Have you heard of Enki Bilal or his graphic novels? Neither have I, but now having played through Nikopol: Secrets of the Immortals, I'm much more interested in the Nikopol trilogy he penned in the late 80s and early 90s. Had I read these before playing Secrets of the Immortals, I'm sure the story would have made more sense, but believe me, even with no knowledge of the author or is work, Nikopol: Secrets of the Immortals is still a tremendously enjoyable adventure game that you shouldn't miss.
A Power Struggle In Futuristic France
Players take the role of young artist and student Alcide Nikopol. The story begins in your apartment in Paris, France, in the year 2023. A single religious zealot on a 'holy mission' rules with dictator like power. Loudspeakers around the city broadcast propaganda about telling on your neighbors, avoiding idle thoughts, and using mistrust and vigilance to battle heresy. The atmosphere is very quickly established as a cold, dark, kind of cyber-punk setting that reminded me of Blade Runner. This atmosphere is setup very nicely and very quickly, partially due to the game's menu that overlooks this dark and dreary futuristic Paris, but primarily due to the excellent detailed visuals and sounds.
More on that soon, but first, let me describe the game in more general terms. Nikopol is a first person adventure game, and the ultimate goal is to save your father. At the outset of the story, an odd, floating pyramid is above the city. The pyramid is basically a ship for several gods, including Anubis and Horus. Horus apparently wants to take over a human host body and rule Paris; during one odd cutscene late in the game, he talks about the importance of fuel for a combustible engine, I can only assume for their ship – very odd to say the least, but believe me, while the story might not always make sense, the rest of the adventure makes up for it.
Anyway, Horus is trying to possess the body of your father, who is the same age as you (about 30) due to cryogenic freezing. I should also mention that a new election for governor of Paris is underway, but at least through most of the game the only running candidate is the current dictator. However, late in the adventure you'll discover that he bows out of the race and the election is between an android and your father, possessed by Horus. The other gods don't want Horus to go through with this, and you obviously would rather not have your father possessed, so with a little bit of help from Anubis and your wit, you'll lead Alcide from the rundown Urban District to the governor's tower, where the candidates are staying.
Nikopol is a lot like your typical first person adventure game, but with a few positive twists. For one, unlike a lot of adventure games, you can die, but if you do, the game puts you right back at the start of the sequence where you died. These are almost always during timed events in the game, of which there are about eight total. These include quickly hiding when oncoming security guards are coming, narrowly escaping the clutches of a creature who breaks into your apartment, and successfully disabling an alarm without getting caught. These sequences are usually fairly short, and can be challenging, but the load times are almost instantaneous and Nikopol will often briefly say something to give you a hint if you're missing something.
For the most part, the puzzles you encounter are fairly standard, which is not to say they are bad. Interestingly, no puzzle in the game involves mixing inventory items, which are accessed with a simple right click. The items pop up in this concise and small menu, which I thought was slick. Also, when you try to use an inventory item on something in the world, and it's not the right combination, a small red 'x' appears by the item as it hovers on screen, so you can just skip trying to use it and move on. I liked that feature because it was time saving and also saved you from having to hear Nikopol say one of his several “this is useless” or “I shouldn't do that” lines.
There were actually two puzzles in the game I thought were odd, both involving a hammer to clear a path. For some reason, you only had a predetermined number of hammer uses and there was only one proper order to use that hammer on the puzzle to destroy all the bricks. This restriction seemed really forced and as a whole these two sequences seemed unnecessary as puzzles.
Another type of puzzle that you have to do about three times, and that I consulted a walkthrough on twice, was for coding your magnetic keycard. These puzzles give you a picture and then an electronic keypad to recreate the picture with, using several rules. The first one was fun, but the latter two were really challenging. Nikopol also includes a lot of fun puzzles like setting up a large coding room and then using this code to decipher a message. Another puzzle has Nikopol breaking a lock to escape a large box, and yet another using an old subway system's console to clear a path. So while there are a handful of exceptions, overall, the puzzles in Nikopol are good and satisfying.
Presentation And Conclusion
There is a lot to the presentation of Nikopol: Secrets of the Immortals that makes the experience more enjoyable and satisfying, too. What you'll notice, right from the start, is that the visuals are richly detailed. The environments are very nicely colored and bring the dreary futuristic Paris to life. The comic book or graphic novel style cutscenes are cool in that they are brief and purposeful. Sounds are excellent, including all voiceovers and the intermittent ambient tune that plays; I wish it played more often, but when it does, it takes the experience up a notch.
Nikopol: The Secret of the Immortals might not be the longest adventure game you've played, and the story may confuse you for most or even all of the adventure – but it's rife with excellent atmosphere, lots of satisfying puzzles, and a beautiful presentation that make it well worth the $30 asking price.