Mixing Drinks And Philosophies In The Red Strings Club

The Red Strings Club is an enigmatic name for a rather enigmatic game. Coming from the studio behind Gods Will Be Watching, you might expect Deconstructeam to follow it up with another tough as nails game of fraught life and death situations. Instead, it’s a much more considered, more personal story about humanity and coping with depression.

Set in a cyberpunk future, we’re introduced to Brandeis and Donovan as they relax in the eponymous cocktail bar, with Donovan behind the bar and Brandeis bringing chilled and melancholic tones out of the piano. They’re gabbing back and forth about how Brandeis, a freelance hacker in this cyberpunk world, has been running with the PROXYMA group of hacktivists, and it’s not long before this connection draws them into a wide reaching conspiracy that could alter the fate of humanity.

Donovan’s something of an information broker, but the secret to his success is being able to mix cocktails that hit just the right spot. It’s a nice idea, as you pick up one of four spirit bottles, move them over to the glass, then try to tilt them and pour, with the amount of each spirit moving a cursor in one of four directions until you can match the position of an emotion. Adding ice cubes then makes the circle smaller and more precise. It’s a very messy way of making cocktails, but at least the bottles are endless so there’s no need to worry about pouring too much over the floor. If there’s one part of the game that doesn’t work so well, it’s this direct control with the mouse, and it’s something I feel could be improved on tablet or even with a controller, were the game to come to platforms other than PC.

The whole point of this is to try and influence the direction that a conversation is going in. Much of the game seems to revolve around chats with patrons sat at Donovan’s bar, as he tries to unravel some of the mystery. That plays right into his hands, as his drinks could try to induce fear in someone that you’re talking to, trying to get them to see the dangers of what Supercontinental Ltd. are doing with their Social Psyche Welfare project, or encourage empathy so that they are more open to seeing the world from another person’s perspective.

What’s great about the conversation system is that it avoids the kinds of repetition and back and forth that point & click adventures often fall into. You can mix a different drink before switching topics, but there’s no going back to a topic once you’ve talked about something, forcing you think carefully in advance about who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about.

Mixing drinks is far from the only mouse-based interactivity in the game. As the android Akara-184 stumbles into The Red Strings Club and slumps to the floor, sparking Brandeis and Donovan into action, we get to step back into her recorded memories. As one of the first androids capable of making ethical decisions, Supercontinental Ltd. have put her to work fabricating implants that augment and alter human desires and emotions.

You have to sculpt these emotion altering implants into a particular shape, moving a hand around to press buttons and pick up a particular tool, then spinning the pottery wheel to get it up to speed and carving away. It’s relatively forgiving and you can always rewind, but these direct control moments require the kind of patience that drawing with a mouse in Microsoft Paint does. Again, I can’t help but feel that they’re bound to be the weakest link in the game.

It does at least add some gameplay to the mix of decision making that is present in the game, but it’s not entirely essential to the increasingly dark decisions you make as Akara-184 searches for a way to a client’s happiness. A wannabe social media star desires the ability to gain more followers, so you implant The Enchantress to boost their personality and make them more popular. They soon return, finding that it’s not quite what they hoped, so you try a different implant with a different effect, before looking past what they’ve said they want and to the root of the problem. Perhaps they would be better off without a need for social acceptance? Perhaps a entrepreneurial businessman doesn’t need to be more persuasive, he needs to have his social conscience shut down?

While the direct control sections aren’t the game’s strongest point, I hope they won’t detract too much from an interesting cyberpunk story and its allegorical connections to the modern world. When so many people in the modern world struggle with depression and are taking medication, how far are people willing to go to find happiness or sate their wants and needs? Naturally, it’s taken to certain extremes and given a cyberpunk slant, but it’s this meaningful discussion that’s at the heart of The Red Strings Club.

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