Redshirt – Review

Title   Redshirt
Developer  The Tiniest Shark
Publisher  Positech Games
Platform  PC
Genre  Simulation
Release Date  13th November, 2013
Official Site

Bet he doesn't do passive aggressive Spacebook updates

“I’d like to park my spaceship in your hangar, if you know what I mean.”

“I’d wager Maximillian Spacius throws the best parties on the station.”

“There’s nothing I enjoy more than a quiet night in. Anyone want to join me? Maximillian Spacius?”

As you may well have noticed, I’m kind of a big deal. Anyone who is anyone on Megalodon 9 knows my name. My Spacebook is heaving. I’ve even got a great girlfriend, Stormy Parrish – a grey squid-like alien with only one eye. I can’t complain though; she’s in charge of hiring the station commander’s assistant, and with any luck she’ll be hiring me, even though I’m not exactly qualified for the role. Hopefully that won’t be necessary though, as I’m just about to purchase my ticket off this rock – well, this hunk of metal – from a Xx’th’xx who, I’m reliably informed, is legit.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s tough not too, what with my third incarnation – Maximillan Spacius, a human male – looking set to be the first to escape his stint on the giant space station, Megalodon 9, with his life. He’s survived away missions, dozens of attacks on the station and an angry ex-girlfriend or three, but it looks like he’s going to make it. All those hours working his way up from Transporter Accident Cleanup Technician, all that schmoozing with people who are, by far, his superior, and all the days he forewent social events to ensure that his skills were good enough to gain the promotions he needed are finally going to pay off.

This is Redshirt, a space opera focused on the little guys. Behind every James Tiberius Kirk or Jean-Luc Picard there is a Maximillian Spacius: the Transport Accident Cleanup Technician, the  Hazardous Alien Waste Inspection Officer, the Universal Translator Accidental Expletive Correction Officer. Redshirt tells their stories, complete with drama, catfights and away missions. Almost as impressive as the loving mockery with which it tells their stories is the manner in which it does; the game is played entirely through the medium of Spacebook, Redshirt’s slick parody of Facebook.

Spacebook is all-pervading on Megalodon 9. Your life as a Redshirt on the station, apart from your job, is built around the site. You have a set number of actions per day – which differs between weekends and workdays – and only 160 days to get yourself off the station before a mysterious event – which will, no doubt, be calamitous – occurs. It’s up to you to make the best use of those actions to schmooze, work or buy your way off the station before it does.

Apart from a few descriptive event screens, Spacebook is essentially all you ever see, and the only way that you can evaluate your progress in escaping the station. When there’s a choice bit of gossip – which usually turns out to be the main way through which the, admittedly thin, story is told – you get a message. When someone is angry at you, they’ll make a sarcastic or rude post about you. If you’re doing well in your friendship, they might invite you out to yoga, or to a vegetarian bar or burger shack. If you’re lucky there may even be a high-ranking person there that you’ve yet to meet, giving you an opportunity to worm your way up that little bit higher in the station hierarchy.

From the relatively straightforward set up, Redshirt leaves it to the varied cast of characters – most of whom are actually cleverly twisted sci-fi tropes – to create a myriad of personal dramas, many of which feature your character, who can be one of a multitude of races, and as male or female as you like – gender is chosen on a slider. “How could you decide to go a gratuitous rap battle with Puke Skywalker and Sando Calrissian instead of coming to Xx’th’xx Liquid Delights with me?” “I can’t believe you chose to flirt with that Ambassador when I’m clearly in love with you.” “Why don’t you want to play Zero-G tennis with me?” Every day presents a different dilemma, and it seems almost inevitable that at least one or two friends will feel slighted by your actions, no matter what they are.

Life on Megalodon 9 quickly becomes a balancing act and keeping a good relationship with all of your friends and acquaintances requires plenty of social manoeuvring. The added requirement of making new and more important relationships only increases the pressure, especially when their opinion could be the difference between getting hired for a better job or being left to dwell in the doldrums.

If social gigs and sweet talking the bigwigs is not your style, there is also the option to work your way through the ranks. Much like in an RPG, your character has a selection of skills that influence what jobs they are eligible for. They can be improved by doing jobs that use that particular skill, or through events or activities which use up actions that could go towards schmoozing. If you want to work your way up, you have to decide early and work hard on levelling up the right skills, because doing so almost invariably means that you won’t have much time for socialising, making it difficult to schmooze your way into a job you’re not quite right for.

Interspersed with the social juggling are the little science fiction references which make the game so amusingly satisfying to play. When you’re considering a game of holo-chess and a caption comes up about having your arm torn off, it’s basically impossible not to smile. That’s just the tip of the iceberg – there are little nods to everything from Star Wars to Star Trek, with some obvious enough for those as unfamiliar with Trek as I am, and others which I’m sure I’m not picking up on. For me, they created a sensation of warm familiarity, as though I’d been living in that universe my whole life; for others, it may be less welcoming.

The added bonus of that familiarity was that the opportunity to experience the mundane life of a Redshirt was a wonderful novelty. I enjoyed the almost-tedious compulsory workday, I even enjoyed the decision of whether to go out or just stay in for a nap. And when I was selected to take part in an away mission, my heart was pumping and I was totally sure that each one I went on would be my last. I was proved right once or twice. The novelty does wear off after a couple of deaths though, and the tropes which had been so enjoyable to prod fun at begin to wear thin. It’s hugely satisfying to work your way through the ranks, or schmooze yourself a thoroughly undeserved promotion, but unfortunately that’s not enough to cover up the cracks when it becomes apparent just how paper thin Redshirt‘s mechanics actually are.

It’s Spacebook that fails Redshirt, because it is almost too uncanny a copy of Facebook. Much like the real thing, there comes a moment where endlessly browsing the same twelve posts by people you don’t even like (and, in this case, who don’t even really exist) becomes utterly pointless, and the little pings of achievement – you’ve got +5 with whomever it is you’re trying to schmooze! – don’t do enough to keep you going. At moments throughout Redshirt, it becomes dull, and that pointless Facebook feeling seeps in. Then you get a relationship request from someone interesting, or your girlfriend dies on an away mission – which happens way too often for it to be a coincidence – and suddenly it is interesting again.

Redshirt has inherited Facebook’s seductive qualities, with it being all too easy to play ‘just one more day’ before going to bed, and, in many ways, it is a brilliant mockery of science fiction and all the tropes it makes use of. It has moments of total and utter brilliance; it’s unlikely that any other game will give you a moment when Sean-Luc spots Puke Skywalker flirting with you and gets pissed off because you’re his girl. Disappointingly though, there are too many stagnant sections in between those moments, where things just drift along.

Redshirt is actually remarkably enjoyable, considering its restrictions, but Spacebook is simultaneously its greatest strength and its most damaging weakness. It is a great deal of fun, especially if you’re a big fan of science fiction as a genre, and I’ll certainly be revisiting Megalodon 9 from time to time, but if extended play quickly proves that Facebook does not make the best of game mechanics, then I suspect that it won’t be too often. Then again, I got to have a relationship with a sentient square of goo. What more can a man ask?

  • Loving mockery of science fiction tropes provide a familiar universe to play around in
  • Social manipulation is a great deal of fun
  • I’ve always wanted to get a job simply by chatting my way into it
  • It lets you date sentient goo
  • Mighty addictive at times
  • Can grow dull quickly, especially with extended play
  • Facebook is not a strong enough gameplay mechanic to hold a whole game
  • Actions can lose significance towards the end of the game

A comedy sci-fi sim that parodies the great and good (and perhaps not so good, depending on your opinion) of the genre, Redshirt presents something of a mixed bag. Cheesy space-themed pick up lines, a wide choice of playable races, and the ability to strike up a relationship with anything and everything that moves; life on Megalodon can be pretty awesome at times. Unfortunately, there is also the drudgery, the hard days working as a Transport Accident Cleanup Technician, and the ever-present risk of being sent on an away mission to put a damper on things. Oh, and Spacebook - the game's greatest strength and biggest weakness, all rolled into one. As addictive as it can be, with extended play it can quickly grow boring, with the Facebook parody not quite strong enough to shore up an entire game and hold your attention.

Overall though, the life of a redshirt may be short but it’s pretty good, and it’s good fun to step inside the shoes of one. Who knows, you might even be one of the lucky few who survive, whether that’s through working your way up to top dog, buying a shuttle ticket to get yourself to safety or finding yourself in a relationship with someone who is rich enough and high-ranking enough to take you with them when they leave. Redshirt gives you all the options, but it’s up to you to survive long enough to take advantage of them.

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