Title: The Red Strings Club
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC
Audience: M for Mature
Release Date: 14/03/2019
Price: £13.49 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
What the Developers 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.
The professed altruistic corporation Supercontinent Ltd is on the verge of releasing Social Psyche Welfare: a system that will eliminate depression, anger and fear from society. However, the bartender of a clandestine club and a freelance hacker don’t regard this evolution as an improvement but as brainwashing. Alongside unwitting company employees and a rogue empathy android, the duo will pull all the strings they can to bring down this scheme.
The Red Strings Club, from developer Deconstructeam, is a cyberpunk adventure title that ponders on the meaning of fate, free will, and happiness. Players will be tasked with bringing down Supercontinent Ltd., a mega-corporation, on the verge of releasing an involuntary human upgrade program called Social Psyche Welfare. Using a variety of different tools and skill sets, including pottery, bartending, and impersonating people on the phone.
Looks and Sounds
As an adventure title, Red Strings Club relies heavily on its story, dialogue, and characters over more traditional gameplay. The setting presents a futuristic world where humans have advanced to the point where they installed cybernetic upgrades in themselves which can theoretically solve all of life’s problems and bring happiness to whoever used them. Mods exist that can boost someone’s charisma, let them gain followers on social media, enhance their sex appeal, and much more.
The beginning of The Red Strings Club puts you in control of an Android who crafts and installs these upgrades for people to purchase. You’ll be presented with someone who has a specific problem and a catalogue of upgrades to choose from to help them solve that problem. It’s here that you’ll first encounter the philosophical musings that power much of The Red Strings Club’s narrative. If someone wants to be more popular in social media for example, will they be happy with an upgrade that will make that happen or will nullify their need for social acceptance? These themes carry on throughout your playthrough and are framed around a more traditional cyberpunk story that sees you taking on the role of underdogs fighting against a corporate conspiracy.
As you progress the characters and gameplay change, but your core upgrades never do. Whether you’re crafting upgrades as an Android or tending a bar as Donovan, your goal is to manipulate human emotions for one reason or another with only the methods changing. Red Strings Club puts together a compelling narrative with choices that can have fairly dramatic effects on the outcome of the story. Testing you with making choices that ripple out through the rest of the game and giving your bartending some high stakes by giving you a list of information you’ll need to extract from your customers through smart questioning and plenty of alcohol.
I found that The Red Strings Club was most compelling when it brought the moral and philosophical arguments to the forefront. As with any great story such as this, it isn’t just black and white. While the corporate conspiracy is the driving force behind the narrative, it’s the people caught up in that are indeed the focus. Red String Club boasts a large cast of unique and weird characters at its core. Simply talking and forming relationships with these people, while subtly trying to extract their secrets, was a balancing act between free will and morality. Each of these characters is memorable in their way with some fantastic writing, backed up by some lofty themes.
Between Red Strings Club slick neon-lit pixel art and its varied excellent soundtrack, this title oozes style from every pore of its being. There is not much in terms of sound design, save for the clinking and clanking of drinking glasses or ice cubes falling into a glass. I appreciated how the different beeps of dialogue gave a subtle reference of who was talking without necessarily reading names. Instead, Red Strings Club sucks you into every one of its scenes through a masterful and almost ever-present musical score.
Gameplay and Replayability
The Red Strings Club is split into three very distinct sections, both in terms of story and gameplay. Each of these acts tasks you with a different gameplay style almost as if it’s three different games unified by an overarching narrative. In the first part of the game, you’ll be sculpting upgrades in a similar fashion of making clay pots. The middle act sees you manipulating the moods and emotions of customers by mixing drinks in a specific way. Finally, the final act sees you attempting to take down an organisation using a voice modulator and your accumulated knowledge to call people and find the information you need.
Sculpting upgrades were probably my least favourite experience as it felt unintuitive and needlessly complicated. You have to continuously keep the biomatter spinning by pressing a button and then use your digital hand to select a variety of differently shaped tools to mould the desired shape. The same goes for the bartending portions where you have four basic drinks each with an arrow on the label, and you need to mix these drinks to guide a cursor over whatever emotion you’re trying to elicit from the customer. The controls again were fiddly and led to many spilt drinks and do-overs with mixing.
Gameplay for the final act is mostly putting together all the skills you learned from bartending to use. There’s not much gameplay involved, save for dialling a phone and using a voice to impersonate from a list. It’s still a great section of the game, but it’s light on gameplay and doesn’t stand out from what you did before. This acts more like a giant multi-layered puzzle, tasking you with putting the correct pieces in the right order to complete your goals and stopping Supercontinent Ltd.
Overall, The Red Strings Club is a compelling cyberpunk adventure serving as both an engaging thriller and a great exploration of the themes of free will, humanity, and happiness. The gameplay was more of a means to an end, but it was still serviceable in making you connect to your customers and an excellent way to convey the morality that goes with forming relationships only to extract information for the greater good of the people. It can be frustrating with how unintuitive the gameplay is, but it never really detracted from the overall experience and made for a thrilling mature adventure that I would recommend for everyone.
Rapid Reviews UK Rating
You can purchase The Red Strings Club on the Nintendo eShop on the following link, https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-Switch-download-software/The-Red-Strings-Club-1527227.html