I’m falling to my death. “Ah," my character thinks to himself. “I wonder at which point my fate was sealed?” So begins the atmospheric, immersive experience of The Red Strings Club, a game where you become a custom sculptor, a supernaturally talented mixologist, and an augmented hacker. This is a masterfully told story regarding the nature of human emotions and the ethics of artificial intelligence.
The Red Strings Club mixes equal parts adventure game and cyberpunk visual novel, held within the confines of a dystopian cyberpunk future. We see some of the many characters we would expect to find in this sort of setting: the mad scientist, the revolutionary, the martyr, the suave bartender, the android with a human heart. There’s the evil corporation and the resistance movement. There are neon lights and smoke filled bars that feel like they’ve been around since before neon lights were even a thing. And, most importantly, there are synthetically modified humans.
These are the standard tropes of what we know should be included in a great cyberpunk narrative. They’re to be expected. However Red Strings Club avoids the cliché that can sometimes come with making a dystopian future. Playing the game feels like I’m being told a story where I slowly uncover exactly who does and doesn’t control the forces of the world.
What I didn’t expect is for the game to saddle me with choices that actually had an impact on me as a person. At times, the dialogue seemed very self aware. At one point, a character acknowledged we were playing a game together. During the course of the game, I saved people and also sent them to their deaths; that, and I accidentally decided the fate of the modern world. With a single pour of vodka, I could manipulate the way people behaved towards me, and, oh boy, did I ever manipulate people.
The gameplay itself resembles a visual novel stitched together with low-intensity microgames that builds a rapport between the player and the characters. Together, Deconstructeam invites us to take part in deciphering the puzzle of the world. In these moments, you take on the actions of the characters and get to live in their world for a while, with all its little joys and struggles. With a playtime of about four hours, this game jam-packs a lot of content into a small opening. Unfortunately, this means that the dialogue can feel a little too pointed and heavy handed at times, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the experience.
The audio is a huge aspect of what makes this game work. Spotify artist FingerSpit created the tracks for the game, and the retro-inspired synths make the environments feel both familiar and foreign. Each character has a theme that plays for them and gives insight into their motivations. There is no voice acting in the game, so each character has a speech bubble that is filled with text when it becomes their turn to talk, each letter quietly “beeping” into existence. Each character has a different pitch of beep for their text, so even though the game lacks voice acting, I still felt like I got to “hear” them speak.
The Red Strings Club will let you follow the thread of fate. Your destiny is decided, but the path that gets you there is solely your own. The ways you manipulate the events are subtle and leave the player with a real sense of accomplishment when you get things right. Overall, I’m not sure if this is a really great game or a nihilistic commentary on the future of technology, but, in any case, it gets my full endorsement.