Reviewed by Mark Hasley
About four years ago, I wandered through my local movie rental place and wound up with a movie titled Immortal. It was a rather strange science fiction-fantasy film, placed in a rather ugly Paris, France, in some year after 2050. The plot was full of Egyptian gods arriving in pyramids and trying to control Earth, while other gods attempted to save Earth, while some oddly blue-hued girl was having a special baby, and the entire planet was rapidly being used up and run down, and... Anyway, the entire thing was silly and contrived, and I loved it. The movie was based on two graphic novels of which I had never heard, and recently a game was released based on those same graphic novels. The game is called NIKOPOL, and it is a completely entertaining game.
The story that is presented as a basis for the game is about as vague and convoluted as a story can get. It involves a young artist named Nikopol, who is a member of some rather unclear revolutionary group that seems to work against the government but doesnít seem to have any clear direction. It also becomes clear that the Egyptian god Horus has visited Earth in his pyramid-shaped space ship, and has plans for stealing an election and taking control of Paris. For some reason this plan requires that Horus take over the body of Nikopolís father, who was apparently some sort of revolutionary leader that has been in a type of frozen/suspended animation/prison for thirty years. The plot somehow comes together when Anubis confronts Nikopol and asks him to stop Horus. From that point on, as Holmes once actually said, "the game's afoot". During his quest to save his father and the city of Paris, Nikopol meets and deals with all kinds of marvelous and unique situations. He needs to get by a giant extraterrestrial jellyfish that has glopped itself over the top of a skyscraper, huge nits that are being trained by the government, and an android that is attempting to be elected governor of Paris. Now if all of this makes little or no sense, fear not. All of these elements fit perfectly, and yet the game is not story driven. All the player needs to know is that he must find and save Nikopolís father. The plot does make that goal clear, and thatís all the game really needs.
The interface is an old-fashioned first person point-and-click, but it has a lot of clever, effective, and smoothly operating details that make everything function with no problems. When the game starts, the gamer goes to the Startup page. Here he will get the first indication that this is not a regular adventure game. The Startup page is not just a regular page. The gamer finds himself on a balcony somewhere overlooking the rather dowdy and disheveled city of Paris. (Since the game is set in 2023, it is amazing that the place has gone to seed so quickly.) The impressive part is that this scene is fully animated and contains birds that fly, airships moving from one place to another, blinking lights, moving people, and lots of general 'stuff '. Hanging in the air, and easily reachable due to the 360 degree movement of the mouse, are six modern-looking hieroglyphics that can be clicked on to start a game, load a game, set a profile, view the credits, exit the game, and open an 'options' section. The options include mouse sensitivity, invert mouse, volume control for sounds and general game items, and subtitles. There are also settings for 'vertical sync', high or low level of detail, and 'advance effects' (Pixel shade 2.0). These last items are mentioned separately because I had no idea what they meant and therefore I left them alone.
The gamer takes the role of Nikopol and moves him through the many scenes by left-clicking the mouse. The entire game is played with this device. As is usual in first person games, the cursor changes to indicate direction, usability, careful examination, and even at times becomes a fist symbol, which allows the player to thump things, or break through doors. Since the game provides for 360 degrees of movement, the cursor changes a lot, and when there are pixels to hunt, it is necessary to pay attention. The game is fairly linear. There are five chapters and each must be completed before Nikopol can move to the next section. It is usually not possible to go in a wrong direction or take a wrong turn, since Nikopol tends to talk to himself and say things like "I canít go there". It is generally difficult to get lost.
The inventory is opened with a right click, and it appears in the center of the screen. The various items are utilized by passing the cursor over them. They can be used or read by clicking on them. The inventory also has two buttons. One of them takes the player back to the main screen and the other permits the reading of documents. One feature I liked here is that the game is played in five chapters and the inventory cleans itself out after each chapter. That being the case, the gamer (Nikopol) isnít slowly collecting and hauling around dozens of useless items that he doesnít need or want. I have come to dislike games that make me feel like a trash collector at times. This game doesnít do that.
All of the aforementioned material is expected in a review, but as long as it all works (and this game operates perfectly!), it makes for rather dull reading. Any adventure game is either good or less than good depending on the graphics, music, sound, and puzzles. And it is in these areas that this game excels.
The graphics are, quite simply, excellent, unique and impressive. Paris is seen as a seedy, grungy, and rather downtrodden place. The atmosphere is wonderfully presented and effective throughout the game. There are all kinds of visual details that add to the experience. As an example, Nikopol often finds himself in a room or an office clearly belonging to a wealthy or elite person. In these rooms there are great works of art on display. In 2023 Paris, these works are mounted on the wall in glass or Lucite cases with all kinds of devices attached to them. Somehow this makes it clear that pollution and dirt are everywhere, and the works must be protected or ruined. Itís an effective detail throughout, and it allows the player to better understand what the city has become. The game is full of these kinds of details, and they create an atmosphere that is perfect for this game.
The music too is grim and eerie, but there isnít a great deal of it. Instead, the entire game is full of sounds. There are doors opening and closing, conversations with several eccentric and interesting people, mysterious machinery thumps, odd screeches, and long low groans. There is a lot of noise, and all of it is well placed and atmospherically perfect. All of the voices are different, and fit the characters perfectly. The only problem here is that every once in a while these sounds are, in fact, clues to a puzzle. It takes a while for the player to understand that he must not just wallow in the atmosphere here. He must listen for what is happening before he can complete the next step in the game.
Two other comments must be made about the visual aspects of the game. There are several cut scenes in the game (especially, and most importantly, those used as transitions between chapters) that are simply, and uniquely, works of art. They are done like nothing Iíve ever seen before. Indeed, they are done like an animated page in a graphic novel. They are set up with three or four frames appearing on the screen. Another frame moves through and over these frames as Nikopol goes from one point to another. It sounds odd as I re-read this, but I found the idea to be amazing and very effective. The characters too are often like nothing a gamer has seen before. I found the visualizations of Horus and Anubis to be excellent. Each looked just exactly like what a humanized Egyptian god should look like.
Iíve said little about the gameplay until now because in this game the play and the puzzles are perfectly integrated. There are several different kinds of puzzles, but they all seem to fit exactly where and as they should. There are several inventory puzzles and there are a goodly number of mechanical puzzles. There are a couple of very basic mazes that are fairly simple to navigate. There are no sliders. However, there are a couple of times when a gamer has to shoot someone or something. I know that this is considered anathema to some adventure gamers, but these few moments, when they occur, are so integral to the story that they caused me no concern. There are also a small number of timed puzzles where Nikopol can die (I died a lot the first time through!), but here again the developers of the game have been careful and reasonable. If the player dies, he is returned to exactly where he was killed. And during that brief 'returning' process, Nikopol will tell himself what he should have done to avoid being killed in the first place. Itís a very clever hint system. At no time will the player lose any of the progress that heís made.
The puzzles are, without exception, clever and slightly different. The player will again get the feeling that these puzzles are types that he has not seen before. Theyíre not really that unique, but they are applied so cleverly, and detailed so well, that they are great fun without being repetitious. They also have an impressive range of difficulty. Some are rather easy, some are fairly difficult, and one caused me to lose about three hours of sleep (and later forced me to explain to my wife that it was reasonable for an old guy to jump out of bed saying "Thatís it!", and then fire up his computer at three in the morning). The puzzles, like virtually everything else about the game, were really well done.
I do have two concerns about the game. These are NOT to be construed as criticisms, because one is my fault and the other is my attitude. First of all, I was in such a hurry to get this game that I purchased a European version of it. It played without problems, but most of the subtitles were in French. Since I tend to rely on subtitles, this caused me some difficulties. It was also a bit weird to hear the conversations, and Nikopolís asides, spoken in clear and perfect English, while reading the message on the screen in French (and I donít speak French). It also caused me a problem with one of the puzzles, since I had to decipher a coded letter that turned out to be written in French. The puzzle was fine as long as I stuck to the process that I had figured out, and accepted the fact that I wasnít going to be able to read the message. Luckily however, when I had it done correctly, Nikopol read it to himself, in English. The second problem I had is that the game was too short. I probably spent 15-30 hours on it, but I wanted more! I wanted more of that exquisitely gloomy atmosphere, more weirdly beautiful Egyptian gods, more unique and fantastic situations, and more marvelously entertaining puzzles.
That then is NIKOPOL. It is the best game that Iíve played in a while. As is usual with a White Bird production, it is visually stunning. The puzzles are often difficult, but never unfair or unreasonable. The entire presentation is full of sights and sounds that will absolutely impress any adventure gamer. This game will remain on my keeper shelf for a long time. Anyone who invests in this game, or receives it as a gift, will be thoroughly satisfied!
© December 2008 Mark Hasley
Developed (2008) by Enki Bilal and White Birds Productions . Published in Europe by Lighthouse Interactive and in North America by Got Game Entertainment.
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (mild violence, mild blood)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium IV, AMD Athlon, or Equivalent 1.7 GHz Processor (2.4 GHz Recommended); Windows 98 / 2000 / ME / XP / Vista (XP / Vista Recommended); 512 MB RAM [1024 MB with Vista] (1024 MB [2048 MB with Vista] Recommended); 16X DVD-ROM Drive; DirectX 9.0c, 128 MB Graphics Card [ATI Radeon 9600 / NVIDIA 6 Series or Higher] (ATI Radeon 9800 XT / NVIDIA 6600 GT Series or Higher Recommended); DirectX 9.0c Compatible Sound Card; 3 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 9.0c; Mouse
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