Alien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow’s Dread Machine Review

It is worth taking an interest in the activities of independent developers at least to see how, without having even a hundredth of the budget of some Assassin’s Creed, wielding the simplest animation and engine Unity, you can do a damn stylish and mesmerizing thing. You just need a little creativity.

Bartlow’s Dread Machine delightfully absurd already at the idea stage. Just close your eyes and try to imagine a modern video game running on hardware, say … 100 years ago. Literally “hardware”. Without any electronics or programming. In the view of the Beep Games team, this is a kind of arcade machine, from which old jazz melodies crackle, and mechanical figures of tin soldiers strung on knitting needles force each other with quite real bullets. Levels are rearranged on the go, creating the illusion of moving forward. Under the crackle of gears, deliberately fake decorations of cities, jungles and wastelands grow from the depths of the Machine.

Behind such an unusual audio-visual style, Bartlow’s Dread Machine hides a simple and straightforward twin stick shooter meat grinder. We have to control a mechanical agent with a cannon at the ready, moving from left to right along the linear levels, and shoot legions of hostile pieces of iron. Most of the time, the camera is fixed as if we were standing behind an arcade machine, gazing at a flat level at an angle of 45 °.

The chosen style dictates one insidious rule, which can both please with its originality and pissed off. That the hero, that the enemies move exclusively along the paths cut in the landscape. Therefore, you will swear hard more than once before you get used to this mechanic. For example, when a hail of bullets will fly at you, and there will be no opportunity to slip away. Or it will be, but in the heat of battle you simply will not be able to get into the joints of the intersection, because the hero moves quickly and with inertia. And there are countless situations when you are pinched on both sides by armored hulks, zombies and kamikaze shrimps …

All this madness is reinforced by a deliberately delusional plot about the abduction of President Teddy Roosevelt by a gang of anarcho-satanists, presented in the form of simple dialogues without voice acting. The cues appear on the screen as a pull-out mechanical panel printed on yellowish paper, and early music emphasizes the mood required for the scene.

The controls are quite simple and involve a minimum of buttons: the left stick is responsible for moving the hero, the right one for the direction of fire. On the bumpers of the gamepad, we switch weapons, shoot the triggers and dodge bullets, and activate the consumable on Y.

Although the core mechanics are pretty primitive, Bartlow’s Dread Machine bets hugely on a variety of situations and deftly juggles scenery, enemy types, bosses, camera angles, and even game genres. The classic advancement with the genocide of all things is diluted with car trips, good old side-scrolling airship, trivial shooting range, sea battle and simple puzzles.

The game does not sit within the cozy framework of its own mechanics, therefore, almost every episode is trying to surprise us with something. Now you have barely tamed the basics of control, shooting zombies, as local gunfighters point their trunks at you. We didn’t have time to look back, and already in the center of local New York, a huge drilling rig grows and organizes a dynamic bossfight for you. There will be almost real horror episodes, and intense tactical puzzles with snipers and the use of ricochet on our way. I especially remember the level with the mines, where a hefty centipede circulates along the rails, sweeping away everything in our path …

The hero collects money from fallen opponents, which is spent between levels for various items of clothing, new trunks and consumables. Clothing gives the character useful passive bonuses that make it easier to complete, but to get the best costumes, you will have to hit a crazy farm. But with the weapon came an offensive incident. The hero always carries a standard pistol and rifle with him. Only one slot is allocated for the purchased weapon for the task, and cartridges for such weapons flow out impermissibly quickly. As a result, willy-nilly, the standard rifle has to wield about 80% of the game. It is pumped over as the plot progresses and remains the most convenient and versatile weapon. An ill-conceived balance leaves a significant part of the arsenal unlocked in the course of the game lying around like a dead weight. The class of grenade launchers, for example, is generally practically useless, because the projectile flies too slowly. Splash damage from an explosion rarely affects several villains, because due to the peculiarities of the mechanics, the enemies do not clump together, but move along the paths, like us. In the heat of battle, you have a great chance to kill yourself with an explosion, three times regretting that you spent a bunch of fake “greenery” on this bandura.

The game has other minor problems as well. At some points, the enemies practically merge with the elements of the environment. Sometimes villains jump out of the edge of the screen too abruptly, making it impossible to react. It is often difficult to navigate in a pile of objects, coupled with not the most successful camera angles. Often you have to shoot at random, watching how the bullets stylishly chew off pieces of paint from the scenery. Another strange moment awaited us after the final. The save file is simply deleted, making it impossible to replay individual levels on a different difficulty. Just start over. Okay, at least purchased items and weapons are saved on the profile.

The replayability characteristic of the genre Bartlow’s Dread Machine is noticeably lacking. As mentioned above, the game forces almost the entire storyline to use a standard rifle, and clothing gives only small passive bonuses, which does not allow us to talk about different builds and tactics. Bartlow’s Dread Machine offers a one-time 4-5 hour arcade adventure that deftly juggles scenery and highlights. However, hardcore players can try to take the last of the five difficulties by storm, then the timing of the misadventures of the tin agent will increase significantly. Nimble enemies will start killing with a couple of touches, turning the path to each checkpoint into a nervous memorization of every millimeter.

Fortunately, the developers left the opportunity to enhance the chances of survival in a cooperative for two. It is much more fun to play in this mode, but the situation is again overshadowed by problems with the camera. The second character can simply get lost behind the edge of the screen and pick up enemy cuffs, without even seeing himself.

Alien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine Review

Alien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine Review

Alien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine Review

Alien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine Review

Alien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine Review

Alien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine Review

However, Bartlow’s Dread Machine has absolutely no critical misses. This is a damn stylish arcade game with its own recognizable face. The adventures of a mechanical agent saturated with chaotic gunfire are a breeze and help to brighten up the evening for fans of an old-school booth in the twin stick shooter genre, both alone and with a friend. If the developers paid a little more attention to balance, camera and made characters and enemies more distinguishable against the background of the environment, we would have got a real indie hit. Nevertheless, the game is quite good in its current form!

Alien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine Review

Alien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine ReviewAlien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine ReviewAlien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine ReviewAlien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine ReviewAlien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine ReviewAlien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine ReviewAlien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine ReviewAlien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine ReviewAlien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine ReviewAlien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine ReviewAlien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine ReviewAlien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine ReviewAlien Shooter before the invention of the computer: Bartlow's Dread Machine Review

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