Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Redshirt offers tongue-in-cheek sci fi romp with flawed pacing
Redshirt, named after Star Trek’s legions of expendable crimson-clad crew, casts you as a new arrival on Megalodon-9, an “ageing Federation-run space station”, and armed with a mop rather than a phaser, you are tasked with cleaning up after the station’s numerous transporter accidents. Well, we can’t all be heroes.
Along with the rest of the station you’re signed up to the social network Spacebook, which acts as Redshirt’s interface. Starting a new game prompts you to sign in as your social media alter ego and get networking.
Each new day on the station allows you several actions on Spacebook, a period of “mandatory sleep” as well as actually having to do your job. Before work you might ‘like’ the status update of your boss to get in his/her/its good books, then attend a holographic training session to improve your skill in “Speedy Cover-Ups”, or just drown your sorrows in a bar with some like-minded peons.
The ‘liking’ and schmoozing isn’t aimless, however. It soon becomes clear that getting off the station ASAP would be a really good idea. It’s not made clear exactly what’s going to happen but shortly after you start the game, a 160-day countdown to ‘something significant’ begins and all leave (for non-senior crew) is cancelled.
The Guardian’s correspondent aboard Megalodon-9, CP Scotty, quickly decided the way to escape his dead-end job wasn’t to grind XP and earn a promotion. The answer was clearly to flirt with his boss (amorphous gel, Derick McEwen), win his trust, and clamber over him to start the long ascent through the ranks to Captain’s Assistant and safety. The game is full of knowing references to classic sci fi – various flavours of Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey and even Red Dwarf all make an appearance. It’s done in an affectionate spirit and the game’s designer and coder, Mitu Khandaker, clearly know and love what she is pastiching.
Meanwhile, among the stars, CP Scotty clambered his way through successive jobs by romancing the hiring managers and casting them aside once they’d turned a blind eye to his hopeless lack of qualifications for each new position. After several away missions with an authentically high fatality rate, CP found himself working as the Captain’s Assistant, dating his boss and holding a black market shuttle ticket off the station. His Spacebook profile proudly proclaimed he was ‘basically everyone’s favorite person.’
Which highlights the real problem with Redshirt: it’s actually a bit easy to escape the station and beat the game. You can hold out until the bitter end and try and take a significant other with you, but the paranoid nagging of even the steadiest of romantic partners is so relentless it becomes tempting to just jump ship and leave them to it. There’s also just a little too much off-key behaviour from the game’s other characters to suspend your disbelief. Siblings post flirty messages to each other; partners complain you never spend any time together but won’t let you spend time with them; and the game gave CP Scotty enough Hail-Mary friend requests from higher-ups to ensure he graduated from rank to rank with ease.
Furthermore, status updates from the other characters repeat frequently, and searching through columns of profile pictures to find suitable invitees for an event can start to feel like a chore rather than a pointed satire of our obsession with social media.
But overall it’s a question of flawed pacing and niggles rather than a fundamentally broken game, and the attention to detail in the setting and writing mark out Redshirt as a real labour of love. There’s also an iPad version in the works, which could be a better fit than the PC for this satire of our always-on social media obsession.
If you can overlook some occasionally glitchy mechanics, Redshirt is an absorbing, tongue-in-cheek sci fi romp that rewards the player for doing all those awful things you would never do (but might want to) in real life.
Redshirt is available direct from the official website, or from Steam or GOG.
This post was written for Digital First Media and is reposted with permission.