Does shooting your way through early 1900s America appeal to you? If so, then Bartlow’s Dread Machine might be for you. Released in Steam early access, this old-timey, arcade, twin-stick shooter is filled to the brim with charm. Choose your character and embark on a grand adventure across the United States of America in pursuit of the kidnapped President Roosevelt. As this is in early access, this is a review of the first 3 levels available in the game as of August 2020.
The first thing you will notice are the visuals. You can see that the developers have poured their hearts and souls into making this game visually unique. The levels are constructed almost like a mechanical diorama, and you can see them being pieced together as you load in, with cogs underneath moving all the pieces into place. Your character and the enemies are all on rails, lending themselves perfectly to the almost steampunk aesthetic. One minute you’re rushing through the streets of New York City, the next, you’re trying to catch a train in the Wild West. All this combined with a fantastic soundtrack of old-timey saloon music created a really nice audio/visual experience. Little things like the ping of a bullet of an enemy’s head or hearing the cogs spin as you move along the track make this into one visually pleasing package. I seriously can’t sing more praise for the visuals of this game, I absolutely adored them.
Gameplay is pretty standard fare for a twin-stick shooter. As the genre suggests, you move with one stick and aim with the other, or in this case, move with WASD and aim with the mouse. You choose your character, which is purely cosmetic, and you blow the heads off tin enemies. Movement is done on a rail system, meaning there is a bit more strategy in moving compared to a traditional full 360 degree movement twin-stick shooter. If you’re not careful, enemies can corner you, and you’ll be a pile of scrap in no time. The game can be quite challenging, and I died plenty of times during my 2 hours with the game.
The level structure is similar to that of an arcade game like Metal Slug or Streets of Rage. You have 3 lives to beat a level, and each area has its own boss at the end. The bosses are brilliantly designed and fit the aesthetic of the game so well. You fight a top hat-wearing, moustached, giant octopus, for God’s sake. The only problem with the bosses is that they didn’t offer much of a challenge, and I would say the normal gameplay proved more difficult.
Progression is also pretty standard. Defeated enemies drop money, and at the end of a level, you get bonuses from accuracy, kill count and kill chains. With this you can upgrade your character by buying weapons and clothing. There are a handful of weapons, but the basic rifle and pistol got me through the first half of the game without any hassle. Clothes have different stats, so you can have a hat that gives you extra ammo, a shirt that gives you extra health and trousers that make enemies drop more money when defeated. At the end of certain levels, you also receive stat increases, like extra health and increased damage, on the base weapons. There might not be much depth to the progression, but I think it’s enough to warrant you going out of your way to pick up money.
I had an absolute blast with this game. I’m a massive fan of twin-stick shooters, so this game was right up my alley. Apart from the rail movement system, the gameplay does nothing to stand out from the crowd. The choice word of this review is standard, and that’s exactly how the gameplay feels, nothing too unique but still fun to play. The visuals on show here, however, create a really unique experience. If you want a cheap, fun, and beautiful twin-stick shooter, then this game is right for you! Are you going to check out Bartlow’s Dread Machine? Let us know in the comments below!
Developer: Beep Games Inc.
Publisher: Beep Games Inc.
Release Date: 30th July 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Bartlow’s Dread Machine was provided by the publisher.