Title: Bartlow’s Dread Machine
Developer: Beep Games
Publisher: Beep Games
Genre: Twin-Stick Shooter
Available on: PC
Version Tested: PC
Official Site: Bartlow’s Dread Machine
Release Date: September 29, 2020
Where to Buy: Steam Store
Many games releasing these days focus on the distant future. This doesn’t make the games bad by any means, as games such as Cyberpunk 2077 and Watch Dogs Legion have the potential to be very good. It just means they stand out a lot less than they could since it could be argued either are “just another futuristic shooter”. When games of other eras come around though, it’s a breath of fresh air. That’s where Bartlow’s Dread Machine fits in to give a unique experience that stands out from the crowd.
Bartlow’s Old School Glory
Bartlow’s Dread Machine takes place inside an older machine, almost like an early rendition of an arcade cabinet. You follow the story of a Secret Service agent, defending the president when all goes awry. Teddy Roosevelt is taken by a shadowy figure and his minions who seek to do dark and nefarious things with him. With every living and non-living thing around you being turned, it’s up to you to mow through them and save the president.
Bartlow’s Dread Machine is no ordinary twin-stick shooter though. As I said, this takes place in an old arcade cabinet. As such, various contraptions are moving around at once and creating the levels and enemies you face. You’re even a part of the machine, all working to tell a story. This machine of course has its wear and tear, given its been unearthed after many years. Nothing looks too astonishing, but Bartlow’s Dread Machine is never trying to be visually stunning. Hell, it shouldn’t be. The art style chosen is perfect for the game, being reflective of a 1900s contraption at the dawn of the Electric Age. It helps to feel entirely plausible in the real world, even if the contraptions are unrealistically complex.
Bartlow’s Dread Machine and its Magnificent Tune
The sounds and music you hear feel even more reminiscent of the time period. The tracks each have that feeling of entering an old saloon, hearing that classic piano strum its tune while everyone’s having a grand old time. Everything from the guns fired to enemies dropping has that clang you’d expect out of old machinery, and done perfectly. All of this helps to immerse you into the setting Bartlow’s Dread Machine is trying to portray, and to great effect.
It all helps to fit the story which, while rather basic, serves Bartlow’s Dread Machine rather well and strives to be something more. You’re given details about your mysterious adversary bit by bit, with dialogue here and there. On top of that though, there are various clues into something deeper from your agent’s backstory. The game never blatantly states this though, and you’re instead left to draw your own conclusions. That kind of storytelling is what I live for. Stories where you’re given exposition can be good but leaving some thoughts for you to interpret always hits harder.
Blasting Your Way Through 1900s America
The story is mostly irrelevant though, as the running and gunning take center stage. As you move through the game’s many distinct locations, you’ll be arming yourself with three different guns. Each of these serves their own purpose, with the third being a weapon of your choice. While the two guns being restrictive does remove some freedom, there’s plenty of options for the last gun. Whether you want to gun down enemies with a machine gun, blow them up with a cannon, or blast them with a shotgun, any options you want are there. The clothing even factors into the gameplay, giving you various bonuses such as resistance to damage and extra lives. It all gives that extra sense of freedom, with a loadout that’s personal to your playstyle.
Using that loadout works in tandem with the core gameplay loop of Bartlow’s Dread Machine. You move through different tracks, killing mechanical monsters, and gathering loot. With various pathways to take though, how you take down your foes is up to you. If you want to elegantly dance around your opponent with a spray of bullets, you can do that. If hanging back and picking off enemies from afar is more your style, you can do that too. The gameplay of Bartlow’s Dread Machine is tailored to you, which makes replaying the game a completely different experience.
Despite all this good I’ve had to say about Bartlow’s Dread Machine, there is one bad apple that’s rather apparent. That comes in the form of the camera, which harms your experience more than helps. Often the camera will be at an awkward angle or won’t show walkable tracks correctly. This constantly moving camera makes some fights a pain, and I’ve died once or twice due to it. If it weren’t for how apparent this is, I wouldn’t hesitate to call the game a masterpiece.
Verdict: Bartlow’s Dread Machine offers a blast to the past while giving a unique experience that stands out from most modern games. Every aspect of the game is designed in such a way that immerses you in that time period. There’s also plenty of customization to support an addicting gameplay loop. It has so much going for it, marred only by the camera being much weaker than it could be. If you’re a fan of twin-stick shooters, or even just want something unique, Bartlow’s Dread Machine is a game you’ll have troubles putting down.