A short exploration of an intriguing, strangely hopeful Cyberpunk future populated by diverse and endearing characters.
I take a long look at the corporate lawyer sitting across the bar. If I want her to spill the beans about her employer’s sinister plans, I’m going to have to get her in the right mood.
I mix vodka, tequila and a couple of ice cubes and serve her a tall glass of remorse. Now, all I have to do is ask the right questions.
The Red Strings Club is a game about cyberpunk bartending.
As clandestine bartender Donovan, you spend most of the game behind a bar, mixing and serving drinks to your very exclusive clientele. You do so in the hopes of extracting bits and pieces of information you can use to your advantage. In addition to being an excellent bartender, Donovan is also an information broker.
Most of the game revolves around serving drinks and talking to people, but you’ll also try your hand at pottery and a little corporate espionage through what is essentially a series of prank calls.
However, that’s not what The Red Strings Club is about. Here’s what the game’s official description has to say:
“The Red Strings Club is a cyberpunk narrative experience about fate and happiness featuring the extensive use of pottery, bartending and impersonating people on the phone to take down a corporate conspiracy.”
That is indeed what you do in the game, but again – not what it’s about. At its core, The Red Strings Club is about empathy.
The only way to “beat” the game is to talk with your customers, understand their emotions, and then manipulate them with booze. It’s not as sleazy as it sounds, I promise.
The colorful characters that come into your bar have only one thing in common: they all work for Supercontinent Ltd, a powerful corporation with a sinister plan for the human race – a plan you are dead set on stopping. To do that, you can use the weapons any bartender has at their disposal – good alcohol and superb listening skills.
But Donovan isn’t your typical bartender; he has a special skill. His drinks can literally change the emotions his customers’ experience. All he needs to do is mix the right cocktail.
Preparing drinks isn’t all that challenging. You simply mix the right spirits to guide a cursor to the specific emotion you want to trigger. Vodka moves the cursor down, whiskey moves it up, tequila moves it right and absinthe moves it left. It gets a little trickier as the game goes on, but don’t expect to be using anything more complicated than a shaker.
The tricky part is to figure out which emotional state will make your subject spill out the most information. If you have a natural ability to “read” people, then it will definitely come in handy. But even if you don’t, most characters wear their emotions on their sleeve, so just listening to them is usually enough to get you through.
The game even tests your ability to read other people by giving you a short quiz on each client. You get a score in the end, and a small reward if you answer most questions correctly. Frankly, I don’t really see the point of this quiz, apart from maybe conditioning you to pay close attention to every detail and bit of information.
You could say that The Red Strings Club is made up of a series of drunken conversations, and you wouldn’t be wrong. However, thanks to the characters and the relationships between them, the game does feel bigger than that.
In the 4 hours it took me to finish the game, I got to exchange a few touching, hilarious and introspective moments with my patrons. I still find myself thinking about some of these interactions, and how I might have affected the game’s cyberpunk future. To me, that says a lot.
The only real problem I have with this game is its length. More precisely, with how much is left unsaid and unexplored. There’s still a lot more that can be done with the game’s concept. It just ends too soon, in what feels like should be the halfway point. The story stops before any meaningful conclusion can be reached, and the full impact of your journey sets in.
You can play the game a second time and make different decisions. A few of them have the potential to alter the story a bit, which is nice, but the overall experience remains pretty much the same.
Luckily, the game looks and sounds great. You can’t help but appreciate the great aesthetics and the noir cyberpunk vibe of it all. It manages to say a lot without any voice acting or much noise of any kind. Instead, it lets the music do all the talking. The music sets the mood for every conversation as efficiently as one of Donovan’s cocktails. At times it was impossible to separate the music from the scene, which made me almost not notice it – it just felt like a natural part of the environment.
The Red Strings Club is a brief visit to a cyberpunk future I’d love to explore more. It gives you a little sip of a unique blend of the human spirit but then withholds the rest of the bottle. Maybe a sequel will come along and quench my thirst, or maybe not, but I’m happy I got to partake.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.