Many genres have come and gone over the years, some riding high whilst others fall at the wayside. Yet point and click will always have its fanbase, as they always hold that nostalgic edge.
From the glory days of LucasArts, Tim Schaefer and Sierra games, the “click an object/environment until it works” style of game will always pique that old school mentality whenever one comes about. Broken Age showed that, with its insanely funded Kickstarter before we knew what the game was about.
In that similar vein of self-aware, referential humour and parody, Artifex Mundi have brought us Irony Curtain: a light-hearted take on one man’s misgivings that Communism is actually a good thing (spoilers: it isn’t).
Starting somewhat in medias res, we find our unlikely hero Evan Kovolsky trying to stop a train full of refugees being destroyed as they attempt to flee. This serves as a tutorial for the game’s movement and puzzle mechanics (luckily without a countdown or fear of imminent failure looming), allowing players to try and work out the initial puzzle for themselves.
If you’re not overly familiar with how point and click games work, you’ll find that what you think to be the most straightforward path of logic usually isn’t. This is illustrated with the several key boxes attached to a telegraph pole. Now, if you’re like me, your initial line of thought would be to open them sequentially: you open one to find a key, the key opens the next, which holds the coin to open the final one.
And like me, you’d be wrong. But, much like Monkey Island 2 had with its fourth wall breaking hint line, Irony Curtain does place a hint phone in each area. Whilst it doesn’t seem like there’s any immediate penalty for using them, it’s a purely optional feature if you’re stuck. It doesn’t completely hold your hand, but it will watch you slap yourself in the forehead for not figuring it out sooner.
Once you’ve worked out the tutorial, the game takes you back prior to Evan’s insertion into the communist country. After a live television segment promoting Communism goes wrong, Evan is contacted by Anna Eaglove, telling him to make contact with Matryoshka.
Returning home, this is where the snooker-loopy adventure game logic starts to kick in. After a brief conversation with the folks (who seem to have a suspicious idyllic lifestyle/Mr and Mrs Smith thing going on), Evan calls the oppressed nation after some phone junction rewiring. No sooner does he get through when several men in suits arrive and lock the house down, alleging there may be spies about.
Standard stuff, right? After reading the letter Anna tucked on Evan’s person, we’re given instructions to leave a potted plant on our windowsill as a sign we’re ready to leave. Only problem: not a daffodil in sight.
Thus begins the madcap machinations to make one: you have to reheat a turkey and eat it to get the pot, whilst cutting out a flower head from the tablecloth in the kitchen. But what connects the pot to the flower? Oh, the metal sculpture in the basement, that you need metal-cutting scissors to make a stem from. Geez, didn’t you know that?
Now, if you are a veteran of adventure games, you’re probably thinking, “Well yes Greg, it’s never as straightforward as you’d think. You’re obviously not smart enough to work this kind of thing out yourself”.
And for the most part, you’re right. Sometimes I do struggle with the backwards logic that goes into these games. But am I being cynical about it? No, because this is what makes these games what they are: if it was a linear procession of clicking things in order, it’d be no different than the checkpoint, handheld corridor shooters we get now. I’m just merely pointing out the “wacky” logic that goes into these things.
After escaping casa de Kovolsky, you’re airdropped into war-torn Matryoshka under the pretense of saving the glorious leader’s life. It’s here that we start to see the satire and stereotypes towards Russians and the Eastern Bloc come through. If anyone’s seen Armando Ianucci’s underrated The Death of Stalin, you’ll get the satire its going for here.
The process of checking into your hotel, for example, is a pastiche (read: pisstake) of the bureaucracy gone mad. There’s even a trophy for the absurdity in the form, and process you go through, you have to fill out just to check in. Comrades officially and verbally thanking each other, in clipped “I recognise and accept your gratitude” speech make for some levity.
That’s essentially what carries Irony Curtain through a lot of its gameplay: a massive heap of satire and the misguided intentions of a protagonist oblivious to the failings of Communism. Matryoshka is collapsing under, yet Evan is still blind in his faith that everything should be for everyone, despite some refusing to give up that power, whilst some don’t want the equal share promised to everyone.
Nothing is inherently “new” in this game: Evan will break the fourth wall with his thinking out loud (or signifying an incorrect choice), sometimes solutions are quite straightforward whilst other’s completely asinine, whilst the humour ranges from slapstick to deadpan in an instant.
So if you’re looking for a game to revolutionise the point and click, Irony Curtain brings nothing to the table, nor does it intend to. It’s easy to call everything an homage nowadays, but I wouldn’t say this is. It is a traditional narrative adventure game, that holds its own against the older counterparts we always refer to.
It looks gorgeous, too, in a cutesy kind of way. Static backgrounds give way to fully animated characters. It has that seemingly hypnotising effect that Ni No Kuni had: characters look like 2D animation, but move in three dimensions (unlike say, South Park, who’s characters deliberately look flat). Cutscenes play out in the same animation style, often serving as transitional pieces between new areas, but retain the same style and proportion as the in-game models do. It doesn’t create that separation like older gameplay/FMV splits did, which keeps you immersed in its style.
The only issues I have had are in the interface/selection of on screen icons. Standing near an interactive object brings up a star: white to signify you can interact, red to show you’re in range. Sounds easy enough, but you can also use the right analogue stick as a pointer. So if there’s anything out of reach, you can still interact with it.
In theory, this is a sound idea. In practice, however, it overrides if Evan is stood next to an object, resulting in stepping out of the way to reactivate it. It’s not a total game breaker, but it did result in a couple instances of frustration in having to essentially jiggle the interactive object to recognise me near it.
Otherwise, Irony Curtain is going up there with Broken Age as “games I didn’t think I’d really enjoy but stone me, I actually am” titles. Whilst some of the puzzles may be so bizarre in their logic it’s almost trying too hard to be madcap, a lot of them do make sense in such a broken state of affairs that you would resort to MacGuyver-ing things out of buttons and string.
It’s a fun, satirical little romp that has enough going on to keep veterans going, and hopefully invest newcomers in something different. There’s some neat little trophies that require slightly divergent means, but that just adds to the length and fun. They’re optional, but it adds to the humour and tone somewhat.
So what are you waiting for, comrade? Rise up and join your fellow man, and share in the wealth and prosperity that Irony Curtain brings with it. For Matryoshka.
Irony Curtain is available now on PC, PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One and Switch.
Developer: Artifex Mundi
Publisher: Artifex Mundi
In order to complete this review, we received a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.
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