There's a reason side-scrolling stealth games hardly exist. On a single plane, there simply is not much room to play the hide-and-seek game, and those who try usually end up quite awkward. To make it work, the only way to go is up, to utilize all that vertical screen real estate. Fortunately, verticality is something Gunpoint absolutely nails.
Our look into the dystopian near-future of Gunpoint starts in the apartment of Richard Conway, industrial spy for hire, as he is about to test his newest acquisition - a device that enables him to jump to ridiculous heights. He propels himself out of his apartment window, falling three stories down and smashing through the glass roof of the adjacent building. After surviving that epic crash, he ends up witnessing the murder on an employee of Rooke Firearms, the company Conway was supposed to spy on. Anyone well-versed in crime fiction knows this makes Conway the main suspect, and thus he sets out to solve the mystery and prove his innocence, which forces him to engage with many shady corporations and corrupted police.
Conway's crazy jumps constitute the core mechanic. Holding the mouse button charges it up, upon which a dotted line is drawn to show his trajectory. He can "only" jump about two stories high, and most buildings he needs to infiltrate end up build just in such a way as to make entry tricky even with these super powers. He can also pummel guards and punch them dead on the floor, but the game encourages to walk the path of non-violence.
The goal is always to retrieve some piece of information from a hotspot while avoiding exceedingly well-equipped guards. Just jumping around them eventually isn't getting Conway anywhere, and so he also calls upon a range of other tech gadgets to clear the way. The most central skill is the ability to connect switches and other triggers to all kinds of devices in the building by entering a stylized "circuit vision". Ordinary guards can be easily tricked just by switching off the lights, but eventually they equip night vision goggles and need more contrived electrickery. Since colored network nodes have to be activated manually to unlock parts of the circuitry, the game quickly becomes a full-blown puzzle game. Conway may cause an elevator to be called when a guard passes a security camera. When it arrives at its destination, it may trigger a noise detector, which in turn electrocutes another guard next to a power outlet. It's even possible to rig enemies' guns to stuff, leaving potentially no limits to experimentation.
In practice, however, the game is very much limited by its brief campaign. Once the story missions facilitated to use each gadget once or twice, the game is already over. The title-giving mechanic of holding enemies at gunpoint to prevent them from making a move is surprisingly unimportant. In between missions, Conway goes to well-written chat briefings with his clients, which allow some player input for the responses. Most of the time, these only result in throwaway lines, but in the end they can also determine the outcome. Either way the path to the end is quite short. The game does contain a map editor to create freeform buildings to infiltrate, but it feels a bit restricted compared to the story missions. While it lasts, Gunpoint definitely is a blast, with a very satisfying sense of experimentation.