When you hear the name Artifex Mundi there’s only one type of game which comes to mind, Hidden Object Games (HOGs). They are infamous among trophy hunters for their enjoyable, yet easy, platinum trophies, as well as very popular with the casual gamers who just want a simple story held together by puzzles and find-and-seek elements. Last year we saw the emotional and very beautiful My Brother Rabbit, this game was similar in concept yet pushed the developers in a different direction with its gameplay. Recently we saw the arrival of Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love, which I believe is the biggest gameplay change Artifex Mundi has ever made.
There’s not a single Hidden Object segment in sight (apart from the ‘ironically’ hidden one, which I didn’t find) as Irony Curtain is a full-on 10+ hour Point and Click adventure game in the vein of titles such as Deponia, Silence, Secret Files: Tunguska, and Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey. Considering the game is much more complex than their usual games, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit sceptical about whether or not they could pull off an entertaining and well-paced final product. Thankfully, I had no reason for concern as I’ve just finished playing one of the best new Point and Click games I’ve played this year.
Our story revolves around a simple American journalist name Evan, a rather goofy individual who has an admirable patriotic dedication to Matryoshka. He spends his life writing a newspaper from his bedroom and talking to people openly about how communism is the best way forward and every country should look to Matryoshka as an example of how things should be run. After an impromptu TV show appearance which could have gone better, meeting up with a hot young lady, being invited to meet the Supreme Leader of Matryoshka, and being placed under house arrest by the government, Evan knew his life was about to change.
With the help of his new lady friend, Evan arrives in Matryoshka, where he finds himself in unfamiliar surroundings – this isn’t how he imagined a communist country to appear at all. Although the main reason for his trip was to meet up with the beloved Supreme Leader, Evan finds himself caught up in a tale of espionage and conspiracies. Crammed full of pop culture references, comedic narrative, parodies of real-life events, and an abundance of crazy antics, the game is sure to have you laughing out loud for the majority of your playthrough as you travel accross the country in hopes of taking a peek behind the Irony Curtain…
I don’t say this very often, but Irony Curtain was an absolute pleasure to play through. The core gameplay mechanics included everything you’d want from a Point and Click game; you can run by double-clicking, look by right clicking, inspect all your inventory items, press Space Bar to highlight the hotspots, and click to progress through text/speech. I know these may sound like your standard features, but you’d be surprised how many games within the genre don’t actually utilise one or more of these simple operations.
The overall controls are very simplistic yet rather deep the more you look at them. As the game is full of inventory and environmental puzzles, you’ll be picking up a lot of items. The majority of these items can also be examined within your inventory and then manipulated so that you can open them, combine them with another object, or even eat them! I didn’t realise this at first, as I wasn’t expecting the game to actually work on multiple layers, but then I realised you could open your suitcase and take things out of it, or read the various books you pick up for more information.
However, the thing which I was most thankful for was the option to press the space bar to highlight the hotspots. This is a much-needed mechanic within games like this as you don’t want to be waving your mouse all over the screen trying to pinpoint a pixel you can click on. Irony Curtain even has a rather unique and interesting way of teaching you this mechanic, the first scene has an organ grinder sing to you about how you don’t need a guide as “hitting space is magic”. The small things amuse me and this game is crammed full of them, literally.
The puzzles within Irony Curtain vary from your standard puzzles you’d see in something like HOGs, the team have fully embraced the types of puzzles we’d expect in a game like this – environmental and inventory puzzles. Each scene is practically a puzzle waiting to be uncovered as you talk to the locals to find out what they have to offer or discover if they have something you need. Then it’s up to you to look around for objects which can be used either in conjunction with another object or with the person directly in order to grab a new item or progress with the story – you know, standard Point and Click mechanics.
There are a few standard puzzles, such as matching icons by connecting two pieces of wire together, but the majority of the game relies on problem-solving and using logic in order to overcome the situation set before you. This is where the game takes its first step outside of its comfort zone, in my opinion, and the point where the elusive platinum hunters will realise it isn’t as easy as the usual HOG. As a helpful tool, we (the press) were given some hints and tips to allow us to fully complete the game, should we get stuck. Without this glorious document, I don’t think I would have finished it as fast as I did (at around ten hours or so), even though I’m an avid Point and Click fan. Some of the solutions are a bit obscure, you have to turn on your old-school Point and Click mindset and try everything with everyone at some points within the game.
The game isn’t hard, as such, but it’s not the simplest game out there, it plays really well and every time you successfully complete a scene it feels so satisfying!
If you do get stuck or require some form of hint, the developers have been clever. Every scene in Irony Curtain contains a telephone or person of interest you can interact with. The phone will have a number displayed next to it which, when called, will work as a ‘hint line’ so you can get clues on what to do next and how to proceed. I must say, not only is this a great idea, as who wouldn’t call their Mum if they’re having trouble in a random location and aren’t sure what to do with their life, but it’s also a great mechanic which doesn’t literally tell you what to do. If we look back at HOGs again, the ‘hint’ option in those is basically a ‘show me the way I need to go or literally point out the item I can’t find’, yet Irony Curtain acts like a conversation with subtle hints without giving too much away.
Once again, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think the game was going to be dry and a generic Point and Click game. Not that I have anything against Artifex Mundi, as I love the team, but due to the departure from their usual format, and having played the beta about 18 months ago, I didn’t think they could pull off humour which would work very well. However, I was completely wrong as I was sat here, on my own, literally laughing out loud and even pointing at the screen and chuckling when I spotted a reference either in the dialogue or the environment. For example, one of the characters practically gives away her agenda with a simple phrase “Listen carefully, I shall say this only once”, although because Evan isn’t listening, she has to repeat it a few times. Fans of ‘Allo ‘Allo will instantly get this reference.
The developers state there are over 1,950 easter eggs within the game, ranging from the narrative to the objects you’ll see lying around. I didn’t spot all of them, obviously, but you’ll notice something in every scene.
I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of games based around communism and capitalism as it’s not something I fully understand – I’ve never really had the need to look into it, kinda like the Republic and Democracy over in America, yet Irony Curtain keeps it rather simple. I would say the narrative is probably best played as a late teen upwards, due to the comedic references, but there wasn’t really anything off-putting for younger audiences, they just may not understand some of the events which are going on.
One of the surprising and awesome things about Irony Curtain was the fact that it had me hooked from the very beginning, the fully voiced English voice track (which was performed really well) along with the witty and clever narrative created an amazing experience. Do I feel the story and gameplay was a good as major AAA titles from the likes of Daedalic and Microïds, who have been making games in this genre for years? Not quite. But for a first attempt, Irony Curtain far exceeded my expectations and I genuinely hope that we see more original games from Artifex Mundi which places them outside of their comfort zone.
It’s hard to describe my feelings for the animations and visuals with Irony Curtain. The entire game felt like I was playing a cartoon – I’ve seen a few articles on the games website which explains how they used stop-motion animation to create the characters within the game. Each environment is beautifully drawn out, which I expected as Artifex Mundi are known for the great visuals within their HOGs, but the stand out feature is that the characters ‘don’t’ stand out. As the NPCs are all effectively 2D animations, you’d usually have them stick out like a sore thumb from the actual backdrops, thus creating a disconnect between the two – not here. Everything looks natural and similar. I also love the art direction with realistic backdrops and caricature characters.
There is one exception to the above, in terms of its design, Evan. Evan appears to be a 3D model but designed so that he looks and appears as a 2D sprite – think Borderlands with its cel-shading. I found it a bit odd at first but it makes a lot of sense, the NPCs are stationary, they rarely move outside of their own set of animations. Yet Evan will be dragged all around the screen by your grubby cursor, so having him be a 3D model in a 2D world means you’ll see him from all angles without the devs having to manually draw every possible angle you could view him at. Surprisingly, this works really well and his appearance doesn’t stand out among the NPCs unless you really look hard and notice his shading is a little lighter in places.
In terms of audio – I love the soundtrack within Irony Curtain. Once again, Artifex Mundi has acquired the help of Arkadiusz Reikowski, who has worked on My Brother Rabbit and the creepy Layers of Fear. Not only that, the main theme music was created by Peter McConnell who is well known for working on Grim Fandango and Monkey Island! What better way to pay homage to a few of the classics you take as inspiration for your gameplay than to hire some people who worked on those original games. Sure, it’s “only the music”, you may say, but the music is half the game as it sets the tone, the atmosphere, and the unconscious mindset you have whilst playing.
In regards to the actual voice acting (which is all in English, with English, German and Polish subtitles), I thoroughly enjoyed it. Artifex Mundi are hit or miss sometimes with their HOG titles, but you can tell that Irony Curtain had a much bigger budget. From the innocent, and slightly clueless, Evan, to the multitude of NPCs who seem to only exist to get in your way, everyone sounded great and very believable despite being 2D animations within a fictitious world.
Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love is a satirical comedy which is filled to the brim with puns, references, parodies, and humour which will have you laughing out loud throughout the very long narrative. Graphically the game looks amazing, from the highly detailed backdrops to the unique individuals you’ll meet along the way, every scene is a delight to experience. Coupled with an amazing soundtrack and an awesome cast of voice artists, the game comes alive with every interaction you have either with an NPC or an object you click on. Some of the puzzles can be quite cryptic and require a bit of thought, but the in-game hint line will always push you in the right direction without blatantly telling you what to do – thus making the satisfaction for passing a chapter remain even if you opt to use the hints.
Do I recommend you pick up Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love today? Absolutely! It’s a homage to old-school Point and Click games with a strong emphasis on inventory and environmental puzzles which will keep you constantly thinking about what to do next. Not only that, even if you get stuck, you’ll be determined to work out the solution as you’ll be hooked to the story and want to find out what happens next.
Adventure fans, Casual gamers, Point and Click enthusiasts, and people who simply love well developed and funny games – pick this game up today, you won’t be disappointed.
Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love£15.49
- - Very funny and witty dialogue
- - Interesting narrative and story direction
- - Tonnes of references and puns throughout the whole game
- - Visually a very beautiful game from its simplistic characters to the detailed backdrops
- - Great voice acting and music throughout with no dips in quality
- - Some solutions are quite obscure. The clues are all there, as well as hints, but it's not a very easy game
- - There are a few bugs and issues within the game, not any major ones to be worried about. However, the team are actively squishing these almost as soon as they are found