We’re big comic book fans at bit-tech, but even we have to admit we’ve never heard of Enki Bilal, the writer and artist upon whose work Nikopol is based. We don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.
Regardless, the Serbian-born author has apparently hit it big with his French-language comic trilogy; there have been multiple runs of the comic in different languages, a digitally shot feature film and now a computer game all based on the same world. Now it’s even stranger that we haven’t heard of it.
Nikopol itself isn’t based directly on the comic book series or the film, but draws inspiration from them both and borrows aspects of the setting and the story to create a wholly new experience. The good news then is that if you’re a fan of the comic or the film then you’ll find something familiar, but new here.
The bad news though is that much of the story is poorly explained and more difficult to get your head around than baking a cake underwater.
Here’s what we do know; it’s the year 2023 and you are Alcide Nikopol, an artist living in the slums of Paris. There’s an election coming and the city, which has similarly dirty technology to Blade Runner, has been thrown into confusion by the appearance of a floating pyramid above the centre – a pyramid which promptly disappeared.
As it goes, that might seem enough at first, but the world of Nikopol is convoluted and complex. There’s a lot more going on in this world of religious fanatics where the President of Paris is referred to as the Director-Prophet and where fleshy abominations walk the streets arresting people.
The first problem that Nikopol faces then is that much of this isn’t explained to the player overtly, not even in the manual – which serves only to complicate matters with talk of aliens and politics. Worse, the limited interaction offered to the player means it’s hard to even search for precise explanations.
With a game world this deeply set in a niche you’d have thought that the first thing the developer might do is try to explain to players where and who they are, but apparently not. You are Nikopol, you have joined an illegal religious group even though you are apparently not religious and that is all you’ll know for the first few hours.
As time goes on however some details do begin to creep in and you start learning more about the group you’ve joined and what exactly has happened to the world you’re in, but the further you go the more questions get raised. Why are Egyptian gods walking the streets and why has the world become one of secretive religious groups and coded letters?
It must be a French thing, we think. Or a Serbian thing. Or just a weird thing.
The sense of disorientation players feel isn’t entirely without merit in games of course, especially if you want to think of it as a sympathetic game mechanic. In games like Half-Life 2 players also have very little idea what’s going on too – who is the G-man and why is Gordon back? The difference however is that while Half-Life 2 is fast-paced and lets players ignore the plot if they want, Nikopol is not.
Nikopol is an adventure game and by nature it is slow, thoughtful and introspective. The narrative directly affects the logic of the world and how you approach the puzzles – when the story is lacking the entire game starts to suffer as a result.