Redshirt Hands-On Preview
The idea of a red-shirted extra being a short-lived, unnamed victim of whichever danger fails to kill Captain Kirk has become a part of the pop-culture landscape. Which is probably why in developer The Tiniest Shark’s game – named, fittingly, Redshirt - the goal is pretty clear: get promoted out of that shirt as soon as it possible!
(Let’s face it, being able to survive and overcome dangers while wearing something so obvious just isn’t going to happen.)
As a newly arrived recruit on space station Megaladon 9, comparing your uniform colour to your survival prospects does leave you with one conclusion. Social climbing by all means necessary is key, and this means fitting in with the station’s crew.
However, while the game is presented as a sci-fi parody, it is perhaps more subtly a parody of how banal life can be on social networks, thanks to the game revolving around access to ‘Spacebook’… and if that isn’t a clear reference, I don’t know what is.
Your quest for social acceptance, promotion, self-improvement (or self-importance) and so on is entirely handled through these social interactions – clicking to like someone’s status improves their opinion of you; adjusting your interests to match key people so like you more; inviting the person who will be doing the recruiting for an advanced job to dinner to make them more likely to join your circle of friends; and so on.
Promotion is done through sycophancy as much as skills, friendships and relationships are casual things to be done via invitations and status updates, and activities are things to be done for either promotion or shallow adulation from your peers.
However, not all activities are positive. If you fail to acknowledge someone for a while, they may feel neglected; if you don’t invite someone to an event they may become upset; and let’s not even start on their jealousy if you get promoted…
There are a lot of people to deal with, and successfully handling them and their personalities is the key challenge to the game.
Your starting job, as a “transporter accident clean-up technician” (a job which it is strongly implied needs a mop) is a fairly safe if banal activity. There is the regular problem of compulsory away missions though, which few of your colleagues are likely to return from (from the hands-on play at Eurogamer the main character seemed safe – whether this is always the case is unclear); and an implied threat of something dangerous that may happen at some point in the near future means that the sucking up needs to happen at an accelerated rate.
The game does give you a sense of direction via ‘aspirations’, which vary from the shallow – “have three people like a status” – to the practical – “get a specific better job”. There are three of these at a time, although they can also be ignored with little penalty.
Approaching things from a social management point of view is a different way of doing things, and perhaps a rather closer-to-reality way than we’d like to admit. However, this is balanced with humour, with many sci-fi references subverted through the eyes of the everyman (or alien), with the ironic reassurances of the powers-that-be, and with some visual gags depicting daily life via simple animations.
Redshirt is currently in beta for PC; pre-ordering the game allows immediate play of that beta. Mac and Linux versions are to follow, as are Steam keys. The final release is scheduled for some time this year.