How much are you willing to meet a game on its own terms?
The Red Strings Club
MonsterVine was supplied with a PC code for review
Here’s the deal: The Red Strings Club isn’t really a game, per se. The press material calls it a cyberpunk narrative experience and that’s about the sum of it. In the “game” sense, there’s no real mastery to gain. There’s some mini-game style activities, but the penalty for messing up is minor annoyance. Even by adventure game standards, there’s not much in the way of puzzle solving.
The main form of interaction is mixing drinks for the cyborgs and other assorted weirdos that walk into your bar and using your unique knowledge of mixology to influence their emotions and get them talking. There’s a mystery at the heart of the story, something to do with an all-encompassing corporation with a plan to eliminate negative emotions.
You can also spin cybernetic enhancements on a wheel and craft them like the warm, powerful arms of Patrick Swayze are embracing you. Va-ha11-a may have pioneered the cyberpunk bartending genre, but The Red Strings Club breaks new ground in cybernetic pottery.
Once you’ve crafted the implants, you shove them into people while your Overseer makes cryptic philosophical observations. Implants can range from “making people not care about haters on the internet” to “completely shutting down their social conscience,” and you’re left with a fairly free hand to match client desires with what implants you can make, but they keep reappearing until you do what the game wants.
To dig further into the mystery, your bartender and his hacker chum can also impersonate people on the phone. There’s something there about freedom to experience emotions and controlling people, but radical hacker anarchism as viewed through a lens of 2018 still makes one pause. Obviously Facebook shouldn’t be moderating our emotions, but maybe we could use some moderating. There’s a lot of nice standing around and philosophizing about it, so you can get your point of view out there and see what they think.
In fact, most of the game is conversational: talking to people, making them drinks, working them for info while slipping them the right spirits, then arguing about what their revelations mean from a philosophical and plot perspective. If a game that has you arguing the nature of emotions with a cyborg sidekick sounds up your alley, you’ll dig it.
There’s a couple different paths through the narrative and a few different people you can meet along the way, but there’s easy ways to backtrack and refresh yourself. As an old hand with adventure games, I appreciate that it’s (seemingly) not trying to trick you with the old “You forgot to pick up this thing in act 1 so screw you” bit.
The Final Word
Which is a long-winded way of saying The Red Strings Club is really just an experience to soak in. Enjoy the music, consider the writing, mix a few drinks, and talk. I don’t think it’s for everyone, but if you dig cyberpunk, philosophical discussion, and the warm, loving arms of Patrick Swayze around you as you shape biomass into implants to sever any emotional ties to this world, give it a try. Great music, pixel-style art, a cyberpunk aesthetic, and the mellow feeling of shooting the shit at the bar. What’s not to love?
– MonsterVine Review Score: 4 out of 5 – Good