The Red Strings Club

Over three years ago, Gods Will Be Watching made a release and even now I’m still not entirely confident what it was about. You were mercenaries trapped in six moral-riddled scenarios that could see your crew being splattered, and yet somehow come back in the following one like a children’s cartoon. Yet this was then explained away in an ending that… Uh… Things happened in? I could just have air between my ears though. It looks like the same developers are back with a game that while I understand and dig, feels less open to your own choices.

The Red Strings Club is a point-n-click adventure by Deconstructeam, whose only prior game (in case you skipped the fluff above) is Gods Will Be Watching. You play as an information broker bartender for most of the scenes and a hacker for most of the rest, as a robot reveals a corporate conspiracy that seeks to bring a new bleak age to society.

So, what does it mean to be an information broker bartender? It means pouring drinks and having a quick chat. Each drink you serve offers a different emotion. Which by that I mean you pour different alcohols to make a gauge go up, down, left and right, to connect to an icon specific to who you’re talking to. You then can ask them as many pre-determined questions in that mood as you’d like, with the mood influencing if you may get an extra nugget of information. For example, if you question about someone’s disappearance, you may have better luck if your customer is remorseful rather than sky high ecstatic.

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This side of the game feels tactical, yet suave. There is a definite atmosphere of being a face, manipulating people to spill the beans on what you need to know, without the drab “pick the right text option” style most games roll with. In addition, any information you reap can be used later.

All except one of the remaining scenes delve into your hacking companion, as they pick up the pieces of a dead ally and then infiltrate a place with the information your bartender buddy has picked up. Without spoiling much, while I found the rest of his scenes a bit drab gameplay wise, it was the infiltration that felt gripping in an unusual unique manner. It still will feel simple for fans of titles like Hacknet, but simple works for rather than against The Red String Club as it stops people from being locked out for lacking skills the game never prepared for.

There is also a single “pottery” scene at the start staring a robot. While the UI is a bother at times, especially switching what tool to use, and it felt narrow how to solve the problem ahead (yes, this is me ducking and diving around spoiling like a low budget John Woo film), it was unique enough to still engage.

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What I am driving at is there is a rather diverse amount of mini-games, but The Red Strings Club is heavily dominated by bartending. While not a bad thing (and I still high five VA-11 Hall-A every chance I get), it does feel more limited and less varied next to Gods Will Be Watching and with less repercussions and choice for your actions. There is still some sway, but there isn’t a failure state as far as I can tell. This lack of a failure state isn’t a complaint necessarily, especially next to how harsh Gods Will Be Watching was at times, but something to consider if you’re looking for a challenge.

Similarly, those looking for a long game will be left thirsting for more as it has a 3 hour play time. There is the option for replayability due to choices, but outside of narrative differences there isn’t much of a variance between one pathway through the game and another.

However, let’s be honest, you’re not raring to jump into this cyberpunk misadventure to challenge your wits, but for the writing within. Well, I’ve got some good news for you: The Red Strings Club is a journey within a colourful setting.

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Part of this colour comes in the form of the characters. You may have heard the controversy around a character being “dead named” (i.e. a trans person’s prior name before transitioning being used). I will say that while it does happen, the context revolves around a jerkish character using obscure information as a password and does act hostile if you ask the character flat out what the trans character’s dead name is.

I bring this up as a source of frustration. No no no, not with The Red Strings Club, but did anyone high-five the development team for having a gay couple as the protagonist? Yep, Donovan the bartender and Brandeis the hacker are dating, and it is actually done really well. I honestly don’t get a chance to experience a good non-straight non-created protagonist enough and I get two well-rounded and developed gay/bi characters at once? Needless to say, it feels like a delightful treat.

It isn’t as though the rest of the cast are bad at all. The other characters are diverse in views, attitudes and roles, and each one adds colour to the setting; especially when you’re trying to wheedle information out of them as the bartender. You have to decide if to appeal to their bold sexuality, their arrogance, their misery or other options to get information, which the mere offerings of moods speaks to who they are at their core.

Then there’s the pondering the game performs on authoritarianism, the nature of brainwashing and perhaps even the ethics of therapy. That said, The Red Strings Club always refuses to take a stance on anything, always asking you to pick your position. You may be criticised for what you say, but never judged, as the game always lets your opinion speak for itself.

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The base-level narrative, the characterisation aside, is probably the weak link in the writing. It functions to string one-interaction-with-another and to carry the philosophising. There is enough unusual things going on to not feel like a 9-to-5 office job in a cyberpunk world, but I never felt captivated or hooked on where the game was going to lead me next. The world only feels effective due to the people who populate it, rather than being intricately thought-provoking. It just leaves an empty dull feeling and I can feel myself forgetting elements of the plot as I write this.

So what does that leave us with? Well, with a game that invokes the feeling of being a sly face and a savvy hacker in a cyberpunk world, each customer and ally offering colour to a drab landscape. It has gameplay mechanics that never challenge but lend enough of a ludonarrative interest to still hook you along. While it has a dead name controversy, it also has a gay couple who are faithfully and expertly written (and aren’t just walking stereotypes or just incidentally gay). It is short, but does offer a little replayability via the choices, although the choices in the end wouldn’t amount to much beyond some narrative differences. So I recommend The Red Strings Club with heavy caution.

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The Red Strings Club was developed by Deconstructeam.

Can be bought on Steam, Good Old Games and Humble Bundle for $14.99.

It is significantly more narrative focused than gameplay focused, but the narrative inside holds a rich and distinct cast and some relevant philosophy in an age where we are increasingly locking our doors to immigrants, criminals and anyone who looks at us funny.

This game was paid by myself.

The Seal

Kailan “Riobux” May has given The Red Strings Club the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval.

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Jettomero: Hero of the Universe

Jettomero: Hero of the Universe is the absolute worse kind of game to write a review for. It isn’t bad, but it does nothing interesting and doesn’t lend itself to any interesting discussion. Jettomero is the gamification of milquetoast radio-rock: not good enough to make you want to sing it’s praises nor bad enough to make fun of how bad the lyrics are. It’s simply there until it isn’t anymore, and by the time you realize you’re playing or listening to something different you have to ask yourself “wasn’t there something else on just a minute ago?” I know that sounds harsh and I really don’t mean it to be, but there’s no way to talk about the game without sounding like I’m just spewing vitriol all over it.

This should be SO MUCH easier than i found it to be. Damn my need to look where i’m typing!

The game starts out charming enough. You play as a clumsy giant robot that wants nothing more than to be a hero to the human race. It’s a cute concept made even cuter with the endearing comic book style visuals, and I am a sucker for cute so this seemed right up my alley. The games story even manages to nudge it’s way into some really interesting territory. The only problem is that by that point I was already burnt out on the incredibly dull game play loop.

You rocket from one planet to the next, looking for body parts and energy until you find a boss. Once you beat the boss you rocket into a wormhole to another set of similar planets and repeat the process. This loop is boring. Not helping matters is the fact that the climax of the games interactions, the boss fights, should have been much easier than they were for me. They’re basically just QTE’s, which I normally don’t have an issue with. Unfortunately though, i’m playing on a PC and don’t exactly type well. I graduated summa cum laude from the School of Hunt and Peck. So I can find the right key but I do have to look for it. This made hard for me to get through the list of commands in the time given. I’ll admit this was a personal issue that I most likely wouldn’t have had if I was using a controller, but it really killed the experience for me.

Like a puppy pissing on the carpet, i can’t say i’m happy with the results, but it is still adorable so i can’t get too mad.

Again, I’m really not trying to come off too negative. Jettomero isn’t uninspired nor is it broken. It’s just kind of…there. I’m sure someone somewhere will be into it, but I found myself completely apathetic throughout my time with the game. If the issues I had don’t sound too tedious or the trailer looks interesting I say go for it. But if you like your games to be….you know, at least a little entertaining, then maybe give Jettomero a pass.

Jettomero: Hero of the Universe was Developed by  Ghost Time Games

Point of sale: Steam, Xbox One

$12.99: if you can’t remember where that last $13 went, check your steam library. You might have have bought Jettomero and forgot about it.

A review code for Jettomero: Hero of the Universe was provided

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Bear With Me Episode Three

The problem with reviewing episodic games is the fact that by the time the last episode comes out everything of interest has already been said. That’s the case here. If you’ve kept up with my reviews you already know everything I have to say about Bear With Me: the writing and voice acting are top notch, movement speed is a little too slow, puzzles make up for the lack of classic point and click “moon logic” by making key items needlessly hard to find through environmental obstruction. All of that is as true here as it was back in episode one, so what is there to talk about?

For those who haven’t kept up with everything I’ve written…the fuck bro? I work hard on this shit (You can Find those reviews HERE and HERE, by the way). Okay, okay, once more for the people in the back: the story centers on a young girl named Amber Ashworth and her hard-drinking, privet detective teddy bear, ted. The two of them are investigating a series of arson’s in Paper City, a sprawling metropolis of paper and cardboard located in Amber’s attic. The only thing the two know for sure is that The Red Man, the person responsible for the fires, has a vendetta against Ms Ashworth.

The ultamate review of who exactly the Red Man is and What He wants with Amber is incredibly saddening.

As this is the conclusion it’s hard to say anything more about the story in fear of spoilers. What I can say is this: while the ultimate reveal lands pretty firmly in predictable territory, the presentation makes that a non-issue. Voice actors Mia Sable and Miles Rand sell the hell out of their roles, so even when you know exactly what’s coming there’s still a punch and weight to the games heavier moments.

The only thing unique to talk about for this last episode is the fact that it has one of the worst puzzles I’ve ever had to sit through. Again, I do love the hell out of this game, but I have no idea what the devs were thinking here. Near the end you have to make your way through a maze using a poem of sorts, but none of it makes any since. Nothing said in the poem helped make a decision on where I was supposed to go, nor did the quips Amber said when investigating things mentioned in it. The opening line talks about letting “butterfly’s, mushrooms and firefly’s guide you”, but then when those things are present they are literally by every path you can take. Every other puzzle in the game I figured out with a little bit of work, but here I had to resort to going down random paths and using the process of elimination to figure out where to go. For comparison sake, look at the piano puzzle from Silent Hill. Yeah it might have taken some brain power to figure it out, but everything you need to know is right there. I’m seriously hoping someone from the dev team sees this review and explains to me what the fuck was going on here. But then again, with my luck once someone does explain it it’ll be super obvious in hindsight and I’ll feel like a complete idiot.

I know I’ve said this before, but scenes like this make it hard to know who the game is for. Sure, this doesn’t look too bad,but this is the after math of a shootout between cops and gangsters. So is this an edgy game for kids, or a cute game for adults? I honestly can’t say for sure. Either way though, i loved almost every second.

Now I really do want to stress this: that level pissed me off greatly and is definitely a low point for the series, but I still loved my time with Bear With Me. Now that it’s possible to play the game in its entirety I can recommend it just as strongly as I did on day one. The minor issues I had never got cleaned up, and that’s a bummer, but they never raised above being minor issues. If you don’t like point-and-click games, I doubt this will change your mind. But if you can just…bear with it….i think there is a lot to like in Bear With Me.

Bear With Me was developed by Exordium Games

Point of Sale: Steam


$14.97 for the complete series; a totally bear-able price

A Review Code for Bear With me Episode Two was provided by Exordium

William Shelton has awarded Bear With Me Episode Two the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dead_File.exe

Are Creepypasta’s still a thing? This is a serious question, since if you go back 5-10 years ago, you wouldn’t be able to move around the internet without bumping into at least one of them. Honestly? They all had one major thing in common – they all were terrible. They all generally followed the same boring routine of ‘I once found a popular game but it was spooky, spooky things happened and then I died even though I’m narrating the story’. It’s like a bunch of twelve year-olds got together to tell a tale and the average twelve year-old’s idea of scary is just ‘lets throw some blood, some darkness, and the occasionaly ‘OOGLY BOOGLY WOO’ jump scare.

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Dead on arrival

Why am I wittering on about this? Well, all this is pretty much what Dead_File.exe‘s story is in a nutshell. A rather messy, and poorly translated, story about brain digitization and mutterings of how ‘If you die in this game you die for real’. There’s attempts at a plot through text-only blocks that appear between levels, but again, these generally feel whiffly, incomprehensible, and at the worst of times, just childish. For instance, at one point, the game tries to give you a moral choice question – would you save a man or a dog? Picking the ‘Man’ option just tells you hes already dead. Picking the ‘Dog’ option gives the exact same response making the entire choice pointless.

Graphically Dead_File.exe tries to follow this ‘spooky’ theme by presenting gameplay through a shaky-VHS recording-vision. It almost works, but suffers thanks to one-too-many moments where the graphics make it difficult to see exactly what to do thanks to spikes that turn from lethal to non-lethal and the only way to tell this is by slight shading differences. The aesthetic does its job, but some minor points make the game more difficult than it needs to be.

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As a side-note, the game openly advertises that it is not safe for epileptics to play which a lot of games usually don’t bother to do!

Dig into the gameplay though, and it’s not too bad. Dead_File.exe is basic platformer 101 in action. Jump about, avoid spikes, and react the exit each time. While for the most part it controls and plays fine, they throw in several aspects that just hurt the game as a whole, just like the visuals. Take for instance the screen-by-screen nature of the levels, instead of scrolling from side to side, the game zips you into new screens every time you reach the far right. The problem here however is the game often has a habit of throwing bottomless pits and spikes at you just as you enter these screens which, in turn, results in cheap death after cheap death.

The third chapter in particular is pretty cruel thanks to a mechanic where you play an invisible character, the only assistance you get in the level being a pair of red eyes that pop up every so often to help gauge location. Its just frustratingly annoying and not fun at all.

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Even then, Dead_File.exe itself is pretty short – clocking in at around one hour and twenty minutes. At least the price follows this path too, costing a dollar/79pence.

Overall, I can’t really recommend Dead_File.exe thanks to one too many minor annoyances all rolling together to make a game that is ‘just’ off the mark.

headerDead_File.exe was developed by Saddletrip

Point of Sale: Steam

$1/£0.79p gives you around an hour to an hour and a half of gameplay.

A steam version of Dead_file.exe was purchased by James via an IndieGala games bundle promotion which has since concluded.

James B has broken the 6k games barrier on steam and does not know if this is an achievement or a failure. Answers on the back of a postcard please.

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