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Review: The Red Strings Club

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: NR - Not Rated
My Rating: Adults - 18+
Genre: Other / Point and Click Adventure
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2018
Review Published On: June 3rd 2020
Played on: Thaddeus

Available from:

Humble Store, Steam

Save System:

Your progress is saved* automatically after almost every major choice, so you don't need to worry about losing your progress.

As this game does not progress without your input, you don't really need to pause, but if you want to do so anyway, you can bring up the pause menu by pressing ESC*.

Summary of
Major Issues:

The biggest issue with this game, by a large margin, is the large amount of swearing. Some characters also talk about sexual topics in a crass manner.

Naturally, there's also a lot of drinking and smoking going on, as this game takes place in a bar.

Screenshots

[view screenshot]
Getting ready to serve a friend

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Mixing drinks

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Loose lips sink ships



Game Overview

A long time ago, I took a look a game called Zen and the Art of Transhumanism. This game was simple, but it held a moral lesson about the way we view the world through a broken lens. In other words, our wants and desires would never really satisfy us, as they were based on quick successes or very narrow minded goals like fame or money. The Red Strings Club is by the same developer, features an upgraded version of the zen pottery game as part of its storyline, and also has some thought provoking material, but it's mainly a detective story.

As you might expect from a game influenced by transhumanism, the Red Strings Club takes place in a cyberpunk dystopia where the majority of the population have augmented themselves with cybernetic implants. The megacorporation Supercontinent Ltd. is the primary manufacturer of these implants, but something is going on behind the scenes. There are rumors that this company has recently changed directions, and not for the better.

These rumors are more or less confirmed by the sudden appearance of a damaged "Akara" android at the Red Strings Club. Upon investigation, the club's owner and his friends quickly learn that Supercontinent Ltd is planning on installing a new update to its devices that will alter the behavior of any implant user. The goal of this project is allegedly to do away with things like depression, sadness, and other undesirable emotions, but it also sounds like a dangerous brainwashing tool that could prove disastrous if it fell into the wrong hands.

This leads to the gameplay itself. You have limited control over the club's owner and bartender, Donovan. Acting as his "muse", you'll enable him to create cocktails that channel into his client's various emotions. By changing the client's state of mind with these drinks, you can open doors that would otherwise be closed, and allow his silver tongue to sneak some sensitive information out of them.

Along the way, Donovan and the repaired Akara unit will discuss various topics related to the current situation, continuing the theme of questioning your beliefs regarding manipulation and control. This is the game's main theme: How much control can you have on another person before it becomes unethical or immoral, and how much control do people really have over their own choices?

I'd invite all of my readers to try this one out and work towards the answers themselves. But be warned: this game touches on a lot of topics that are considered offensive or problematic. The large amount of drugs and alcohol is only the tip of the iceberg. People swear, talk about mature subjects, and sometimes your actions have tragic consequences. This is not a game for the kids, and to be honest, I'm not sure they'd understand the depth of what's being discussed in this story anyway.

Points of Interest

Simpler than it sounds
Creating the specialized cocktails isn't particularly tricky, but I don't think it was meant to be. This aspect of the game appears to primarily exist so that the player can experience a short period of downtime between the otherwise heavy discussions. But while it's easy to make a cocktail for a specific mood, you need to be careful about what emotions you bring out in a client. Each drink can make it harder or easier to accomplish your goals, so think about where you want to take the discussion before you start pouring.
Your choices have real meaning
So much of the story is determined by your choices that you can replay the game immediately after finishing it and accidentally end up taking things in a new direction. Depending on what you do, you might be able to recruit people to your side, or you might make new enemies.
Tug the Red Strings
There's a menu option in the upper left hand corner that allows you to examine the story so far. This shows how each event has built into the current situation, creating a large butterfly effect. Thanks to this map, you can review how everything was tied together.
Steam community features
There are nineteen achievements* for you to earn while you're trying to prevent a cybernetic doomsday. You're not going to be able to earn them all during a single playthrough, and many of them require some very skilled detective work, so if you're the sort of person who enjoys hunting them down, you'll have some extra work cut out for you.

There is also a set of steam trading cards, should you be interested in collecting them.

Concerns and Issues

Drugs, alcohol, and smoking
As the majority of this game's events take place in a bar, it's not too surprising that alcohol plays a prominent role in the game's story. Some clients do become rather drunk during their stay, and how crazy they get generally reflects what emotions you've brought out with Donovan's magic cocktails.

Additionally, a number of the characters in this game smoke tobacco products while at the bar or just in general, and it's briefly mentioned that all psychoactive drugs have been legalized in this world. In a way, this ties back into the previous game's point about how we seek happiness with transient things.

Of course, this message is somewhat lost when you take something else into account -- if you're observant enough, you can acquire a short-term memory blocker from Akara. These are pills that you can sneak into people's drinks to make them forget about whatever they just talked about. Gameplay wise, these pills simply reset the dialogue options for that specific encounter.
Dirty language and dirty minds
The sheer amount of swearing is extremely jarring if you're not prepared for it. Many of the characters in this game save profanity for shocking or angry situations, but others use vulgar language with utter abandon. It doesn't help that the clients with dirtiest mouths also have the filthiest minds, and are more than happy to talk about how aroused they are. This is by far the most offensive content* in the game, as it's very in your face and unmissable.
Mild nudity
During the short portion of the game where you're helping Akara make cybernetic implants, she'll be performing some fancy surgeries on people. Thus, every client who comes through the line is unconscious and completely nude. The game's simple graphical style keeps things very tame, but it does depict the human body fairly realistically.
Violent deaths
The stakes are very high in the Red Strings Club, and the game wastes no time to warn you about it. When you start a new game, you're shown Brandeis falling to his death from a tall skyscraper. The rest of the game is a flashback retelling the events that led to his untimely demise. The bloodiest death in the game takes place shortly thereafter, during the part where Akara is attempting to install implants into various patients. A member of an anti-Supercontinent rebel group sneaks into the area, and gets graphically killed by a security system when she digs a little too deeply into the mainframe. Also, depending on your choices during this segment of the game, another character may end up committing suicide or going berserk. You'll get a chance to stop them, but if you play your cards wrong, they will die.

As a final note about the violent content* in this game, Donovan can end up getting forced into a game of Russian Roulette. How this pans out is up to you.
Supernatural elements
In a world where technology is both omnipresent and on the verge of becoming self aware, the introduction of supernatural forces is a little unexpected. Your own role as Donovan's mysterious muse feels like your typical excuse to have the player play a role in the game's events, but the supernatural world clearly exists behind the scenes.

The best non-spoiler example of this is a strange smuggler who visits the bar midway through the game. Calling himself Gost, he displays unusual behavior, including teleknesis and the ability to disappear on command. This visibly upsets both Akara and Donovan, but not enough to prevent them from making a deal with their strange guest.
Alternate lifestyles
Brandeis and Donovan are an interracial gay couple. Nobody in the game's world cares about this, and it's not like they hide their feelings for each other. Also, one of the Supercontinent Ltd. employees is transgender, and their gender reassignment plays a small role in the game's final puzzle.