Developers: The Tiniest Shark
Publishers: Positech Games
Ever since we caught up with Mitu Khandaker at Rezzed this year, we've been rather curious about Redshirt. It's a game that might not sound enormously appealling on paper, essentially being a social climbing sim set in space, where nearly all of your interactions with the station you're on and the people in it are conducted via a service called "Spacebook". Leveraging the connected magnetism of the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn, and gently parodying them, Redshirt plonks us down as a newcomer on a space station and challenges players to work their way up to the top. Anyone who's been enthralled by the voyeuristic appeal of social media at various points over the last few years can surely understand the addictive nature of such things.
And so it proved. I played Redshirt for five hours straight on the first night after I received the preview code.
Basically, a massively catastrophic Thing will happen on Megalodon-9 in a certain number of days, and you have to find a way off of the station before that happens. Of course, only the highest-ranking people on the station will be shuttled off, or you might be able to snaffle an outbound ticket on the black market if you have enough money, but you'll need a better-paid job before you can even dream about that. Social climbing is very much the order of the day, and, as someone who clears the gunk out of chicken soup machines, the only way is up.
Of course, all of the jobs in the game have certain requirements. You need to have a certain skillset, perhaps have mastered an occupation at a lower level first, and you should definitely think about schmoozing the officer in charge of the exam for the job in question. Choking own learning drugs and writing "I AM A FISH" didn't work for Arnold Rimmer, and such tactics won't help you here. You'll need to be smart, sociable, and slippery.
If you hadn't realised already, Redshirt is absolutely stuffed with Red Dwarf references and other sci-fi in-jokes.
You have a limited number of action points per day, though more can purchased with in-game credits should you run out. There's no microtransaction model in place, and to be fair I haven't actually found any reason to purchase extra moves as yet, though some of the more expensive activities require an entire day at weekends. All of your actions and interactions will use up these action points, s careful planning is in order. Events can be used to boost relationships with other people, and handily the game provides excellent visual feedback to help you determine which events will help boost which skills and interest, as well as showing you who's likely to attend should you invite them. Of course, there are limitations, someone will always feel left out, and you learn quickly that every action you take in Redshirt is likely to flare the nostrils of at least one other person on the station.
It's not long before I make supervisor, though, just a matter of putting in a few hours outside of work towards cultivating an assertive nature required for management and inviting the boss round for a few drinks. Some carefully planted likes, a few status updates that have tagged the right people, and a carefree (but really selectively exclusive) trip to the holo-deck have meant that my co-workers all like me. I cop some flack for the promotion, but the groundwork I've laid means I don't lose any friends over it. Yet.
I manage to successfully broker a relationship with a Rigellian technician. She's of a slightly higher rank than me, and I hope that my association with her might introduce me to a few people with some clout when it comes to the job tier above my own. Naturally, I had to pretend to be into the things she's into in order to stand a chance. You can't befriend people on Spacebook if you don't have any mutual interests, let alone date them. So it is that after more sessions of Zero-G Tennis and vegetarian culinary excursions than I thought I could ever manage, I finally manage to fudge "Fitness Lifestyle" into my list of personal interests and she agrees to go out with me. One of my co-workers gets jealous almost immediately and I start haemorrhaging friend points. She unfriends me before the week is out.
This is simply collateral damage. The same will be true when my pan-sexual Riker-lookalike ditches a male comms officer for being of too lowly a rank later in the game. Redshirt requires this of me. Nothing will be gained by tentative, mumblecore romances. We live, we love, we learn, and we move on. Beside, time is a great healer. Unless it's a rash, then you're better off with ointment.
Days turn into weeks, and I manage to get promoted a few more times. My romancing skills have been honed thanks to several seminars run by a friend. I've established myself as the Van Wilder of the station, my parties are legendary, and people never fail to show up. I'm tutoring fellow spacefarers in medicine and engineering. I'm a master of wit and repartee, and my command of space directives is uncanny. I've even managed to elevate my Charisma rank high enough to earn a few VIP invitations to a handful of very selective events.
Then I get summoned onto an away mission, along with my Rigellian better half. She's mercilessly gunned down by alien fiends. Smeg! Back on the station, the friends who were more her friends than mine begin to drift away; we have little in common, after all. Having ditched my initial posse for a brighter, sparkier, more glamorous crew who now begin to turn their backs on me, I'm forced to make new plans. Maybe I'll become a chef.
I'm in. I'm hooked. Redshirt is one of those fantastically beguiling games that snatches you're attention once you've fired it up wipes away any hesitancies you might have had, and keeps you coming back for more. It works brilliantly as a fantastically manipulative social simulator, and comments upon the virtually constructed societies that we have create for ourselves where people are resources and commodities and charismatic capital counts for all. Frankly, it's shaping up to be a delicious disempowerment fantasy, as Khandaker herself terms it, and we can't wait to play the finished, finalised version, if only because away missions seemed to crash almost as much as Starbug in the game's beta.
Still, definitely worthy of a salute. An extra-special Rimmer salute.