Good things often come in small packages. Gunpoint is just such a good thing, in just such a small package. Like the diminutive buildings you'll spend the game circumnavigating and infiltrating, Gunpoint itself is an intricate array of interlocking circuits and gears, finely tuned and waiting for you to bend it to your will.
You play as Richard Conway, a trenchcoated spy-for-hire who, after a job gone wrong, finds himself caught up in a paranoid, 70s-style corporate espionage plot. You'll guide him on infiltration missions as he sneaks into apartment buildings, high-security compounds, office complexes and weapons-manufacturing labs, all in a fairly laid-back pursuit of the truth.
Gunpoint may be a stealth game, but Conway isn't some Sam Fisher-wannabe, crouching in the shadows and garroting unsuspecting guards. His methods are a bit flashier, and a hell of a lot of fun. He owns a pair of super-powered trousers that allow him to launch himself hundreds of feet into the air and land without harm. Players line up his leap by holding down the left mouse button, sort of like taking aim in Tanks or Worms. Release, and sproiiing!
Every wee building Conway infiltrates is staffed with wee guards who are no less sharp-eyed and deadly for being so wee. If you stray into a guard's field of vision, you'll be shot in an instant. This occurs with shocking immediacy and very little fanfare. It therefore becomes very important to negotiate your way around the guards to whatever corner computer or hidden prototype you're trying to hack or steal.
To do that, you'll have to re-wire the building's security devices and appliances, which is where Gunpoint sets itself apart from other stealth games. Through a wonderfully simple interface, players can flip over to a hacking overlay called the "crosslink," which lets them access the wiring of the building and manipulate it.
It's easier to watch it in action (as in that trailer above) than to explain, but I'll give it a shot: There's a guard on the floor above you, pacing left and right. You're standing next to a lightswitch. By entering the overlay view, you see a wire going from your lightswitch to the light above your head (naturally.) However, flicking over to crosslink mode, you can rewire your lightswitch to open a door on the level above you. If you time it right, you can cause it to open onto the guard, knocking him out. Or you can rewire the lightswitch to send a charge to a power outlet, electrocuting him as he walks by. Or have it open a trapdoor, dropping him to his death. Or you can turn off the lights and sneak up behind him, taking him down with a well-timed jump. Or, or, or.
The game, then, is made up of a collection or reprogrammable binary equations. Except for the guards, every object in the world has two states: on/off, open/closed, activated/not activated. By layering so many fundamentally simple variables on top of one another, Gunpoint manages to be complex without feeling overwhelming.
The guards are the game's x-factor, and they're what sets Gunpoint apart from the superficially similar (though differently enjoyable) iOS game Beat Sneak Bandit. Guards behave according to simple but realistic AI programming, meaning that half the time, you'll have to progress through a level by manipulating them like you'd manipulate a keypad or a door. If you turn off the lights in one room, you'll learn that the guard in the room will immediately go and flick the lightswitch. So, if you first rewire the guard's lightswitch to open a vault door you can't access, then turn off the lights in his room, he'll inadvertently open the vault for you.