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A redshirt, as any Star Trek fan will tell you, is a person who is expendable. Their purpose in the TV series is generally to add to the perceived danger the crew are in by dying without the need to sacrifice any of the main cast. They’re so called because of the red uniforms they wear as security officers and the first and last time you will see them is during the missions where they are likely to die. They are low level nobodies and this is precisely how you start the game Redshirt. You are assigned to the space station Megalodon-9 as a Transport Cleanup Technician with the social rank of ‘nobody’. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that all is not well on the space station and you have aspirations beyond being expendable.
In Redshirt, everyone in the future is even more obsessed with social networking than we are now and your main interface to the game is the Facebook-inspired Spacebook. Through this you make new friends, exchange messages and likes, and arrange social gatherings known as events. After the character creation screen, the game guides you through adding a friend to your Spacebook as a brief introduction on how to use it. You are then left to explore the rest of the screens at your leisure, with help screens popping up the first time you visit a particular screen. Redshirt is turn-based with each day allowing six actions, the second and third of which are taken up by your job each workday. Every interaction you make on Spacebook beyond just reading uses up one action, with events typically needing more than one.
The story is told via rumours sent to you as personal messages on Spacebook from other employees of the space station, hinting that it may not be good for your health to still be on the station when a mysterious 180 day countdown has elapsed. You need to get off the station and there are various ways of doing this but none of them are available to a lowly Transport Cleanup Technician without any social standing. It’s time to embark on a major self-improvement program to boost your rank, which is a combination of your job level and your charisma. As well as these primary attributes your character has a happiness and health bar as well as many skills and interests. Each job requires you to have certain skills before you can apply for it and it will also improve skills you will typically need for a job higher up the career ladder. Skills are also obtained via events or objects purchased from the Self Help Object Purveyor, or S.H.O.P.
Charisma on the other hand is gained by having a certain number of Spacebook contacts who like you at the end of the day or by arranging successful social events. Every character in the game, including yourself, has a top three selection of interests and every event will appeal to certain interests as well as boosting your interest in those appropriate categories. Your top three interests will change over time as you attend events to keep other people happy or to further your career goals, as will the interests of the other characters. Each character also has a rating of how much they like every other character in the game including you, and you can typically only befriend those who are neutral or friendlier towards you, have at least one interest in common with you, and who are no more than one rank above you. How much they like you will generally increase every time you interact with them and will go down over time if you ignore them or more rapidly if you in some way offend them.
The gameplay boils down to managing your main resource, time, so that you can balance keeping your friends happy, make new friends and advance your career. You can carry out fairly safe actions with your time such as liking users’ posts or sending them a message, but these all take an action each and will generally not do anything more than improve a single person's attitude towards you at a time. Often you will want to interact with your friends by inviting them to events, which will cost more actions but will allow you to improve your relationship with multiple people at once as well as boost your skills in selected areas. You run the risk of negative consequences here for your happiness and charisma, though, if people stand you up for any reason. These reasons can include them not liking your friends, not liking you, not being interested in the activity or being busy at another event. The latter three are easy to handle because on the screen where you invite people, there are indicators for each person's availability and interest in the event as well as whether or not they like you.
This all begins fairly leisurely with a small circle of easy to please friends who are your coworkers from your first job and undemanding skill requirements to climb the job ladder. As you advance your career, however, the jobs will get more and more demanding and you will find yourself focusing heavily on the events which will improve those skills leaving you with a narrow range of complementary interests. This will make it difficult to befriend certain characters in the game without spending a lot of time changing your interests and so effectively reduces your pool of potential friends. Whilst this is happening you will find yourself needing more and more friends to keep boosting your charisma, and finding the time to interact with all your friends becomes difficult. Especially when you factor in jealousies and the large circle of friends increasing the likelihood of some of your friends will hate each other. There are shortcuts you can take to counter the increasing difficulty, like being good friends with the hiring manager for a particular job, which may lead them to accept an application from you even if you are only partially qualified for it. You can also enter into relationships with people which will improve your happiness and make you more efficient at improving your skills from your job and events. Sleeping your way to the top is a viable strategy in Redshirt!
As well as Spacebook and your job there are two other game sections of note, the previously mentioned S.H.O.P. and the away missions for which redshirts are famed. The S.H.O.P. allows you to spend the credits you earn from your job on items that will improve your skills. These are either one off instant improvements or objects that improve your skills each day for a certain number of days. Your credits are also spent on events, though with the exception of certain special events, the costs of these are fairly negligible. Finally, in a nod to free-to-play games on Facebook, you can actually spend your credits on more actions in a day. As for the away missions, these occur rarely and take place instead of your usual job. These can really throw a spanner in the works of your careful planning if a future boss you’ve been carefully working on befriending ends up dead and someone who hates you is promoted in their place.
As mentioned earlier, there are multiple ways to win the game which vary from earning enough money to buy your way out, rising up through the ranks to the top of the career ladder on the station or being close friends with the right people. However it has to be said that your approach to playing the game may not change all that much whichever path you pursue. You’ll need a good career anyway to make the money, you’ll need friends however you play and you’ll need both before the officers will talk to you. During those few quiet times when all your friends are happy and your career is advancing steadily, this lack of variety in how you can play can cause you notice that things can get just a little repetitive. Redshirt counters this somewhat by also assigning you three random aspirations at all times which give you something to aim towards. These include tasks such as dating a certain person, buying a specific item for the shop or getting Spacebook mentions and they tend to reward you generously in skills.
A game of Redshirt can take a decent amount of time to complete, with it not being uncommon to take around twelve hours to work through the 180 days, although as this is a turn-based game, it obviously depends on how long you spend per turn. If you worked out the optimal use of your time each day it would take longer and likewise you could get through faster by playing more carelessly, though you would run into trouble with your friends disliking you. Replay value is also added by the different win conditions as well as a variety of sliders you can adjust before the game starts to change the non-player characters behaviour in the game and make it more difficult by increasing traits such as bigotry, fickleness and vanity amongst others.
The graphics are not the most detailed you are going to see in a game but they are functional, and the interface as a whole is very slick with lots of useful hotlinks helping you travel quickly between sections you need to. For instance, if a person has a particular interest or a job needs a particular skill then you can click that to see all the relevant events and then click an event to arrange it. After a while you will find this far more useful than browsing through the lists of events. There are a few instances where the game isn’t quite so helpful. The items you buy from the S.H.O.P. that have a set number of days life can be repaired at a reduced cost and without using any action points, but you get no reminder when they are on their last day so you have to check yourself regularly or find out via a message once they’re expired and you have to re-buy them at full price. It’s also difficult to keep track of who you haven’t interacted with in a while and which of your friends dislike which other friends without writing it down. There’s not much variety in the music but it is pleasant and unobtrusive. The game did actually crash on me twice during away missions but it auto-saves each day and worked after the load so this wasn’t a major issue, and it's worth pointing out that the game has already seen a couple of patches, so hopefully any remaining minor glitches will be picked up sooner rather than later.
Redshirt isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but those who like the balancing act and resource management that go with management sims will find this is a solid game. There will be feelings of repetitiveness during the all too brief periods when you've managed to juggle everything into going well, and you’ll find yourself just going through the motions to advance time until your next social or career crisis. Whilst you'll need to be a sci-fi fan to get a lot of the humour, this will actually be less important to your enjoyment of the game than a jaded view of the inanity appearing on your Facebook wall on a daily basis. To fans of turn-based management sims this is an entertaining insight into a future in which social networking rules every aspect of our lives rather than being a place just to quote song lyrics. Although, in Redshirt’s vision of the future, people are still spending a lot of their time doing just that as well.