The Red Strings Club was a very pleasant surprise indeed. Newly released for Nintendo Switch, this cyberpunk thriller manages to take the tired old neon-future tropes in new, unexpected directions – and above all, it’s just a very intelligently written game.
It starts with a man falling from a tall building while lamenting how he got here – a classic noir opening. Then we cut to a bar – the titular Red Strings Club – a few days earlier. The man, Brandeis, is with his boyfriend Donovan, who’s the owner of the bar, when an android named Akara-184 comes crashing through the door, having escaped from a morally suspect megacorp named Supercontinent. Shenanigans ensue, with all the twisting conspiracy theories and shady characters you’d expect – as well as a lot of things you wouldn’t suspect.
Unfortunately, I found the early part of the game to also be its weakest. You start by playing through Akara’s flashback, where she’s crafting ‘genetic implant pottery’ to insert into a conveyor belt of high-ranking Supercontinent execs. These implants can do things such as suppress the recipient’s need to feel popular on social media, along with other zeitgeist-skewering modifications, and it’s a pretty funny gag – especially the way the ‘pottery’ is shoved indelicately into the peoples’ abdomen with an accompanying squelching sound. However, I found actually crafting the things was fiddly and annoying, and on about the sixth time I was asked to do it I was groaning with frustration. Luckily, the game gets a lot better from there.
The main section sees you playing Donovan, a self-proclaimed ‘information broker’ who has the ability to manipulate his customers’ moods by mixing drinks to match their feelings. This is a fun little mini game that develops over time, adding more drinks and mixing methods, and carefully pouring out just the right shot is very tactile and satisfying. But the really great bit about this section is the branching conversations.
After mixing a drink, you can ask the customer questions, but you have to make sure you pursue the ones that are most likely to get a response given the patron’s mood. So, for example, if you stimulate their regret, they may be more likely to open up about a morally unsound secret project they’ve been working on and feel uncomfortable about. But if you ask the same question after triggering euphoria, for example, they’ll probably refuse to talk about work and the opportunity to ask that question is lost for good.
There are multiple customers all with very different personalities, and I found it fascinating to slowly piece together the plot details by prodding and poking around in their memories. There are multiple ways to get at most information, but it’s easy to miss things on one playthrough – I’m very tempted to go back again to get more of the big picture. And the plot itself is excellent, heading in directions that I didn’t expect and frequently causing me to emit a mental gasp.
I was also impressed by how things like same-sex relationships and trans people were treated with a simple matter-of-factness rather than being displayed as some grand gesture to inclusiveness. They just are. And that left me to invest in Brandeis and Donovan’s evolving relationship, which I honestly found very moving. As I said above, it’s a clever game, and wonderfully written with wit and passion. And the fact that your decisions matter and will ultimately come back to haunt you towards the end of the game is brilliantly implemented.
The final section of the game involves some corporate espionage with Brandeis… but I won’t spoil it for you here, it’s best you find out for yourself. And DO find out if you have a spare few hours – The Red Strings Club is too good to miss. In fact, my only real criticism – apart from the pottery – is that it feels a little short. By the end, I was left wanting to find out more about these characters and explore their world. And that’s probably the best recommendation I can give.
The Red Strings Club was developed by Decontructeam and published by Devolver Digital, and is available for PC, Mac, Linux and Switch.
Disclosure statement: Review code for The Red Strings Club was provided by Indigo Pearl. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.
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