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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #32—The Red Strings Club

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OnlySP Favorite Games 32 - The Red Strings Club

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s games is a quieter, independent title, and one of our favourite of yesteryear.

Red Strings Club

#32. THE RED STRINGS CLUB, by Damien Lawardorn

Imagine a world without hate, without anger, without fear or sadness. What a world it could be if negativity and the emotions that tear us apart were no more.

Imagine no longer. When Supercontinent Ltd releases Social Psyche Welfare, society will become the fair and open utopia that it has been striving to be for millennia.

But this is cyberpunk. Where a corporation sees opportunity, individuals see indoctrination. The Red Strings Club is that story. The propaganda of industry meets with the spark and spirit of people, fizzling into a small, quiet rebellion.

The architect of the fight back is Donovan, bartender of The Red Strings Club. He stumbles into awareness of Supercontinent’s plans and immediately begins the process of undoing them. Donovan’s pub is a haunt for all manner of people, and he can manipulate a cross-section of society thanks to his unique ability to mix drinks that alter emotions. Simply by talking to people, he may be able to change the fate of the entire world. Red strings indeed.

The Red Strings Club

However, Donovan is not alone in his quest. His first partner is Akara, a Supercontinent android gone rogue as a result of being hacked. In fact, Akara is the first playable character, forging bionic implants with a kind of digital pottery to change the opinions and attitudes of people who want to be better.

Akara is far more interesting than just being a slave to their programming, though. At points, they converse with Donovan, challenging his opinions—as well as the player’s—on a range of topics pertinent in the modern world. These discussions make for some of the most intriguing in the entire game, exploring ideas of philosophy and social justice in ways that most titles simply refuse to.

The third playable character is the hacker Brandeis. While Akara and Donovan work from the shadows, Brandeis is the warrior, putting himself on the frontlines of the cause. His gameplay segment emphasises this trait, forcing him to interact with Supercontinent staff in his attempt to sabotage their plans.

The developers at Deconstructeam embarked on the creation of The Red Strings Club with the intention of telling a story. However, the team is also clearly aware of the opportunities provided by the ludic medium, even if they are not taken full advantage of.

Each of the three core gameplay loops provides alternative paths and options that may unlock different information or storylines. These mechanics also draw on the ideas of free will and determinism that dominate the game. Even while Donovan, Akara, and Brandeis do battle in the name of individuality, they undercut their mission through influence and manipulation. The characters may not realise the hypocrisy, but the player does, further muddying the moral waters in which the game so daringly swims.

For all that, though, The Red Strings Club largely eschews a branching narrative. Background details and storylines may change slightly, but the actions of the three protagonists lead to a single, preordained conclusion. This trait makes the game more of a 2D walking simulator than forward-thinking visual novel, but also contributes to thematic conversation it invites. If free will is all-important and these characters have exercised theirs to its fullest to reach this ending, then what does that say about their beliefs?

At that point, the discussion ceases to be didactic, instead inviting the player inward to critically engage with the ideas, and the conclusions drawn will be those of the individual.

This trait is emphasised by the anonymity of the characters. With the game rendered in pixel art and absent of voice acting, the player becomes free to embody the character that most aligns with their perspective. Donovan, Akara, and Brandeis may be the ‘heroes’ of the piece, but not everyone in the game subscribes to their antiauthoritarian perspectives.

That aspect is, perhaps, one of The Red Strings Club’s greatest strengths. While Deconstructeam invites players to agree with the protagonists, the issue is never forced. Your free will is never rejected.

Where many of the titles that comprise OnlySP’s 50 Favourite Games are loved for their gameplay or stories, The Red Strings Club is different; its strength lies in its ideas.

Thanks for joining us again for a look at our favourite games. Next week, we’ll take a look back at one of the most influential franchises of the last decade, so make sure to come back. As always, you can keep locked to OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #34—Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us

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OnlySP Favorite Games 34 - The Wolf Among Us

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. The game this week is another Telltale series (The Walking Dead is at #19) that continued to push the envelope for adventure games.

The Wolf Among Us gameplay screenshot 1

#24. TELLTALE’S THE WOLF AMONG US, by Sep Gohardani

In 2012, a video game adaptation of the popular comic book and television Show The Walking Dead catapulted Telltale Games from niche studio obscurity into the limelight. The company’s model of securing the rights to popular IPs and moulding them to its adventure game format resulted in other acclaimed titles like Guardians of the Galaxy and Batman that sought to twist the common formula and offer something different in those massive franchises.

In amidst the rising tide of their reputation, the company took a chance on something that was not quite as big or as popular, opting to give the Telltale treatment to Bill Willingham’s long-running comic book series Fables. What ensued was a wonderful twist on the tale that quite possibly makes The Wolf Among Us Telltale’s greatest achievement amidst a plethora of other very creative work.

The game is set in a world where fairytales are real, but not in the way one might expect. Instead of a magical far off land, the game is set in Manhattan (though maybe that is Manhattan for some), in a specially created enclave called Fabletown. This small settlement is where a plethora of characters from famous fairy tales and myths have been living after having fled the Homelands, which is now ruled by a mysterious, dark Adversary whose draconian regime became too difficult to bear.

The Wolf Among Us gameplay screenshot 2

Those who escaped have managed to assimilate in to America without much trouble due to cloaking magic, while any non-human ‘fables’ must use an enchantment known as a ‘glamour’ to maintain a human appearance and not arouse suspicion, or be taken off site to The Farm, a refuge that those who cannot change their appearance go to.

Bigby Wolf (formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf) is the Sheriff of Fabletown in the year 1986. He is charged with maintaining order, but Fabletown is not too eventful of a place. Soon, however, trouble is brewing and a simple trip out to help someone get home starts to unravel to reveal something dark and insidious in this last refuge of the great Fables.

This is a game that nails its tone. As soon the opening titles appear, Jared Emerson-Johnson’s brilliant score, and the moody, purple lettering of the title make clear that the game was going to be drenched in noirish atmosphere. The art style welcomes this theme: it is vivid and evocative, but never overstated, providing a rich setting for the characters and embodying both the darkness of their situation and their new gritty reality.

The Wolf Among Us gameplay screenshot 3

The player takes control of Bigby and is tasked with figuring out why things are getting increasingly out of hand when no one can afford them to, meaning lots of detective work. Bigby himself is fascinating. He is the gruff, sardonic, chain-smoking main character one might expect from a game like this, but he has nuance under that exterior. He is moulded by the decisions the player makes. The extent of the choices available mean that the way Bigby interacts with those around him dictates what the most important aspects of his personality will be, whether that is compassion, dedication, or a thirst for blood. Adam Harrington is brilliant in the role, and was well deserving of his BAFTA nomination, his main triumph being the subtlety in his line delivery and the way he makes each version of Bigby feel a bit different.

As everything unravels, Bigby slowly finds himself having more and more dots to put together as each environment contains clues and answers that are pivotal to figuring out how to stop those at the heart of the problem. This example demonstrates how immaculately written the game is that each of these moments feels gripping, from the very beginning of the first episodethrough to the end. The way the mystery is built up, with all the twists and turns along the way, makes for a thrill-ride worthy of any famous detective.

But not just the mechanics of the plot make the game Telltale’s greatest output. The characterisation of each and every one of the prominent characters is fantastic. Each citizen of Fabletown feels unique, with their own issues and opinions and sometimes even skeletons in the closet that Bigby has to deal with, and those character moments indelibly affect the way the game plays out and what sort of person Bigby wants to be. Notably characters like Snow White, who here is pragmatic and adamant that the rules in place keep the Fables safe, do end up having an impact on Bigby and his decision making, while others, like Colin the Pig, can help to show a different side to him, presenting him with many dilemmas along the way.

The Wolf Among Us gameplay screenshot 4

In this way, The Wolf Among Us becomes more than just a simple detective story. The game becomes a rich, intricate world full of complex interpersonal relationships that is barely managing to hold together and is straining even more while the mystery is solved and the threat is increased. These relationships become central to the game’s moral dilemmas, and in true Telltale style these are difficult decisions to make because the characters feel important, their perspectives understandable, their circumstances challenging. Bigby’s journey through these problems shapes him and those around him, ultimately deciding the future fate of Fabletown and potentially bringing him eerily close to the villain of the piece.

In a certain way, one can easily guess the kind of experience Telltale will provide for them in gameplay terms. The gameplay is fairly standard, and quick-time events make up a large part of the gameplay in moments of action or urgency, while exploration and discovery are encouraged in the detective work. The gameplay can at times be frustrating, but it is ultimately a mechanism to further the story and allow the player to shape Bigby in their image, according to how they would try to solve the problem.

Despite some frustration with the aforementioned quick time events, The Wolf Among Us is the adventure genre at its best. The perfect mix of characterisation, intense action, and world building works well in tandem with Telltale’s tried and tested gameplay and art style, the latter of which here is perfect. Emerson-Johnson’s score is always evocative and adds more texture to that innate feeling of immersion that the game provides. That the game will now no longer be getting a sequel due to the studio’s closure is a giant shame, but at least this example of video game storytelling at its best was made to show how it is done.

The Wolf Among Us gameplay screenshot 5

Do you have a favourite adventure game that did great work in story, but perhaps never had a fair shake? Maybe you could recommend the game for other players—why not join in the discussion below? Next week’s game also did great work with game narratives, though it is very much not an adventure game. In the meantime, you can follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

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