort of thing. I’d start all levels off with full battery life for skills, probably drop the battery upgrades, and make all skills only consume one bar. Hell, maybe I’d get rid of battery life altogether–it’s easy to accidentally kill all your battery just trying to wire a guard’s gun to something. It wasn’t always clear to me whether an enemy was dead–apparently I killed a total of five people–so some kind of kill notification might’ve been a good idea. I’d also prefer lasting records and NG+ to a complete data wipe. If you wanted to get crazy, you could even introduce unlockable characters, trading the protagonist’s super-jump for something else.

This game was thoroughly enjoyed by the reviewer. It is an excellent game that may be too simple or not ambitious enough to be a 5, or there are design flaws meaningful enough to prevent it from enduring as something truly beloved. Highly recommended.
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