I just finished Tom Francis’s Gunpoint, a game so indie that Tom basically made it himself in the last three years, but which my friend Chris really liked. Only Chris is friends with Tom, so maybe he’s lying.
No, it really is a good game. You may have seen screenshots, or a demo. It looks like this. My character is in the middle of the picture, in the trenchcoat, all of 35 pixels high.
I worried that the art might seem horribly retro, but actually it makes sense, because it’s a puzzle game, you see, and you need to see the whole building you’re dealing with.
You are a freelance spy. In the game, I mean– I don’t know what you do in real life. You witness a murder, and this involves you in a series of missions, all of which involve infiltrating a building and stealing or hacking something deep inside.
The neat bit is that Tom has come up with a truly novel and fun game mechanic. You can rewire the building’s electronics systems, in insane ways. Anything on a circuit can be wired to anything else, so you can have switches open doors, motion detectors turn off lights, and elevator panels open trapdoors.
You use these tools to get past guards, get them walking, trap them, give them shocks, etc., as well as gain access to new areas. The buildings get more complex as you go, and you get even more toys to play with. It’s fun to think through the puzzles, though I couldn’t get a few of the optional objectives. Guards can one-shot you, so you really do not want to mess with them directly. (At the same time, one of the really clever bits of the game is that you can use the guards as part of the Rube Goldberg mechanisms you create to get through the building.)
If you screw up, you’re offered the chance to reload an autosave from several seconds ago, which is almost always enough to undo whatever didn’t work and try something else.
There is a story that goes with all this, told mostly in phone calls with your clients. You can ask pointed questions or make wisecracks during the call, though the conversation trees have a way of proceeding relentlessly either way. However, you actually do have to make some choices along the way– basically, who you side with. (By making a certain choice, I lost the opportunity to do one mission. I assume there’s a compensatory one, but I’m not sure.)
A couple of minor complaints:
- You can scroll the view with the arrow keys, but switching to hacking mode will move it, and occasionally the arrow keys don’t work…. this is annoying because 80% of the time (that is, until the last few large maps), you want the damn building centered and stable, and it won’t stay that way.
- The ending is… abrupt. There’s a whole subplot with the chief of police that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Plus I went through the final level in the only way I could figure out, which was violently. The story wrap-up was, well, nonexistent, so I have no idea if that was a good idea, or if there was an alternative, or what happened next, or why my character didn’t end up in jail.
The game took me about six hours, which is probably about right for the price. It reminds me a lot of Portal 1– not that it feels similar to play, but it’s the same combination of a fun and new game mechanic with an often amusing story to link the puzzles together.
Oh, and you may recall I said I was replaying Dishonored. I finished that, and I have to say I enjoyed the second playthrough much more than the first. I went low-chaos throughout, trying to find every damn rune and bone charm and choking every last guard. I also have to unsay my comment that Corvo was foolish to drink a toast to himself– he actually drinks a toast to Emily. (Or perhaps they patched this?)
(The very last mission is annoying, though. So damn many guards in that fort. I actually used up all of my mana potions, mostly with Possession.)
Last time I’d played “low chaos but kill the targets”, so finding the nonlethal ways through the missions involved some new material. I do think Dunwall is fun to explore, far more fun than fighting through it– though it’s been established that it’s such a nasty place that I’m not convinced that placing an eleven-year-old on the throne will greatly improve it. For Dishonored 2, we have to ask, could the city get any worse? Never doubt it! I mean, I’m sure they’ll come up with something, but it’s hard to feel that the place is worth saving.