VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action is a booze em’ up about waifus, technology, and post-dystopia life.
In this world, corporations reign supreme, all human life is infected with nanomachines designed to oppress them, and the terrifying White Knights ensure that everyone obeys the laws.
But, this is not about those people.
You are a bartender at VA-11 HALL-A, affectionately nicknamed “Valhalla.” Although it is just a small bar downtown, it attracts the most fascinating people this side of dystopia. Keep your clients lubricated and you will be made privy to the most interesting stories.
In VA11-HA11-A you aren’t the hero because you don’t need to be. Put in the shoes of a bartender living in a cyberpunk dystopian world, players discover the stories of this world through the words of their customers.
Creating drinks that suit the customer’s needs is what gets you those intriguing stories. However, players better make sure that their finger muscles are up to scratch as the incessant clicking can leaving you wishing the creators had considered the ever relevant keyboard. Drinks are mixed from five different ingredients, in varying proportions (the bigger the drink the bigger the story), and can be shaken or stirred. The tedious click and drag premise of the game is somewhat reminiscent of the Nintendo game Cooking Mama. Although you don’t get quite so many corgi’s and sexbots in Cooking Mama.
The charming 8-bit graphics used is another reason this game is so unique. There is no need for over the top action sequences or expensive graphics to tell one of the greatest gaming stories ever created. Another way in which this game is so charming is the 12 songs players get to choose at the beginning of each shift. Despite these songs all sounding pretty similar it made me feel like I was adding my own personal touch to the game. Outside of the bar players can use their hard earned cash to customise their apartment although you better make sure you’ve saved enough to pay the ever-looming bills.
I must admit that it took me a lot of trial and error to get to grips with the mechanics of this game at first, the instructions aren’t the clearest and did leave me with a lot of un-servable drinks but once you get the hang of it there’s no going back. VA11-HA11-A is one of the most calming games I’ve ever played there is no gun fire, explosions or jump scares that make your heart beat faster than a cheetah on steroids. Even the game intro tells players to relax and grab themselves a drink further adding to easiness of play. All of this makes for an incredibly unique and immersive experience.
It is clear that many influences could be cited for this game but one that stands out the most is the Hideo Kojima’s classic adventure game ‘snatcher’ which just also happens to be set in a cyber-punk dystopian world. However, what separates these two games the most is the way in which VA11-HA11-A doesn’t rely on action packed scenes to tell the story but rather through the words and experiences of average people.
The stories and opinions told by these average people can sometimes be quite shocking and/or vulgar especially when a seemingly casual conversation can suddenly turn very sexual, but at the end of the day I must admit it does make the game that little bit more interesting with a few laughs thrown in. Throughout the game players are drip fed various snippets of information about the outside world that eventually allows you to put all the pieces together and create a visual image of what this world may look like. I got the feeling whilst playing the game some of these characters’ stories and opinions were in fact an outlet for the creators of the game to get their views across and reveal to those unaware of the tumultuous state of Venezuela.
The harsh truth of this game, but what also makes it so appealing, is the likeness it has to reality for some parts of the world. The creators of the game currently reside in Venezuela which just happens to be in the midst of a financial crisis; there are frequent power cuts for 10 hours at a time instigated by the government to reserve power, putting Venezuela in it’s own dystopian world. This made the game even more difficult to make but perhaps also adds to the message of the game that even in the bleakest of situations there is always hope.