A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action is a downloadable sci-fi-themed simulation available on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, as well as Windows, Mac, and Linux-based computers. Players essentially follow along in a multipath story, affecting the outcome based on what types of drinks they serve to the different patrons of the bar. Players are, obviously, serving characters alcoholic drinks, while using the effects of those drinks to manipulate others' behaviors. Aside from alcohol, the game also makes more than a few references to drug use and sex, even going so far as to include an android sex worker as one of the patrons. The game also doesn't shy away from offensive language in its dialogue, making frequent use of profanity and sexual references.
What's it about?
Drinks are on the house in VA-11 HALL-A: CYBERPUNK BARTENDER ACTION. Under the neon lights of a dystopian future, oftentimes most people's solace can be found only at the bottom of a bottle. As a bartender at one of this world's local watering holes, it's up to you to give the customers what they order, what they want, or in some cases, what they need. On any given night, you can wind up playing the role of best friend, therapist, scapegoat, or fantasy ... all at the whims of your patrons and their drinks. Your decisions won't only affect your tips at the end of each night, but will also impact the lives of every person, robot, or even corgi that stumbles up to your bar for just one more drink.
Is it any good?
While bars may be the location where people have some life-changing moments, the problem with this sim isn't the content or the stories -- it's the manipulation of people with substances that feels awkward. VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action lays out a series of interconnected stories, with players' only option to guide the plot being their creative use of mixology. While it's an interesting concept, especially set against the backdrop of a futuristic society, from a gameplay perspective, it's a watered-down shot that's still somewhat hard to swallow. The whole premise is that you're trying to manipulate people through their drinking habits. And the clientele, while definitely diverse, are extreme personalities that can make for awkward and uncomfortable moments, like the android sex worker made up to look like a young schoolgirl.
Right from the start, the repetition of VA-11 HALL-A becomes abundantly clear. Even after sloshing your way through the opening tutorials, the story moves forward only after your character has mixed the same exact drink over and over again. There's no real challenge here either, between the specific list of drink recipes at your disposal and the ability to reset the drink and try again any time you happen to make a mistake. And there's only so many ways you can mix the same handful of ingredients. Sure, you can tweak things by "aging" a drink, adding ice, or even adjusting the alcoholic content, but by and large, you're just going through the same repetitive motions. It's a little disturbing, too, when you're occasionally encouraged to do things like give someone's drink an extra alcoholic kick to help them forget or become more pliable. It just feels as if VA-11 HALL-A relishes in showing off its seedier stereotypes a little too much, sacrificing gameplay and real character development in the process.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the affects of drinking alcohol. What are some of the ways that alcohol can affect a person's behavior and health? What are the risks and dangers of drinking to excess? What are some of the reasons people choose to drink alcohol?
What are some of the negative ways that people try to deal with emotional concerns? What would be positive alternatives for coping with your problems?
- Platforms: Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows
- Price: $14.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Ysbryd Games
- Release date: May 2, 2019
- Genre: Simulation
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Robots, Science and Nature
- ESRB rating: M for Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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