This past week, I've been playing the IGF 2012 build of a game that fans of tactical action-based espionage should have every reason to be excited about. The game is called Gunpoint--developed by Tom Francis, John Roberts, and Fabian van Dommelen--and it has players take on the role of an incorrigible, trench-coated spy-for-hire who plies his trade by breaking into office buildings and stealing coveted data for his employers.
Though Gunpoint isn't finished yet--some things like the narrative are still being added--the IGF 2012 build of the game I played is fairly complete, and it's already a ton of fun. The player begins by selecting a mission from those available, some of which have gadget prerequisites, and all of which earn the player precious cash. This money can then be used to purchase new helpful spy equipment that can be used in subsequent missions. In a nutshell, the player just needs to hack a data terminal in each building and escape while avoiding (or dispatching) patrolling guards.
The player starts out with some basic abilities, namely being able to jump (and fall) ludicrous distances and scale walls. Basic guards can be tackled and humorously subdued with a few facepunches, but optional secondary objectives will often ask the player to collect additional data, or complete a level without attacking (or sometimes, without even alerting) the guards. As the title suggests, you'll be able to purchase a firearm to add to your arsenal, but in staying true to the game's spirit, it's far more useful for holding enemies at bay or blasting windows than it is for running-and-gunning.
Guards in each level have some basic, but effective artificial intelligence, come in various types, and alter their patrol patterns to investigate when the lights go out or when they hear a disturbance. Motion detectors, security cameras, and other security machinations are also introduced, and it's up to the player to figure out how to best utilize, disable, or avoid them.
Gunpoint would have been a solid stealth game had it just been confined to some of these basic mechanics, but Francis and company have added some great extra layers, making it a much deeper experience that actually encourages player creativity. One of the greatest facilitators of this sort of player agency--and perhaps one of the coolest additions to stealth games in recent memory--is a gadget called the Crosslink.
The Crosslink is a device that is the envy of all electricians, and in the case of Gunpoint's spy, is an incredibly powerful tool that can be used creatively rewire a building's circuitry, often with laugh-out-loud results. When presented with a locked door that normally only guards can open, for example, the player can wire the door to a nearby light switch. More complex levels contain multiple circuits (which can often only be used after accessing the appropriate circuit box), and as the levels increase in complexity, solutions can take on a Rube Goldberg-like quality.
The Crosslink interface is elegant and beautifully executed. Upon entering Crosslink mode, the level's presentation shifts to a blueprint-like overlay that shows all of the circuits and their connections. Rewiring a circuit is as simple as clicking and dragging from one point to the other. It's easy to grasp, despite all of the possibilities, which allows the player to easily experiment with different configurations.
That said, unlike many other games with puzzles at their cores, Gunpoint isn't about finding the developer's preferred solution. In fact, the number of tools and gadgets that the player unlocks (in addition to character upgrades) quickly open up a number of valid ways to approach each mission. Whether you're interested in finding the most efficient, most complex, most violent, or funniest solution, Gunpoint sets the table quite nicely.
"I wanted to make a game with the idea that the player might be smarter than me," Francis recently explained in an interview with Gamasutra. "Let him think of solutions that never occurred to me in hours of playtesting, and give him the tools to be more creative than I was when I designed this level."
For those curious to see the game in action, Francis has put together and narrated a trailer that shows off over eight minutes of Gunpoint gameplay. It's well worth a look.
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Francis also recently had solicited music submissions for the Gunpoint's soundtrack, and ultimately decided on a combination of music from three different artists. While this music hadn't been completely incorporated into the IGF build I've been playing, you can check out some videos that showcase the final music selections on the game's website.
Gunpoint has been nominated for a Design award at this year's Independent Gaming Festival at GDC this year, and having played it, it's very easy to understand why. It's a surprisingly deep stealth-puzzler that manages to be extremely liberating, which an especially impressive feat for an experience in which puzzles are at the core.
Gunpoint is due out "later than May 2012," according to the game's official website. It will initially be released for "PC only at first," a statement that seems to indicate more platforms are planned. Francis had originally intended to release the game for free, but has since decided to charge for it due to fan demand. He hasn't settled on a price yet, but based on what I played, it'll be an experience absolutely worth paying for.