An astonishing, truly weird, and somewhat grotesque experience
Sergei Kliuchnikov, also known as Smek, has gifted us with a surprising, bizarre, and at times disturbing yet reflective experience with his M City, which is not yet available and lacks an official release date.
Although not much is known about this game, I want to discuss it for several reasons. The first is related to the article on The Hard Life of Solo Developers, and staying true to what I advocated there, I am pleased to bring visibility and create an opportunity to introduce those who are committed to bringing a project created from scratch and in total solitude.
Furthermore, I have chosen to talk about M City because it has given me some good points of reflection that I will delve into gradually. But let’s start with the strengths of this unusual 2D hand-drawn point-and-click game by Smek.
The Storytelling of M City
I find Smek’s work particularly impressive, especially in terms of storytelling.
The characters are vivid, expressive, and well-characterized, thanks to the use of dialogue and their movements. I am impressed by the depth and characterization of each character you interact with, even in short dialogues.
And that’s precisely why I consider Smek to be very skilled at writing. In a few lines of dialogue, details and personalities of the inhabitants of M City emerge. There is always a subtle, often cynical, humor that I adored.
The story itself is linear, well-written, original in terms of setting and style, and, including a substantial investigative aspect, there is also the element of mystery and thriller, also well-written. The puzzles are entertaining and feasible, although not trivial.
The protagonist, Manny, is certainly the one characterized the best and with more facets, not only because he suffers from multiple personality disorder. Another well-characterized character is Oliver, one of the inhabitants of M City, depicted as a slender boy with very light hair, glasses, and a composed attitude.
Oliver is the one who connects with Manny because he has the same depth, the same sensitivity, but above all, he is intelligent. Not as much as our protagonist, who, endowed with high analytical abilities, becomes involved in the investigation of some strange disappearances and terrible crimes happening in the city. Manny doesn’t see things; he sees information.
Another One Man Band Tackling a Big Project
Smek created the game alone, describing himself as an undistinguished amateur artist. He simply loves inventing stories and drawing them, deciding to share his vision of the game with the world.
His inspiration comes from Steve Gabry, the creator of Sally Face, another title made independently that became very popular.
While the merit of creating a video game from scratch, especially based on a good story, from a technical and, above all, graphic point of view, M City is not at the top.
There is an immediate difficulty in understanding interactions with objects due to a somewhat generic and, although didactic, interface. Initially, it is challenging to get started. Despite not having many details or hotspots, I got stuck in the first level.
Smek will forgive me if I reveal that the tree on the left side of the very first scene also contains a branch that completely escaped my notice.
Once you get into the mindset with which the game was conceived, however, it becomes easier to progress.
The technical issues are mostly tied to the game’s development system. Creating it in a more modern game engine like Unity or Godot, rather than Flash, would provide greater control over the user experience and the ability to port it to other platforms. A mobile version of M City would be perfect.
But, as we have already mentioned, M City’s strength is not the technical aspect but rather the narrative one.
Graphically, it is peculiar and expressive, but it looks more like a storyboard, a draft, than a finished work. The raw style, however, gives a stylistic uniqueness that, with more care, could work and be appreciated even by those who rightfully expect a title to have both good writing and good graphics.
However, I appreciated M City’s ability to be unsettling despite the use of vibrant colors and bright scenarios.
There are many strategies to overcome the low graphic capabilities, but Smek wanted to give a three-dimensional dimension to his 2D design, focusing on the use of perspective and proportions, with results not always sufficient.
The unpolished style may indicate a not very long-lasting experience, but there is a strong willingness to do things with attention to detail.
He has an excellent hand for the expressiveness of characters, well-rendered in both movements and faces. He just needs to practice more in drawing.
Regarding the gameplay, I believe that the “active mode” is a bit cumbersome for those, like me, accustomed to classic point-and-click. The mandatory use of the keyboard, for example, makes combat scenes difficult and often unintuitive.
I make an additional note about the use of the keyboard: having to use the space bar to continue action or narrative moments, I find it at least bizarre and unusual.
“We welcome all the unconventional people here.”
These are Oliver’s words, encapsulating the theme that I appreciated the most in the game, that of inclusion.
On several occasions, the residents of M City emphasize that for them, this city is a kind of refuge where they can start anew with a new identity and live in serenity, far from the harassment and rejection of society.
M City is a haven for people seeking acceptance, perhaps even affection. But there is an important thing to consider, namely that the quirks of the inhabitants of this particular gathering of “human cases” soon suggest that they might be psychos after all.
Those who have read my other articles may have understood that I have a soft spot for bizarre and out-of-the-box titles. I love video games that leave me speechless, as recently happened with The Many Pieces Of Mr. Coo, and M City, even though it is not technically at the same level, surprised me.
I can’t reveal the final plot twist, but that’s where I found confirmation of the feeling I had as soon as I saw the trailer: there is a lot of cynicism, and it is all perfectly consistent with what is repeated within the game and regarding the quirky and disturbing, almost grotesque, tone that Smek wanted to give.
Everything is very raw and technically anachronistic, but I really appreciated the potential, especially the narrative one. Another personal appreciation goes to the choice of addressing important themes such as mental disorders. Smek did it with bitter irony, and I liked it.