Bartlow’s Dread Machine review for Xbox One, PC

Platform: Xbox One
Also on: PC
Publisher: Beep Games
Developer: Tribetoy/Beep Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: No

Even though they both fall under the same broad shooter umbrella, to me, twin-stick shooters and on-rails shooters don?t seem like they?d mesh all that well. One is all about moving around as you flee wave after wave of enemies, the other is, as the title implies, moving you along a fairly predetermined path, killing enemies as you go.

That was my thinking going into Bartlow?s Dread Machine, a steampunk-tinged on-rails twin-stick shooter…and, unfortunately, that?s my thinking coming out of Bartlow?s Dread Machine, too. It?s kind of a half and half game, in that you run along tracks, but you?re being pursued by endless waves of monsters.

It also doesn?t help that the shooting is kind of wonky. Apart from some sections here and there where you get a chance of view, the game is shot from an angle at the side. You can see the entire board layout, but depth perception and angles aren?t always super clear, which means that, much of the time, you?re better off retreating and allowing enemies to come after you — which, seeing as you?re all on rails, means they all line up in a row as you shoot them to pieces. While it?s satisfying the first few times, it?s not what I?d call fun.

And yet, at the same time, Bartlow?s Dread Machine is far more fun than it has any right to be. It?s got a fantastic retro aesthetic — and not retro in the usual sense, but retro in that it has a heavily steampunk vibe, and it?s presented as an old-timey arcade machine, where everything flips up and it looks like it?s run by clockwork. Coupled with a story about anarcho-Satanists kidnapping Teddy Roosevelt, it?s clear that a lot of love and care went into this game?s creation.

Still, it would have been nice if the gameplay were anywhere close to being as great as the premise. If we were going by looks and ideas alone, Bartlow?s Dread Machine would be an easy GOTY contender. As it stands, it?s simply a great-looking game with more than a few flaws — but those looks are so good, they might just be enough to make this game worthwhile.

Beep Games provided us with a Bartlow?s Dread Machine Xbox One code for review purposes.

Grade: B+