The Red Strings Club is the latest project from indie developers Deconstructeam, an outfit based in Spain who are slowly making a name for themselves with their offbeat works (with the most well known being Gods Will Be Watching). Set in a fairly familiar feeling cyberpunk dystopian future, and treading some equally familiar thematic territory surrounding transhumanism and corporate control, The Red Strings Club is a thoughtful adventure which deftly blends some deep philosophical musings with some quirky wrinkles to keep it fresh.
Don’t look at it, don’t look at it. You looked at it
The events of The Red Strings Club play out mostly from the perspective of legendary barkeep and information broker Donovan. Donovan has the ability to tap into his patrons’ emotions by concocting specific cocktails that align with their moods, which not only makes them feel good (or occasionally bad), but is also capable of loosening their tongues in the process. Knowledge is power, and while Donovan is at heart a good egg, his varied clientele and the information he trades means he is capable of pulling more than a few strings in the city. And pull a string or two he shall, as he attempts to uncover the nefarious plot of a mega-corporation with the help of his hacker boyfriend Brandeis.
It’s a narrative that sounds kind of familiar on paper, but the strong writing manages to give the proceedings a substantial amount of philosophical depth and throws out black and white morality in favour of murky tones of grey. Even Donovan, who is generally guided by a strong moral compass and is relatively steadfast in his convictions, is made to question some of his own beliefs. Oddly enough there is no real true good or true evil in the world of The Red Strings Club, and every character – be they protagonist, antagonist, genderless android or corporate shill – simply want everyone to be happy and to make the world a better place. The question is what level of sacrifice is justified in the quest to rid society of its fundamental woes? How much control are we willing to concede over our thoughts and feelings in the pursuit of universal happiness?
Gameplay-wise the game is most aptly compared to a point-and-click adventure, but really it boils down to a series of mini-games that serve as minor hurdles to moving the narrative forward. Whether it be crafting a bionic implant (in a process that strongly resembles the art of pottery with a futuristic twist) and installing it in a human to boost their confidence before a big meeting, or mixing the perfect cocktail to put a client at ease, player input is often fairly perfunctory and quite simple but enjoyable enough and only present in short bursts so as not to overstay its welcome. The game’s real pleasures come from the deep conversations that take place between characters and the moral quandaries that arise, and the minimalist gameplay aptly keeps this process ticking along.
While there’s a fair bit of choice in how you approach a conversation and what moods you want to heighten through your drink-mixing skills, you can’t ever really fail in the game. If you blunder an important conversation or event you won’t be greeted with a Game Over screen, but not being armed with enough information or losing key characters during your playthrough will make it harder to unravel the mystery in the game’s final moments. It’s a short and sweet experience that can easily be knocked over in a few hours, but further playthroughs can reveal insights and allow you to explore different consequences of your actions.
Let’s get goofy
Patrick Swayze is behind me, isn’t he?
Oddly enough there is no real true good or true evil in the world of The Red Strings Club, and every character – be they protagonist, antagonist, genderless android or corporate shill – simply want everyone to be happy and to make the world a better place. The question is what level of sacrifice is justified in the quest to rid society of its fundamental woes? How much control are we willing to concede over our thoughts and feelings in the pursuit of universal happiness?
The Red Strings Club features a distinct pixelated art design, and unashamedly celebrates the tropes of classic dystopian cyberpunk fiction like Bladerunner and Total Recall. It’s well executed if a little derivative, but it couples nicely with the silky smooth synth soundtrack peppered with jazzy splashes and sombre tones, perfectly nailing the futuristic film noir vibe it ardently strives for.
Donovan knows the score
You must be this rad to use this phone
The Red Strings Club’s greatest asset is the food for thought that it deals out in large helpings. For fans of high-concept sci-fi and philosophy in general, The Red Strings Club will provide plenty of beard-stroking moments of introspection. I’m not sure who exactly I’d recommend this game to, but if you’re keen to question the nature of humanity and still wonder if androids dream of electric sheep then there’s a lot to love here.
Reviewed on Windows | Review code supplied by publisher