Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka With Love Review

Matryoshka Greatest Country In The World, All Other Countries Are Run By Little Girls
Developer: Artifex Mundi Publisher: Artifex Mundi Platform: PC, Switch, XB1, PS4

A point-and-click game that had been approved by a state committee for state committes of video games

Communism is becoming pretty popular in indie games. From 2013’s dystopian document thriller Papers, Please to last year’s The Communist Dogifesto, the ideology certainly has its ‘fans’. Of course, it still has its Fans…unfortunately. That’s not to say that we’re on the cusp of a remake of 1917, but it is to say that the Internet still exists. People are still willing to prop up their glasses, make a smug smirk and pull out the most irritating word in the English language: ‘Actually…’

Irony Curtain is an attempt to pull back the blinkers and see the realities of Stalinist regimes through the lens of satire. It’s also the funniest game I’ve played in a long time. A lot of that comedy stems from a knowledge of both the time period Irony Curtain portrays, and the exact kind of person that it lampoons in its protagonist. In that respect, Irony Curtain was a personal journey through my own political rollercoaster and a must-play for any other ex-Communists. We all need to laugh at our old, cringey selves, don’t we?

Irony Curtain takes place in a sort-of-alternate history of 1951, in which the ‘Capitalist Union’ and the other side of the Iron(y) Curtain are locked in the same staring contest as they were in our own timeline. Our protagonist, Evan Kovolsky, is an American ‘middle-class socialist brat’ who simply adores the Communist satellite state of Matryoshka. He’s a die-hard Pinko, writing a worker’s newspaper – from his parent’s house – with a subscriber base countable on two hands. After receiving an invitation to his Tankie paradise, he finds more than he bargained for.

I can’t recall a joke that didn’t at least get a chortle from me

They even have time to sneak in an ‘Allo ‘Allo reference on the way

Matryoshka is a funny place, both humorously and thematically. The entire country is modelled after every meme and Ronald Reagan joke ever told about Communism. This isn’t a surprise, as the development team has set out to ‘include [their] collective experiences of the communist regime in Poland in a humorous way’. Evan is constantly mocked by almost everybody he talks to for his naïve idealism; he simply doesn’t accept that Communism can fail – even when the people it’s failed tell him so. Irony Curtain has a beef with the Ricks of the world.

Irony Curtain’s humour, therefore, isn’t as niche as it could have been. I can’t recall a joke that didn’t at least get a chortle from me, and I remember several that made me actually laugh out loud. And that’s saying nothing of the many easter eggs and references scattered through the game. There’s always a reference to something in the corner of your eye, and to a wide variety of media. It’s nothing quite in-your-face, which is a relief. If there’s anything I hate, it’s references for no reason! Except when I do it.

A part of Irony Curtain that isn’t as scattered, though, is the love of its genre. As a point-and-click adventure game, Irony Curtain excels at recreating the Lucasarts magic…and the frustration. While the game’s puzzles were unique and required actual problem solving, some proved unnecessarily frustrating. One puzzle early on had me backtrack every time I made a mistake. Then again, another was solved after I stopped overthinking it (which is a polite way of saying that I’m pretty dense sometimes).

Nevertheless, Irony Curtain’s passion for the PnC games of old is undeniable. The writing is straight out of Monkey Island – in-game text appearing next to the characters was the biggest flashback – as was Evan’s voice acting. His performance in particular was eerily reminiscent of Guybrush Threepwood, but all of the voice acting in this game is excellent. Musically, Irony Curtain could have used a little more variety but what’s there works well.

Pay no attention to the worker behind the curtain!

The gameplay is basically identical to every other PnC you’ve played in the last decade. Click a section to see available options, with unique actions and voice lines for each. Irony Curtain makes no attempt to reinvent the wheel in this regard, making for an easy-to-pick-up experience. Old-school traps of the genre are thankfully absent as well – barring previously-mentioned gripes. There’s no need for dream logic or a hunt for pixels; puzzles and environments are clean and straightforward. They also happen to look nice; the art style of Irony Curtain is used to its fullest potential. While the American parts of the game are filled with bright and happy colours, the other side of the Curtain is marked with drab and violent ones. The change in art style during development was, thankfully, for the best.

This mid-development change may have something to do with the bugs, unfortunately. While Irony Curtain functions just fine most of the time, a bug will pop up every so often that requires you to re-load your game. Nothing game breaking, to be sure, but still a nuisance. That said, loading a game was quick and easy on my higher-mid tier rig. A minor inconvenience, but still detracts somewhat from the experience.

Final thoughts

Irony Curtain is the funniest game of the year. It’s also a great tribute to the PC clickers of old, and a good PnC game in its own right. Minor hiccups do nothing to abate my love for this game and its surprising amount of polish. If you’re after a great PnC that isn’t Truberbrook, Irony Curtain is the game for you.

Reviewed on Windows // Review code supplied by publisher
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Good

  • Laugh-out-loud funny
  • Good, clean gameplay
  • Great audial and visual design

Bad

  • Buggy in parts
  • Some frustrating puzzles
8

Get Around It

Aza blames his stunted social skills and general uselessness on a lifetime of video games. Between his ears is a comprehensive Team Fortress 2 encyclopedia. His brain, on the other hand, remains at large.
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