Nikopol: Secrets of the Immortals is a point-and-click adventure from White Birds Productions. If you go to the game’s official web site, you’ll see that Got Game Entertainment is quick to describe White Birds Productions as “the studio created by adventure game legend Benoit Sokal.” That’s true, but from what I can tell Sokal didn’t have anything to do with this game, or at least he’s not listed anywhere in the game’s credits. Instead, a different team created the game, but given Sokal’s recent history (with clunkers Paradise and Sinking Island), maybe that’s a good thing.
Nikopol takes place in a bleak, Orwellian version of France. Everything is grey and metallic and somber -- and odd. The year is 2023. France is a religious state ruled by a dictator-prophet named Choublanc, and it gets regular visits from space aliens who look like they just walked off the set of a “Stargate” production. You play as a starving artist named Nikopol. One night the police suddenly start chasing you, and you learn that your father is working with an alien named Horus to do something evil to France. However, all is not lost. Horus’ brother Anubis meets up with you, and he has a plan: if you can deal with your father, then he’ll deal with Horus. That starts you on your journey, and you’ll get to explore cemeteries, sneak around the police, and wield a magical ankh before you’re through.
If the premise sounds familiar, that’s because it’s based on a trilogy of graphic novels written by Enki Bilal, who is apparently popular in France. I’d never heard of him before playing the game, and so I have no idea if the adventure faithfully represents his work or not... but my guess is that it doesn’t. The story makes almost no sense, it has no plausibility whatsoever, and more than once I felt like I was being thrust into the middle of something without being adequately told what was going on. For example, early in the game you learn that there is an election coming up. Choublanc is running against an android, but then he suddenly pulls out of the race and is replaced by your father, and you eventually learn that the android dislikes your father and wants to kill him. All of the above could be interesting if it was fleshed out, but instead the game just tosses strange stuff at you and expects you to follow along. And so instead of enjoying the story, I kept wondering why a dictator-prophet would pull out of a presumably fixed election, how an android could run in an election at all, and what your father might have done to tick off the android. Did he maybe steal its mechanical girlfriend?
Story aside, Nikopol has its moments of fun. It uses a mixture of inventory-based and mechanical puzzles, and they’re usually clever. For example, you start out the game in your apartment building, and when the police show up you have to escape. This leads you to a bricked up window, and you have to figure out how to remove all 12 bricks from the window using only five swings from a sledgehammer (hitting a brick will damage the bricks around it, and so you have to figure out how to damage all of the bricks just enough). This is the sort of puzzle where it’s fun just toying around with it and learning the rules. Other puzzles involve you powering up a metro station and moving some trains around, installing a “code” in a cemetery to decipher a note, and figuring out the right way to turn lights on and off to re-code a keycard.
Unfortunately, everything about the game is just a little bit sloppy and rough around the edges. The graphical quality is not very high, the interface is at best clunky, there are places where you’re inexplicably not allowed to save your game, and there are a bunch of typos and oddities. For example, when you’re working on the code in the cemetery, one clue talks about a “crane” when there isn’t one (the clue should have said “skull”), and another clue mentions a “far left” position when the item actually goes in the closest left position. My copy of the game also wasn’t localized properly, which is why you’ll see some French subtitles in the screenshots, but supposedly the retail release doesn’t have this problem.
And so Nikopol is a difficult game to rate. The story is a mess, there isn’t any eye candy, and it’s sometimes difficult to know what you’re supposed to be doing, but the puzzles are generally challenging and fun to solve. I wouldn’t recommend Nikopol to novice adventure game players, but veterans might find it worthwhile, and it’s certainly better than White Birds Productions’ other current offering, Sinking Island.