Before I talk about Gunpoint, I’m going to talk about guard duty. Being on guard duty is the equivalent of being in a relationship with an incredibly needy boy or girl. Every half-hour or so, depending on the importance of the thing you’re guarding, you’ll get a call to check in. If you don’t answer that call, well-armed and/or short-tempered persons will visit your position and heaven help you if there wasn’t a good reason for your silence.
I mention this because stealth games tend to ignore this reality of guard duty. You can take out a guard early on and no one will seem to care, no matter how long it takes you to achieve your objective. And while Gunpoint’s guards don’t check-in either, mission times are measured in minutes, not hours, so one can convince oneself that the trenchcoated individual one controls just happened to get things done in between those oh-so-important calls. That alone makes it better than any other stealth game I’ve played.
There are other neat things too, like how firing your gun will summon the police within seconds, represented by a sniper who watches the level’s exit and makes egress near impossible at times, how some cameras aren’t actually connected to anything which happens more often than you’d expect in real life, or how guards behave when you have a gun pointed at them: they don’t just give up, but will keep their own weapon aimed at you and fire if you lower yours or get too close. What I’m saying is that Gunpoint offers up a high level of verisimilitude, which is surprising considering not only its 2D pixel visuals made by more-or-less one man but the game features a protagonist who can jump over buildings and rewire a person’s gun so that it opens a door when fired.
Rewiring is the core mechanic of the game. It’s called crosslink and you get access to it once you’ve learned the basics of walking, jumping, and punching guards in the face. A roll of the mouse wheel is all it takes to turn the world into a blue-toned electrical blueprint that you can pan around at will. Everything electronic that can be rewired will show up in red, green, blue, yellow or purple, depending on what circuit they’re on with similarly-colored lines drawn between things that are connected. So, a red line going from a switch to a light tells you using that switch will affect the light. Connections are one-way, however, so having the line go from the light to the switch means the switch won’t work as intended and the direction of communication is shown by white dots that travel along the line. Any given object can only have one outgoing connection, but unlimited incoming ones, and you can only connect things together if they are on the same circuit although there are exceptions to that rule in certain levels.
The goal of each mission is to gain access to the main computer (or computers) in the level, which is locked away behind doors that can only be opened by rewiring them. Initially, you can only manipulate the red circuit, but you can gain access to the others by finding and hacking their corresponding fuse boxes. In most levels the process can become fairly involved as you wire and rewire devices to gain access to various parts of the level. It would have been very easy for the developer to fall into the trap of making the game a frustrating exercise in linear puzzle-solving, wherein you need to solve a level in a specific way or fail. That does not happen, though; you have full freedom to approach the situation however you’d like, within reason of course.
For all its strengths, Gunpoint does have some weaknesses. Some of the stealth genre’s quirks remain in place. For example, running far enough away from a guard will cause him to forget your presence and not result in an escalation of security. That’s forgivable, though, because your character is a nameless, faceless sneak who looks like a homeless person and not a highly trained military operative. But redemptively, the guards don’t return to their original locations. Rather, they keep watch over the area they last saw you, often patrolling back and forth with gun drawn. So I guess that’s not really a weakness, because I love that about them.
Honestly, I love everything I’ve seen in Gunpoint. It’s the first stealth game that I’ve truly enjoyed through and through because it feels right. Even though the guards don’t have complicated AIs and the graphics aren’t fancy-pantsy 3D with cutting edge SSS and your character can inexplicably climb up walls like a lizard, it provides the most believable stealth gameplay I’ve yet to encounter. You should definitely keep an eye out for it. I know I will.