The cold neon of the future feels like it brings the worst out in people. Most cyberpunk fiction depicts life in colossal cities that never got rid of social anxieties and problems left over from the 21st century. But by looking ahead to what might just be a fever dream, we can occasionally see glimpses of ourselves in a sleek depiction of another world, and figure out what kind of person we want to be in the here and now.
The Red Strings Club is an adventure game that takes you on the assault of a major tech corporation, pondering the ethical implications of body modification and the quest for happiness. Developed by Deconstructeam and published by Devolver Digital, It takes pointers from classic adventures of the eighties and nineties by having a gorgeous pixel art style, but ultimately doesn’t play by their rules. Most of what you will be doing is serving drinks, asking big questions and pushing for information to figure out the best way to take down the system.
Accessing different states of conciousness
The narrative is focused on Donovan, the bartender of the Red Strings Club who calls on a higher power to pour mystical drinks that access different mental states in his customers. Most people that come in are connected in one way or another, all working as part of Supercontinent Ltd. to remove elements of sadness from the lives of common people. The goals of each of them aren’t black and white, some see it as an altruistic endeavour that will benefit mankind, with other lamenting their participation. There are sometimes no right questions or wrong answers.
Questioning takes place when a new customer comes in and afterward you’ll sometimes do a pop quiz with your hyper intelligent android friend Akara. She’ll occasionally ask you about moral dilemmas and observations about human life, but occasionally the inquiries don’t feel like they’re directed at the character, but the player controlling them. Its times like this where Red Strings Club stands out as an impactful piece of work that makes you look at yourself and your own values.
Realistic mixology sim
The gameplay except for a couple bookending segments is not point and click, it’s more about small choices. When a customer wants a drink, you prepare them one by clicking a bottle and pouring it into a glass to bestow them with various emotions. These segments, where interacting with objects can be slightly grating because the physics are something out of Octodad or QWOP. You’re picking up items with a cursor and trying to do basic human functions and failing comically, which makes it satisfying to be done with these sections.
The addition of touch screen controls appears at first that it might help during these segments, but it started to feel like more work after spilling that third drink. As out of places as those bits feel, you still get a buzz from listening to the game’s satisfying music while doing them. The score by fingerspit creates a warm atmospheric tone that makes each segment of the game feel like a little version of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.
Back when cyberpunk was emerging as a solid genre for interactive fiction, the question it frequently explored was what it meant to be human. Transhumanism is more relevant than ever and brings with it a debate on the moral philosophy of handing so much of our humanity over to a machine. By framing the issues through a network of dialogue options and emotional responses, we don’t ever get an answer that’s good or bad, or straight down the middle.
It’s perhaps too complex a topic to deal with in the span of an 8 hour game. However, the fact that it is able to dive into such an interesting discussion is commendable.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for The Red Strings Club was provided by the publisher.