September 17, 2008 - Surprise and delight! Nikopol: Secrets of the Immortals masquerades in its box as a typical PC adventure game, but aren't you glad I'm here to tell you it's something more. Maybe it's the meticulously represented atmosphere of a future, politically dystopian Paris; maybe it's the story and art based on graphic novels by Enki Bilal; maybe it's the variety of puzzles that alternately lift your spirits with confidence and crush you back into frustration. Probably, though, it's the way that even when the going gets rough all of these elements combine to make a game that compels you to keep playing.
Enki Bilal's original Nikopol Trilogy contains The Carnival of Immortals, The Woman Trap, and Equator Cold, but the game sort of takes an alternate slice of the first. You play as Alcide Nikopol, son of the Alcide Nikopol whom most of the major events swirl around. To be honest, you'll get a lot more out of the game if you have read the comics (or maybe seen the 2004 film version, although that is also pretty different and takes a more Hollywood-feeling approach to part of the story). That said, the game is good enough to make you feel like searching out the graphic novel, and reading it is worthwhile in its own right.
In any case, your dad (who is the same age as you, due to his being cryogenically hibernating while incarcerated for 30 years) is possessed by Horus, the Egyptian god. His former pals, the other gods, are parked in a giant pyramid spaceship over the city, trying to convince the dictator-prophet-governor of Paris to give them fuel. When that doesn't work, they decide to make a go of taking over the government, but Horus wants to foil them by having it himself, hence using your dad as host body. It's a big humans-as-pawns plot and Anubis continues the trend (in the game) by exhorting you (the son, remember) to catch up with Horus/Pop. The other half of the story's plot about your dad's relationship with Jill, the blue haired not-quite-human girl, is mostly ignored.
When the game starts (fresh from a visit to the panoramic main menu--only a taste of the fanciness to come) you're in Nikopol Jr.'s apartment. It's a perfect mess befitting an artist/student, and right from there I was impressed with the details. The textures look good, the colors are great, and there's just so much to see in these environments. Of course, the clutter can occasionally make it hard to make out just what is and is not useful to the resourceful protagonist, but the dynamic cursor helps, even if it does (pretty much without fail) reduce you to mousing over the whole screen like you're combing a beach.
I usually find timed events completely irksome and unwarranted, but for some reason in Nikopol they're exciting. After you putz around in your room for a while (painting a picture of your dad for the underground resistance group you just joined), a nasty creature comes for your arrest and if you screw around for too long, you're dead. Barricading the door isn't enough, and by the time I puzzled out the exact sequence of clicks I needed -- 13, if I counted correctly -- I figured that never in a million years would I complete them all in time. Perseverance found me progressing nicely, however, and I eventually made my way to area two, the former grocery store, now cemetery.
Besides evading capture, you'll break some codes, reroute some subway trains, and burn some aliens. Programming key cards with lit hexagon signs could almost be a puzzle game by itself. The only thing that bothered me was the occasional unclear objective. For instance, I stumbled upon an alarm box, but I didn't really know what the alarms were for or why I would need to shut them down. There just seemed to be a puzzle, but maybe puzzling out what the puzzle is for is just part of the... yeah, puzzle.
Thankfully, in addition to the dynamic cursor, which allows you to pick up, interact, or read with one button, the inventory system is super accessible and streamlined -- well, it has to be for those timed segments. Right clicking brings up a ring of items and you just left click to use something. Right clicking cancels, so you can easily click your way through all the items in case you have one of those "try everything once" moments.
Besides great graphics with nothing but a bit of fish-eye lens effect during mouse-look to distract from total immersion (unless you count the stylized cut-scenes working in the graphic novel ties), Nikopol features zero-complaint voice acting and some occasional tense music to keep your brain working. It feels like the most complete package I've gotten in an adventure game in quite some time, despite the fact that it's pretty short and should probably experienced as a companion to the comic.
Minimum System Requirements
System: Windows XP/Vista, Pentium IV 1.7 GHz or equivalent
RAM: 512 MB
Video Memory: 128 MB
Hard Drive Space: 3000 MB