Review: Nikopol: Secrets of the Immortals

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Nikopol has never had a very good reputation on Steam, stretching all the way back to its launch. I’ve always been curious about it, what with its futuristic stylings and rad floating pyramid. Honestly, starting it up it felt no worse than a lot of indie adventures, and the sharp pre-rendered backgrounds and interesting setting did a lot to get me in the mood for some weirdness. But the weirdness was quickly drowned out by some unexpected pixel hunts, some aggravatingly complex puzzles, and a general lack of polish and important details.

Based on the works of a French graphic novelist (whom I am definitely going to check out now), Nikopol is the story of a guy named Nikopol, strangely enough. He lives in a dystopian Paris ruled by a theological dictatorship in the year 2023, which I just realized is a scant six years from now. Le Pen’s Paris is a gray and decaying place, full of armored soldiers and what I can only assume are genetically-engineered creatures dedicated to enforcing their laws. Nikopol, an artist and member of the resistance, gets chased out of his apartment by one of these beasts and into the jaws of a conspiracy involving the church, his father, Egyptian gods, and… wait, what?

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The moment Anubis himself meets you in a slummy urban graveyard is probably the moment that what weak grasp you have on the plot is lost. There’s clearly a LOT going on here with the different shades of religion and many factions vying for power in the shadow of the enigmatic floating pyramid, and you’re going to get approximately none of it here. Monsters and cyborgs and spirits will appear to give their little spiels and then vanish back to wherever the hell they came from, leaving you to toil through the puzzles and reach your goal with little rhyme or reason to guide you.

And those puzzles, Jesus Cyberchrist those puzzles. So in one scene, there’s a vending machine holding funerary urns full of ashes and you need the one your mom is in. You need coins from an offering box next to you but the cyborg priest is using a wall-mounted mirror to make sure you don’t dip into his tithes. The solution is to pick up a nearly-invisible rock from the ground, chuck it at the mirror to break it, and then use the coins to sort through the machine one urn at a time in search of your mom. This, of course, is used to set up a ritual room of stone plates and chalk drawings using “A is next to B, B can’t be across from C” puzzle clues, and then later using that room to solve a secret message substitution code.

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That’s Nikopol in a nutshell, a mess of confusing and frustrating puzzles carrying along a hopelessly incomprehensible plot. So many of the items you need are nearly invisible both because they blend perfectly into the detailed scenes and because you won’t even realize you need them in the first place. To clear the debris from one doorway you have to (a) pick up a brick from the debris, (b) clear a specific spot on the floor, (c) place the brick, (d) pick up and place a tall board to prop the ceiling, and then (e) use a hammer to knock away the rest of the debris. The only clue you’re going to get to ANY of this is a line about the ceiling being unstable. And this is going to be every chapter, with the puzzles getting worse and worse.

It’s a real shame too, because with a little more focus and polish and, um, story this could have been quite good. The static scenes you explore are well-detailed, a few of the puzzles early on aren’t too terrible, the voice acting is… passable… Okay, maybe this one was doomed regardless but it still could have been better than this. At the very least they could have hired a real translator instead of transcribing dialogue with hilariously obvious misspellings. Really though that’s just one more annoyance to add to a veritable mountain of troubles. Nikopol’s reputation for being frustrating and incomprehensible precedes it for good reason, and it’s bad enough that there’s no chance I’ll ever see its end.

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