Bartlow’s Dread Machine by Beep Games
In the fictional universe of Bartlow’s Dread Machine by Beep Games, Teddy Roosevelt has been kidnapped by Anarcho-Satanists.
Playing as a government agent, you must traverse various areas of the United States to track down the kidnappers and rescue the president. It’s a journey where you’ll have to defeat many enemies and even encounter some paranormal oddities along the way.
Welcome to the Steampunk Arcade
The game is presented within a machine-operated device to give the impression it’s ripped straight from the 1880s. There is such care and detail to the look; it feels like it’s made out of the kinds of materials that were used back then. Characters are made of thin, bent metal sheets.
Everything about this game, from the characters to the collapsing scenery, all looks like one cohesive unit. You can even see the rotating gears underneath the floor tiles. It’s one of the most unique-looking games I’ve seen in a long time.
The game even features a fantastic score that hearkens back to the silent era of movies, with stereotypical old-time “evildoer” music and jaunty tunes to make gunfights feel more lively. This all helps nail the aesthetic perfectly.
Literally on Rails
Bartlow’s Dread Machine is like your standard twin-stick shooter but with a twist: you can’t move freely around the world, only along the game’s predesignated tracks.
It doesn’t feel too restrictive and linear – just enough to make things a lot more difficult than other games in the genre. The tracks require you to be aware of where you can move to effectively dodge enemies and projectiles. It adds a nice level of challenge once you get used to the game’s movement.
But the downside is that the game doesn’t get as bombastic as some games we’ve seen from this genre in the past.
The game likes to change the angle of the camera during gameplay for a more cinematic experience. This works in some sequences, making sections more visually interesting, but this is a pain when there are a lot of projectiles on screen.
For instance, in one level within the Pacific Coast area, the camera is positioned like a 2.5D game instead of providing an overhead view. This camera angle makes dodging projectiles even harder, adding to some frustration. The obscured vision makes staying on top of enemies more difficult.
“Do What You Can, with What You Have, Where You Are”
It’s not an easy game, but thankfully some of that is mitigated by using the money enemies drop to buy upgraded equipment that increases stats, which is useful because if you die three times, you have to start the level over again.
Also, your main gun can run out of ammo, requiring accuracy above spamming the fire button.
Both of these challenges are lessened somewhat by level checkpoints and ammo boxes scattered throughout each level, but Bartlow’s Dread Machine still provides an old-school difficulty we don’t see in a lot of modern games. Those looking for a challenge will feel right at home.
You can also make use of a deflect defensive attack to deflect a projectile and avoid getting hit. This is useful because you have limited hit points.
The only issue is that it can only deflect one projectile, and it has a one-second-long recharge before it can be used again. I get that it’s there to be used in a pinch, but since there are a lot of bullet hell sequences, this defensive move is not as helpful as it could have been.
When the game had a lot of projectiles on screen, I found that it made things less fun and more unmanageable especially on top of the limited mobility.
Trapped in the Machine
One unfortunate issue I had with the game is the feeling of repetition. Most levels feel the same (with different set dressing, of course). Fighting through an Old West town or by the sea, levels stand out from one another visually, but they have the same general feel to them.
Levels do mix things up with some bosses and light puzzle-solving sequences. These do help Bartlow’s Dread Machine feel less repetitive, but I felt that the shooting gameplay could have used either more interesting weapons or more extraordinary abilities to keep things fresh.
When I started writing this I mentioned the game’s presentation and wonderfully executed art style first. It’s striking and is the thing that stands out the most. The developers deserve all the praise for pulling off such a cohesive, well-crafted vision.
I just wish I had as more fun playing it than I did. I feel like it doesn’t do enough to stand out among the crowd from a gameplay standpoint. It’s not a bad experience by any means, so those looking for a challenge and something to visually marvel at won’t be disappointed.
Bartlow’s Dread Machine is available via Steam.
Check out the official trailer for Bartlow’s Dread Machine below: