We know Jack, do you?
We live in a connected world; a world where social media permeates every aspect of our lives. Walk down the street of any major city, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t at least have a Facebook account. However, there is always that one person who doesn’t even have one social network account and really wants to let you know how great life is without one. Redshirt is that person in videogame form.
You are a space cadet of some kind, assigned to a Deep Space Nine-esque station. Unfortunately, the comparisons to one of the great works of science fiction end there, in more ways than one. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is chock-full of brilliant political allegories, well-rounded characters, and simply fantastic writing. Redshirt has none of these aspects, instead choosing to find solace in the arms of blunt satire, randomly generated bland character work, and a stunning level of mediocrity.
The game is presented through ‘Spacebook,’ a cluttered interface with a steep learning curve. Eventually, I was able to figure out how everything worked, but only after brute forcing my way through the game’s opening. The mechanics are poorly tutorialized to an almost brutal degree.
The ultimate “goal” of Redshirt (I keep typing Spacebook for some reason) is nebulous…no pun intended. Even when I “beat” the game, I didn’t really understand what happened, only that my foreknowledge of Video Game Mechanics and Win Conditions™ had brought me to the end. Something will happen in around four months, and the game occasionally gave me hints as to what that would be. And then I found a guy selling a ticket off the station a little earlier than I suspect the designers intended.
There are things you can do in the game. You can raise attributes by purchasing items, engaging in social or solitary events, or just by working at your hilariously named Space Job. These attributes are one way to climb up the career tree, but you could just do what I did and sleep with everyone one rank above you.
Eventually, once I “got” Redshirt — in more ways than one, but I’ll come back to that — I formed a pattern. Find hiring manager interested in dudes. Do events that raise a certain number. Friend them on Spacebook. Make intergalactic love. Raise friendship to max. Get the job. Dump them as soon as possible. Repeat until you’ve reached the top.
Your fellow space cadets aren’t very interesting either. Their posts and messages all come from the same pool, and someone just set their bladder loose. In the pool. Because the writing isn’t very good.
Every post feels like it was lifted wholesale from a real Facebook account and then ran through a Space Filter. This isn’t competent satire; it’s just my real life but in Space. People have tagged me in posts saying I’m a great friend and they occasionally do stuff with me! Winking at the player and screaming BUT IN SPACE isn’t a joke. Hot Fuzz, this ain’t.
As a result, it’s hard to see your “friends” as anything other than simple algorithms. I just didn’t care about them. So once confusion gave way to boredom, I started looking for any way out.
Here’s where things get tricky: I’m relatively sure that’s the point of Redshirt. The game wants to reduce friends to notifications because satire. Redshirt is about interpersonal relationships in the digital age. “Facebook has made it so your friends are just pixels on a screen!” the game seems to yell. “You don’t really know anyone!”
But it all falls apart under the tiniest scrutiny. The aliens and humans of Redshirt all blend together after a while, especially after you see two suspiciously similar blobs make the exact same post at the exact same time. I could at least empathize what the game is trying if the satire was at least competent, but it just teeters on the edge: not willing to be a realistic social sim, nor a biting commentary.
I wanted to like Redshirt so very much, but I was ultimately happy to see it end. Clicking things to make numbers go up will always have a certain appeal to me, and there’s certainly something to be said for the idea of either a social media satire game or a space station social sim. But Redshirt tries to be so clever that it ends up coming across as smug. Perhaps that wouldn’t be such an egregious offense if the game actually hit any of its marks.