Preview: Cyberpunk meets barkeeping for the soul in The Red Strings Club

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The Red Strings Club is a game but The Red Strings Club is also a bar in the game The Red Strings Club. It’s only one part of it, but it made up the biggest chunk of the preview and it was quite beautiful. Not in how it looks, although it does look nice. The Red Strings Club is a cyberpunk dystopia rendered in pixel art, which seems to be pretty in vogue for cyberpunk dystopias, with weird flashing fashions and electronics in people’s heads all made out of little shimmering squares.

In the game, which is kind of a point and click adventure but not really, a notionally benevolent mega corporation is planning to remove depression, anger and fear from the entire population through a kind of low-key scientific mind control, and Donovan, the proprietor of the aforementioned titular club, is not on board. But you can’t tear down Supercontinent Ltd. from the inside without the right information, and luckily you’re an information broker with a list of clients who work there. One by one they arrive at your club for you to winkle out bits of information to sabotage Supercontinent.

Donovan has an uncanny ability to match drinks to people’s souls, so that’s what you have to do: change their mood with the right mix of spirits and ice. This made me think about how people say that real drinks do that. People will say, against all good logic, that gin makes people sad or that Stella gives one a propensity to abuse one’s spouse. ‘Stay away from me,’ is the cry of the middle-aged office worker on their first night out in ages, “I’m all naughty on red wine!’

But the point is that Donovan has to serve the right drink alongside the right line of questioning. A scientific genius, when asked about his AI creation, will give a totally different answer if you’ve brought out his self doubt compared to if you toasted his pride, and either could give you something you need, so it’s part puzzle, but it’s also part creation. You have unlimited time to mix your cocktails and that means you have unlimited time to make them beautiful. 

Each liquor is a different colour, and you can combine them again in a shaker that increases their potency but also mixes them into new shades. I spent so much time making drinks that were rainbow layers of colour – white, green, purple, blue – but that also met the requirements to hit my customer right in the feels. Donovan is a craftsman, after all.

When you pick up some useful info the game tells you you’ve found a red string, and you get a sense of all of them being held in Donovan’s hands, ready to be tugged or tied off onto something else when the opportunity arises. Donovan can’t leave the club, but he sits there like a very charming spider at the centre of a web that other people gave him. 

This section, where you mix drinks in the club, comes after a section where you make implants on a lathe that are inserted into people to alter their personality and change how they live. You can’t help but reflect on the hypocrisy of Donovan and the other revolutionaries: handcrafted manipulation is okay, but mass-produced manipulation lacks that human touch. And The Red Strings Club will directly ask you questions on how you feel about that. 

The full game is out in January next year, so there isn’t long to wait. This is a good thing, because the preview was great. But the red string of fate comes from the Chinese legend that the gods tie a red thread between two people who are destined to meet. Soulmates, if you will. And we know what happens to those in stories. Drink beautiful drinks while you can. 



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