If, like me, you have become just a little bit obsessed with the gripping TV series Chernobyl, you’ll have likely done a fair bit of internet searching around that period of history. The Cold War marked a long period of tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, and, after its end, has been ripe for the entertainment media to reflect on.
Enter Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love, a satirical point and click game set in an alternate Cold War setting – Matryoshka. Taking control of Evan Kovolsky, a goofy journalist who is pro-socialism, he finds himself invited to Matryoshka. After a presentation about the country, a mysterious stranger, Anna, tells Evan “The Leader” wishes to meet with him. From there on out, Evan is wrapped up in an adventure of political espionage as he tries to uncover the secrets of the strange communist country in a surprisingly fun adventure.
Irony Curtain bills itself as being inspired by the classic point-and-click games of old, such as Monkey Island, which is really reflected in its puzzles. They are often bizarre and nonsensical, and Irony Curtain takes great joy in its own absurdity. There are regularly ridiculous solutions to many of the puzzles here, with many requiring out-of-the-box thinking.
Plenty of similar point-and-click games will have you scouring every screen, clicking wildly across every inch of the level until you can find something interactive. Thankfully, this is not the case here, as by pressing ‘up’ on the D-pad every item or person you can engage with is highlighted on screen courtesy of a little soviet star icon. Compared to other titles in the same genre, this is a welcomed addition that’ll save you plenty of time.
From breaking a prisoner out of your hotel room to filling out forms to use the bathroom and sourcing vodka to play a game about drinking vodka to win more vodka, there are plenty of peculiar circumstances to explore and get to the bottom of in Matryoshka.
I found the puzzles to be fairly balanced in terms of difficulty, and while not all of them will be immediately obvious, Irony Curtain does employ a useful hint system to point you in the right direction. It’s always worth speaking to background characters and exhausting dialogue options, as these too can often provide clues. At points where I became stuck, not taking advantage of the hints available made life more difficult than it needed to be, although some solutions were so random that I had no choice but to use them.
It’s also advisable to remember to investigate items, too, as quite a few will have solutions on or in them, as well as checking what items can be modified and/or combined. Thankfully, the interface to complete this is very basic, despite some instances when selecting options with the PS4’s analogue stick could be a bit of a task as the option I would try to highlight would dart about the place.
There are also a few mini-games thrown in to spice things up, although these are spaced out so as to not feel cluttered. These include stamping documents in quick-time events and navigating your way up a dilapidated building by selecting the correct route. While they’re all pretty simplistic and easy enough to complete, the mini-games are a welcome deviation from the typical puzzles found throughout Irony Curtain.
The writing could easily have swayed too far into alienating players with its many references about communism (the C-word is mentioned a lot) but it is to the credit of Artifex Mundi that the political humour is kept accessible. Although it doesn’t always land, the story is handled with plenty of jokes. Almost all interactions with other characters will have a touch a comedy thrown in, which helps to make the cast memorable as well.
A consistent highlight throughout Irony Curtain is the quality of the background art, with 21 hand-painted environments that all looked wonderful. Even though there aren’t that many locations, you’ll likely spend enough time with each to appreciate the effort and detail, all of which benefits the oppressive yet exaggerated atmosphere of Matryoshka.
The soundtrack is also solid, fitting in splendidly with the tone of the game, but plenty of praise must be heaped towards the voice acting. It is definitely some of the better voice acting I have heard in point-and-click games like this, and Christopher Ragland, the voice of Evan, does a great job bringing the journalist to life, making him both sympathetic and funny across the span of the game. While it is (knowingly) corny, I found myself not skipping through most of the dialogue as it was genuinely a joy to listen to.
You can also find plenty of easter eggs hidden throughout Irony Curtain, from Evan taking a dig at Fallout using caps as currency to Lord of the Rings-inspired tower designs in the background and even internet legend Leeroy Jenkins getting a mention. None of the references are important, or even necessary, to the gameplay, but they are fun little pop culture nods that are sure to raise a smile.
One of the downsides with Irony Curtain is one that is common to most games of a point-and-click nature: a lack of journal to keep track of what objectives I was working on. There were times when I had to save and quit the game, and, when I returned, it would take a few minutes to recall what I was supposed to be doing, especially as some of the environments are very wide and have multiple areas to explore.
My other gripe is Evan’s slow walking speed. Although this isn’t a deal breaker, even with a sprint option (pressing R2), he did still feel slow, which made the abundance of backtracking you have to undertake become rather tedious.
Aside from this, Irony Curtain did play smoothly and felt responsive in all my interactions with the world, although I must note that in my first hour of play, the game did crash twice. There was also one random instance where, after incorrectly selecting a key I needed in the hotel portion of the game, I was taken back to the screen prior to picking a key, unable to interact with anything or screen or cancel out, meaning I had to save and quit. Fortunately, when reloading the game, I was able to carry on from where I left off.
Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love is a well crafted point-and-click adventure game and it is clear from playing it that Artifex Mundi had a lot of fun making it. While the puzzles can range wildly in their difficulty, a generous hint system is always on hand to guide you without spelling out the answers.
The writing is fun and cheesy, peppered with plenty of wit and accessible political humour, alongside a colourful cast of characters elevated by strong voice acting performances throughout. Despite one or two frustrating moments, and a random game breaking bug or two, there is still enough meat on these soviet bones to keep you playing until the end of Evans’ adventures in Matryoshka.
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