A pixelated cyberpunk adventure that’s well worth your time.
Author’s Note: For some reason the game doesn’t let you take screenshots the normal way when playing it through Steam. I had taken a few pictures using my cell phone but they weren’t very good. Consequently, the screenshots are taken directly from the Steam store page.
Having played through The Red Stings Club twice now, I can say that it’s all about the journey not the destination. I’m about to spoil something so fair warning; the ending is the same no matter what you do during the course of the game. Some of you are probably asking yourselves “Well, if the destination is always the same, what’s the point in playing the game?” The point is that The Red Strings Club features stellar writing that makes its characters compelling, relatable, and thought-provoking. The game is more about these character’s interactions than it is about the gameplay. The conversations and options within them change depending upon what you decide to do but the game always ends at the same point. Remember, it’s the journey not the destination.
The Red Strings Club is set in the future and is full of everything you would normally find in a cyberpunk setting; androids, human implants, corporations run amok, etc. The story revolves around a group of people trying to find out what one of the largest implant corporations, Supercontinent, Ltd., is up to. As I said, you’ve probably seen this all before if you’re a fan of cyberpunk stories. It is an enjoyable tale full of philosophical discussions about androids, corporations, and what it means to be human. Although it isn’t vastly different from what has come before in this genre, it does enough differently to make it unique.
Now, let’s start with what I think The Red Strings Club struggles with: the gameplay. The game features three different protagonists whom you play as in different sections. Each section (and character) features its own gameplay mechanics. The three characters are: Akara-184, an android who installs implants in humans; Donovan, a bartending information broker at the eponymous Red Strings Club; and Brandeis, an implanted human who works with an underground group whose goal is to stop corporations from abusing their vast power. Although each section has interesting dialogue (which I’ll talk more about down below), not all gameplay is created equal, however.
Akara-184’s section is arguably the worst when it comes to gameplay. While playing as her, you have to craft implants to install into humans who have come to Supercontinent, Ltd.’s clinic for help. This simply means you have to use a crafting table to sculpt an implant to match the outline given to you. I found it to be rather boring and it really didn’t add anything to the game. The only things that matter during Akara’s section are the choices you make.
Donovan’s section is much better. This is because of the conversations he has and not because of the gameplay. Donovan (who is a bartender if you can recall from two paragraphs up) is an information broker and the way he gets his information is by mixing drinks to put his customers in a particular mood. He then decides what questions to ask them based upon what mood they are in. Sounds great, right? Well, it works well on paper. It mostly consists of a screen where you pour certain drinks to make a circle hover over the mood you want. It isn’t very exciting. Having said that, the dialogue Donovan has with his patrons after making the drinks is what makes The Red Strings Club worthwhile. I would have preferred if I didn’t have to mix drinks and just had to choose what Donovan says to his customers. In my mind, that would have been far more engaging since it wouldn’t have broken up the dialogue.
My favorite character to play as was Brandeis. During this portion of the game, Brandeis must use a Supercontinent phone to talk to people in order to find out information you need to progress the story. I liked this part because Brandeis, while using his implants, can imitate other people’s voices. This made it possible to call someone and have them think Brandeis was someone else. I made sure to call everyone I could while impersonating someone else in order to see how they would react. I loved seeing these conversations unfold as it provided new perspectives on key characters and revealed how each character you had met along the way interacted with the other characters. I think this part of the game was very well done and if the whole game had just been the Brandeis section (except a bit longer) then I would have been a happy camper.
What The Red Strings Club truly excels at is its narrative. As I mentioned above, you will spend most of your time talking to other people so it’s good that it features excellent writing throughout. Each conversation is well-written and thought out. This is especially noticeable towards the end of the game. Each conversation during the experience features dialogue choices you can choose and these choices do have consequences (both big and small). They can nudge the story one direction or another even though the ending is the same no matter what. For example, certain conversations, depending upon what you choose, could be cut short thus making you miss out on important pieces of information. As I’ve said, I played through the game twice while taking care to choose different options. I marveled at how the game accounted for the different choices each time. It must have taken a herculean effort to ensure that all of these choices and narrative threads come together in a cohesive fashion in the end. The development team should be proud of the work they have done.
The excellence of the writing is more than just how the story fits together, however. It also has to do with how the game deals with the issues it raises. The best example of this is when Akara engages Donovan in deeply philosophical discussions. During these conversations, you have the option (as Donovan) to choose what you believe is the best answer. No matter what you have Donovan say, Akara always has a rational and logical counter-argument at the ready. This shows that the writing team really took the time, energy, and effort to truly think about all of the issues raised in the game. The writing ensures that multiple points of view are represented and it is the game’s greatest strength by far.
The Red Strings Club is an interesting beast. On the one hand, it features excellent writing, a well-thought out narrative, and great dialogue choices. On the other hand, however, its gameplay sections (i.e. actively interacting with the game) is subpar (excluding the Brandeis section, of course). The good and the bad, when taken together, form a game with ok gameplay girded by a strong narrative backbone. If you like games that focus on story more than anything else then you should definitely check this one out. It features a cyberpunk tale with a twist that will have you questioning your choices at every turn.
Final Score: 7/10
- Great narrative
- Excellent writing
- Phone (with Brandeis) gameplay
- Story branches
- Most gameplay is subpar (mixing drinks and crafting implants)
Thanks for reading!
p.s. The soundtrack was pretty good too.
2 thoughts on “The Red Strings Club Review”
I just finished this after picking it up in the recent Devolver Digital Sale. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You might like 2048 Read Only Memories as well. I actually really liked mixing the drinks, but agree the pottery was fiddly. The narrative was amazing, absolutely!
Unrelated: If you want to grow your audience, there are some friendly nerds over the Geek Blogs United facebook group you should meet. 🙂
You probably won’t see my response (since I didn’t see your comment until now) but I thought I would respond anyways.
I have heard good things about Read Only Memories. I will have to check it out soon! If it has as good of a narrative as Red Strings Club, then I can’t wait to play it.
I will have to check out that Facebook group. Thanks for the recommendation!
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