What the heck is VA-11 HALL-A ?
To put it simply, it’s a graphic novel with very thin gameplay mechanics set in a dystopian cyberpunk future that owes a lot to Kojima’s Snatcher.
The player controls how the drinks are made, but it’s almost impossible to fail. The amount of alcohol is sometimes a controllable factor and can influence an NPCs conversation, but the general feeling is that the game is mostly on-rails. This isn’t a bad thing as it lets the narrative take a strong grip and tell its story from a unique perspective. In almost every game the player controls the most important and influential character. VA-11 HALL-A makes the fascinating choice to have the player portray a fly on the wall. NPCs parade into your bar to share anecdotes and opinions, unfurling the story piece by piece. There is very little player agency and it’s very refreshing. The game encourages the player to relax and grab a drink while playing their game. One of the few choices you’ll make is choosing the playlist for the jukebox. Just like real life, this has little effect on the customer’s lives, but is still your choice to make.
Is it fun?
I had a great time during my first hour and plan to go back for more. Mixing drinks was just enough engagement to keep me clicking for more stories. Every so often I was given the simple puzzle of deciding on a drink that met certain criteria. On one occasion the hints felt too abstract, but the result of that exchange felt like my choice was insignificant, like an RPG battle your character is supposed to ‘lose’. I do hope there are more free choices down the line, especially concerning how much alcohol to place in a drink, but I’m getting the feeling that the story isn’t too open-ended.
The characters are interesting enough for the most part, and some of the jokes made me laugh. I’m assuming the writer has worked plenty of freelance gigs based on the scathing commentary towards editors and supervisors purely interested in clicks. Some of the cultural philosophies are a bit cheesy, but I have lower standards for writing in gaming.
Is this for you?
If you enjoy graphic novels, cyberpunk, Kojima, and/or have always wanted to play the sympathetic bartender, you will have some fun here. I’m happy to see such a unique take on perspective, and hope the gaming industry takes note.
What do you think?