Redshirt

Redshirt logo.png

Redshirt
PC
Developed by The Tiniest Shark
Released in 2013

Sometimes I worry that I might be a little too critical of games, usually when I am staring at the blue “Publish” button after finishing off a harsh review of a game many others consider a classic. Even games I used to like in the past I often return to with mixed feelings, but these past few days I have experienced the reverse for once. Redshirt is a game that, at launch, I wrote off as a piece of garbage, but replaying it for indie month made me really appreciate the game. In fact, it ended up taking up much more of my time than I had scheduled for it.

Guess the spoof

“When humanity finally reaches the space age, Facebook will have to become Spacebook!” is the joke that most likely signaled the birth of Redshirt, a spoof of various scifi properties that has you take control of a random employee aboard a spaceship with its own social media platform. Things seem normal at first as you attend events organized via this Spacebook and make small talk with coworkers, until one day the alarms go off and an ominous timer is placed. What happens when the timer runs out? Nobody knows and nobody wants to be around to find out.

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The game takes a randomly generated approach to its story, with you having the chance of running into extra events like missions on the surface or side-effects while doing your regular job. Characters are also randomly stuck together and this highlights that storytelling really isn’t the game’s strongest suit. The pool of events is minuscule and every character is functionally the same, making the same, exact Spacebook posts and lacking any unique traits. If the developers had included factors such as like & dislikes, ambitions, or character traits this approach would have been a lot more interesting.

The parody works well enough, and that comes from somebody who hasn’t seen a single scifi show referenced here. I haven’t seen any Star Wars, or star Trek, or star-whatever, so I can’t really comment on how funny the gags are, I am referring exclusively to the social media part of this parody. It’s over-the-top and often a little too blatant, but it had subtle moments, such as when I liked a post that had a joke in it you could conceivably interpret as racist. Even though I meant nothing with it, that action caused me to lose significant reputation with every character of a different race.

It’s moments like this that make the game shine, if only a bit. It has a lot of room for improvement and the randomly generated structure really needed to be bigger to justify making social media the core focus of this game.

Story score: 6/10

Majora’s Mask in space?

That timer I mentioned earlier is the basis of the gameplay. You have about 200 in-game days to find a way to get off the ship, the most straightforward of which involve buying a ridiculously overpriced ticket or becoming the personal assistant of the captain. There are other ways, but I’ll leave it to you to discover those on your own.

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A day, in Redshirt, consists of a number of action points that you spend, usually 1 before work and a few more after, or an entire 6 on a day off. Every little thing you do eats an action point; posting on Spacebook, liking a status, sending a personal message, that all instantly eats one of your precious, few actions for that day. You can also organize events, like going out for food, partying, or taking extra classes to improve your statistics, which tie in with the game’s career making.

Starting at the very bottom of the food chain, the game asks you to make promotion through a small tree of roles aboard the ship. To get promotion you’ll have to meet criteria to reach a higher position, and you do this by either working, doing events that improve the skills you need, or buying and maintaining items that bestow you with a bonus every day. You can, of course, also entice the hiring manager to pick you, despite not meeting the criteria. I found this to be really fun: trying to find a balance between keeping my character happy and well-fed (health and mood affect how quickly you train skills), building up the right stats, and making the right friends. It makes the most of the premise and it feels great when you really do manage to get a shortcut. I sometimes even found myself hopping between roles, since on-the-job training makes you learn skills much faster.

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There are some weaknesses, however. There are certain skills you have little choice but to grind for, as few events improve, say, the creatively named “Delusions of Heroism” statistic that is absolutely essential to beating the game via some paths, and only one expensive item gives a pitiful bonus to it. There are also actions that are objectively useless, like posting on Spacebook doesn’t even seem to work. Across my many sessions with the game, I can’t even really recall ever getting likes on any posts, and I certainly never fulfilled the “get 3 likes” aspiration regardless of how many friends I kept.

While 200 days sounds like a lot, time really does fly while playing the game and it’s addicting too; it has that one-more-turn appeal where you just want to finish your current project, only to realize that midway through that process you have already started eyeballing the next goal to reach. It does wear a little over time, especially because of how random and fickle the AI can be, and I really wish away missions were more involved than they are, but this, right here, is a parody that has gameplay that is actually fun to play. That deserves some applause.

Gameplay score: 8/10

Smile for the camera, hide the inner sadness

Redshirt mostly communicates in menu screens with the Spacebook interface being the main area from which you play. During work hours, sleep, or away missions you are treated to a log that skims over the events, but most of the time you’ll be staring at your news feed or browsing the events or career sub-menu.

While simplistic and aesthetically pleasing, functionally the menu structure leaves a lot to be desired. For example, events are cut up in several categories that make little sense and each event has an entire page to its own with you scrolling from one option to the next. There is no way to just get a list of all events or even effectively filter them down. The categories make no sense either, with an entire category dedicated to places where you can eat, but which excludes the option for a romantic dinner, since that is categorized under “group events”. 

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You can sort of filter by going to your interests or career overview, and selecting a skill or interest, which will make the game conjure up a list of all items, jobs, or events relevant to your selection. While nice, this comes with several problems of its own:

  • Clicking on any recommendation will close the career/interests screen, forcing you to backtrack to it if you wanted to see a different list as well.
  • Clicking on an item won’t just show you that item. It just opens the store menu at the top, forcing to you scroll through every available item, because, again, the game does not have any filters.
  • Not all of these menus are available from all screens. You can’t see if any of your friends are available while in the career menu and you can’t just navigate to the events page from the list of skills without first going back to the main Spacebook interface.
  • While planning an event, there is no way to search for specific people, even though this function does exist on the newsfeed. Especially when you want to invite specific people, this mean you are left scrolling through about 40 portraits, and sometimes the specific person I wanted wasn’t even on the list at all.

It might seem like I am ragging on a function that, admittedly, many other games mess up too, but since you are always working from a menu in this game, it really harms the experience that this core feature is so inconvenient to use.

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Besides the menu structure, the only other presentation comes in the form of Spacebook profiles. You customize your character before the game starts and have a choice between several different races. The style of the game’s art is comedic, with characters looking goofy and generally a bit simplistic. I was a tad disappointed that I couldn’t easily make a character resembling me, but eventually I at least found out how to make a fun avatar I was happy playing as.

Presentation score: 4/10

Losing is never fun

Whether or not it’s fun to replay this game tends to come down to whether or not you win or lose your first round. I was really down on the game at first because I lost and, while that may seem childish, it really makes you feel like you wasted six hours on a game, only to be told at the end that you weren’t good enough. I probably wouldn’t have tried the game ever again if it wasn’t for this indie month reminding me of its existence.

Having won a round in the game now left me feeling a lot more positive about it’s replayability and I find myself eager to try out different endings or hunt down some of the steam achievements. Still, if you plan on playing this game, then be aware that this really is a game where you can lose, and those last thirty minutes where you realize the situation can’t be salvaged are terrible to play through.

Extras score: 6/10

Verdict

Redshirt is a game whose concept was so strong that I actually bought it at launch. A practice that I usually frown upon, but I just really, really wanted to see this social media strategy game work out. It isn’t fantastic and some of its flaws are deeply entrenched, like the flawed structure of its menus and some skills that you really just need to grind for. I can recommend it, yet at the same time I really wonder if this score would have been higher if I knew what the heck any of these scifi references were going on about.

60/100

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