It’s often rare to see any kind of cyberpunk narrative be told in a more somber and slow-paced way in games. Games like Deus Ex, Syndicate, or RUINER always told their stories from an action-packed environment as the protagonist made their way around a dystopian industrialized jungle using violence and tactics to bring down the evil government program or whatever the rebels of the story deemed “The Man”. While that’s not a bad way to tell a story, cyberpunk tends to thrive more so on the little details and the shady chats made in back-alley bars or unmonitored cybernetic chat rooms. The Red Strings Club, developed by Decontructeam and published by Devolver Digital, understood that and built a deceivingly wonderful narrative where it takes advantage of the true power of a conversation.
The game’s story starts with two characters inside of the titular Red Strings Club. Brandeis is the resident freelance hacker and revolutionary, but most of the time players will see things through the eyes of Donovan, the club’s current owner and mixologist who has taken to information broking as a side hobby. The night was just like any other night until a damaged android by the name of Akara-184 shambled through the entrance and collapsed to the ground. Curious, and against Donovan’s wisdom, Brandeis investigates Akara’s memory banks for a clue as to events that caused her sudden appearance. The sleuthing found that Akara-184 was a cybernetic implant designer for Supercontinent Ltd. and their job was to use something akin to a potter’s lathe to create implants that would induce a change to those requesting it. For example, someone was wishing to be a cosplay model but had a poor time gaining a social media following so the player had to design an implant that would assist in that endeavor.
As Akara was working, a hacker from the PROXYMA group named Ariadne infiltrated and tricked the Akara unit into implanting some severely damaging implants into key Supercontinent executives as they came down the service line. Their actions were eventually caught by security after Ariadne found out about a project called “Social Psyche Welfare” and Ariadne was gunned down by the defenses. The same was going to happen to Akara-184 though they obviously managed to escape. Back at the club, instantly the two men spring into action to try to stop the SPW project believing that it is a possible mind control program. Brandeis leaves to find resources on how to infiltrate Supercontinent if necessary, Donovan stays in the club to find information from overtalkative drinkers, and Akara, now fixed by Donovan, serves as an assistant for the club.
The story overall serves well to the notion that anything that should be shown is shown, while anything that should be said is heard and that’s kind of the point. Where The Red Strings Club shines most of all is the dialogue and how there are changes in the story based not only on what the player chooses to say but when. However, the impact of those choices can deceive the player into assuming they are small, almost flavor text levels of dialogue that can bite the player in the rear at the end of it all. One part that stood out was a series of questions Akara asked Donovan that if they somehow took control of the SPW project, which certain behaviors would still be allowed from humanity as a form of a hypothetical compromise. Some of those questions were sincerely difficult to answer because while a lot of them were about very evil acts, they’re asked in a way that doesn’t make the player instantly say, “Yes it’s evil, let’s stop it!” because one of the greatest parts of both humanity, and this game, is the notion of choice for one’s actions. Despite that, the story really felt quite short but advantageously so because no moment felt like it dragged on longer than it needed to.