The Red Strings Club harkens back to years ago in delivering a tight, mechanically-involved adventure game that tackles transhumanism, gender identity and paints a picture of revolution in the face of failed corporate responsibility. Much like its spiritual predecessor, also by Deconstructeam, The Red Strings Club is tense and especially riveting for all of the right reasons, giving me a dash of hope that not all is forgotten about how to deliver on a narrative that is cyberpunk through and through.
The Red Strings Club is a game where information truly is power, it’s used as currency and it’s wielded as a weapon, so to speak. Donovan, the game’s protagonist and bar-keep of The Red Strings Club pulls double-duty as an information broker. Donovan happens to be a master craftsman at mixology, pouring mood-altering concoctions that makes extracting the intel he desires a mere formality. He gets the good word and his right-hand and love interest Brandeis, freelance hero, handles the dirtier work.
The game opens with a bungled takedown of mega-corp Supercontinent and the liberation of an android, Akara-184, whose job has long been to help people become their better selves by masking pain and displeasure with implants. The game spends a lot of time questioning whether it’s right to play God and there are some long conversations that you’ll be engaged in during the game’s modest runtime. Its many lessons on morality dwarf others that only offer the illusion of choice, this game presents you with a near-idyllic world where a corporation plays God to end human suffering, has you actively rallying against it only to present you with a terribly difficult task of justifying that stance. Following her escape, Akara happens across The Red Strings Club and is soon repurposed and disguised as a client-greeter, aiding the revolution in their plot to bring down Supercontinent before they can enact their evil scheme. If you read it as it is, it’s an idea that has certainly done the rounds countless times yet Deconstructeam has created a really believable world that feels not-too-distant, mildly hopeful though extremely compromised by the advancements of technology. Most importantly, the cast of characters, both main and small parts who we see only briefly, are wonderfully written and realised. Sure, when the lead waxes philosophical while cleaning tumblers it can feel a tad unnatural but for the most part, The Red Strings Club is a superb cyberpunk setting.
I must say, I felt like it was just as I was becoming really invested in the game that it seemed to end abruptly. When the cold open was resolved a few hours in, I truly thought it was an act break in the game. Then the credits rolled. To my dismay, it was over. Of course, with all of the story permeatations, there’s enough replay value here to still recommend The Red Strings Club wholeheartedly, though I certainly wish it was longer.
Like Gods Will Be Watching, Deconstructeam places us in the shoes of three very different characters, all with different stakes in the central conflict of the game. We’re introduced early-on to Akara, as through her we’re granted a glimpse at manufacturing and installation process of Supercontinent’s fix-all implants. This plays out like the pottery scene in Ghost, delicately using a small set of tools to make impressions in a block of matter, in the end revealing the finished module. The game is clever about keeping player’s directly involved in all of the character’s actions, it isn’t scared to drop the morally-grey right into your hands and make you pull the trigger, so to speak. Manipulation is at the very heart of The Red Strings Club and you’re pulling the strings every step of the way, and it’s an uneasy ride. Plus, unlike most games that chastise your choices without delivering any semblance of consequence, it feels like your decisions have agency here.
While the game is fast to abandon Akara’s pseudo-pottery skillset once the plot deems it irrelevant, it builds Donovan’s mixology up as a sort of supporting role for the beat-perfect conversations at the core of the experience. Things start fairly basic before escalating ever so slightly on two separate occasions. The game only manages to introduce a robust tool belt for the bar-keep only to have the game end before it can be implemented in any meaningful way. It feels like a lot is left hanging in the air with The Red Strings Club. There are a couple of loose threads left with a couple of particular characters, plus I didn’t exactly feel closure when the credits began to scroll. There’s certainly room to expand on this universe if Deconstructeam chooses to.
Being of the cyberpunk variety, you know what to expect. Pretty neons and a synth wave soundtrack that journeys to each end of the spectrum, from an ambient calm to an urgent pulsing beat that holds true while strings swell unpredictably over the top of it. One of The Red Strings Club’s strengths is in its presentation, it’s a truly lovely game. I’ll never understand critics of pixel art because I’ll stop being floored by the emotions and minute details that gifted designers can make apparent on what are models ‘light on detail’ when compared to big-budget studio titles.
With a lot of branching paths to explore, I can see myself revisiting The Red Strings Club time and time again. Its short length, it turns out, isn’t so much a weakness as it is an excuse to go again, to explore the road less traveled, and spend more time with the denizens of The Red Strings Club.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
The Red Strings Club is a brilliantly written thriller in the same vein as Deconstructeam's previous hit Gods Will Be Watching. It's tense, deft in delivering on its themes and ideas and though it's far shorter than I expected it to be, I would greedily drink up more time in this world and with these characters if it were afforded in a sequel. I champion this as the very best product to come out of the cyberpunk resurgence so far, it's just a shame it under-stays its welcome.