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.