Once a staple of genre of PC games, the point and click adventure disappeared from the mainstream for a while. However, don’t underestimate the power of nostalgia, the influence a few Lucasarts remasters can have to bring them back in the public consciousness, and the excellent Broken Sword 5 arriving on virtually every platform. Artifex Mundi have thrown their hat in the ring for our consideration with Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka With Love. It’s a classic cartoon style, lateral thinking, puzzle laden, subtly humorous tale that will test your observation skills as much as your ability to combine seemingly incompatible objects; but has this genre had its day?
Taking cues from some of the best examples from the history of point and click adventures, Irony Curtain is built upon the main character being a fish out of water and having to deal with a dastardly and nefarious scheme that seems as bonkers as it is difficult to achieve. Evan Kovolsky is your typical bedroom revolutionary growing up in Communist-fearing America during the 1950s. Through a chance meeting with an attractive enemy agent he’s tapped to travel to the secretive state of Matryoshka to help foil an attempt on the life of The Leader, though all isn’t as it seems and it’s not long before he’s on the run from suspicious government agencies, bureaucratic soldiers and the ideals of a capitalist nation. Finding himself the “special” guest of a red state has some benefits, but not many, and this is where brain power beats brawn… as long as he’s able to mentally connect the clues that gradually get more tricky to decipher but will enable him to save the world.
Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka With Love, despite having a name themed around a Bond adventure, isn’t based on being a super spy and having gadgets galore. Evan is an everyman who happens to have an affinity for the Communist regime and wants to help out the country, and his persona and intellect is the basis for all the puzzles. From the moment the game starts you’re thrown into situations that need you to be scanning the environments for clues, reading every piece of descriptive text and figuring out what’s motivating the characters dotted around the beautifully drawn areas. It’s all a pretty standard way of working for this type of game, and it is possible to move through some of the earlier sections by randomly trying to make things interact – though there’s no need to as the opening scene works as a subtle tutorial and guides you through some pretty logical actions. It’s not all grab/mix/place though, there are some nice reaction test mini games that serve to breakup any feeling of monotony.
It’s not long before you have to get a bit more lateral in your thinking, and fortunately it never really goes into the abstract. Yet as you become more familiar with the style you start to spot cues and key information that help formulate a plan in your mind on how to move things forward. There’s a usually a clear end goal in sight, the trick then becomes working through what you have on hand to get to that point. Everything is grounded in reality so there are no leaps of faith waiting to stump you for hours, but I’ll not lie, a grounding in basic chemistry will go a long way here, as well as knowing how to mix cement. That said, the best way to progress is simply enjoy the story and take your time exploring the world, there’s an awful lot to take in. If you do get stuck there’s usually a nicely disguised hint station nearby to prompt you in the right direction.
It’s the richness of the places Evan visits that bring the character of Irony Curtain to the fore. Each area is fantastically drawn with just the right amount of interaction points to give you plenty to do, yet not feel like they’ve been overstuffed. It ranges from simple visual gags to quite detailed descriptions of items and the surroundings. Evan himself narrates a lot and it’s approached in a typically cheery, if slightly detached, way that makes it easy to listen to (or read if that’s your preference). It’s the same with all the voice acting, each character comes to life, usually as a caricature or stereotype of whoever is being portrayed, but it’s done well and with a nod to what’s expected in the genre. Weirdly there’s a decision to voice some of the inhabitants of Matryoshka with Eastern European accents and some as American and I can’t quite figure out if that’s because they’re meant to be a comment on imported labour, or that there are simply more spies kicking around than you suspect.
It also really doesn’t take itself too seriously with plenty of nods and winks to gaming and movie culture. Some of the scenes need to be examined in detail to get the most out of them, but there are jokes and references hidden everywhere that will either make you crack a smile or good-naturedly groan. The whole unhurried vibe with a core focus on delving deeper to find solutions makes a great change of pace to the vast majority of titles that land on our machines these days too. It doesn’t mean that it’s a breeze though, there are some really tricky elements to work through and points that will make you think you’ve gone wrong that force a different way of approach. Sometimes taking a break is the only way to move things on – it’s like you need time to reflect and subconsciously get to the root of the problem.
Coming in at around 10 hours for those that make the effort to explore and absorb every detail that Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka With Love has to offer, it’s time well spent. There’s a nice story that unfolds at a decent pace and has enough twists and turns to keep things interesting, much like most Cold War spy tales. It’s not a walk in the park, but then it’s not along the frustrating lines of the goat puzzle from Broken Sword either, and it challenges without being obtuse. Until I started playing I didn’t realise how much I missed the genre and it’s great to see new IPs coming through, alongside announcements of old ones being revisited, and if you’re hankering for a steady paced story driven brain teaser then this is one for you.
A Steam copy of Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka With Love was provided by Artifex Mundi’s PR team for the purpose of this review, and the game is available now for around £15 on there and GOG.