Fiction always goes in phases and right now we’re in a Cyberpunk one with Blade Runner 2049, Altered Carbon, Mute, and The Red Strings Club.
But what’s great about each of these projects is that they explore the undercurrent beneath the flashy neon lights and revolutionary augmentations. Delving that little bit deeper to investigate the human psyche and emotional struggle in an age of monopolizing corporations seeking to control everything. That’s certainly a core theme in The Red Strings Club as a grizzly bartender and freelance hacker look to take down an alturistic corporation set on eliminating depression, anger and fear from society.
Which, on the surface, seems like it could be a good idea. Or a terrible one. The game doesn’t necessarily lead you to believe there is a right or wrong answer either way. What Red Strings does so well is weigh up the pros and cons either side, get you to ask questions while also offering the chance to answer yourself.
It’s a game of perspectives. You’ll meet people coming into your bar who think it’s the greatest invention of the modern age. It will stop war, prevent bullying, change lives. They will sing its praises and maybe even convince you of the possibilities. There’ll also be those who fear the consequences, and worry how it will alter societal norms and change the way we think and feel, making us too comfortable in our own bubbles, maybe even careless.
After Deconstructeam’s powerful debut with God’s Will Be Watching, they’ve moved away from some of the shock factor that drove the core of that game and instead offered a more thoughtful, inspired tale that will keep you guessing right up until the very end and draw you in whether you want to be on the ride or not.
Because as you point and click your way through the narrative, learning more about the hows, whys, and whens, you realise how connected you’ve become to the characters by uncovering their deep, dark secrets, recognizing their aspirations, maybe even understanding their motivations. It can make for an occasionally uncomfortable experience and certainly opens up the possibility for reflection during more than one scene.
The Red Strings Club provides an intriguing universe, illustrating it with compelling dialogue, tense scenes, sexy pixel art, and fascinating puzzle-solving. It immediately calls back to the glory days of the adventure game, but not necessarily focusing on using random items on tiny pixels in the environment. Here, you have a log book filled with your objectives, findings and deductions, using those leads to drive your investigation, to focus on particular probing questions and also which ones to avoid.
The Red String shows the various different paths you can take to reach your conclusion. After every choice, your immediate thought goes to how you could have played that scene differently, but rather than reload you almost feel obliged to sit tight and accept whatever comes next. Especially on a first playthrough.
Half of the game is played from the bartender, Donovan’s, perspective and the other half from the hacker, Brandeis. Each character has their specialties which opens up some different sub-games to move the story along. Donovan is a master cocktail maker and can loosen the tongue of his patrons by making them feel a certain way using different alcohol types. Each liquor brings out a different emotional response and opens up new dialogue possibilities. This can also be done strategically once you’ve got a feel for a person walking into your bar. For instance, if someone is feeling a bit upset, a drink could be used to capitalize on that emotion.
This is complicated further throughout the game as you go from mixing two bottles together to shaking them up, altering the alignment of the drink, and even mixing things into it.
Another mini-game sees you craft module chips for paying customers in the form of pottery. You first decide which module they need to have installed based on their requirements, then sculpt it using various different tools to the background music of your choice. At first, it can be a bit confusing, but once you made the first couple you’ll feel like a pro and it can be quite satisfying.
And as you might expect, the game’s final act is one large sub-game which is downright impressive, entertaining and thrilling on so many different levels, building towards the epic conclusion. Although there is one particular section which has drawn a lot of controversy and is actually crucial to the progression of the game.
What’s great about The Red Strings Club is that you actually feel like your choices matter. That you have a vital role to play in the development of the story and the things that happen based on conversations you’ve had and people you’ve trusted. Things you say do matter, which makes every choice that much more important. On a psychological level, this goes much deeper than ‘x character will remember that’
And it’s all represented beautifully by this moody, well-lit, smoke-hazed pixellated world and unnerving soundtrack. The atmosphere in The Red Strings Club is spot on, and will ensure that the experience is a lasting one, always in the back of your mind tempting you to go back in for another runthrough. Just to see what you could have done differently. Just to see what difference it will make.
There’s so much to be said in this review, but I feel like going in cold is the best and only way to truly experience The Red Strings Club. It’s at its most effective and harrowing when you know little to nothing about it, allowing it to sculpt your imagination. Because despite the traditionally fanciful sci-fi environments and stereotypically dressed cast, the questions The Red Strings Club poses are important ones for us to think and reflect on, and they’ve been presented in a smart, confident way. Get it on your tab.
+ Moody and satisfying aesthetic
+ Gripping commentary and conversational choices
+ Fantastic characterization and development
+ Some excellent sub game sequences
– Some tired sci-fi cliches
– A few uncomfortable and controversial design decisions
– Some sub-games difficult to get to grips with at first
The Red Strings Club
8 out of 10
Tested on PC