I used to be a bartender, so can relate to a lot of what happens in VA-11 HALL-A . Not the cyberpunk stuff, of course—my drink making days were in rural Cumbria. Not really the cocktail-mixing, either. Again: rural Cumbria. But the feeling of being a sponge for people's fears and worries (and, in some cases, the minutia of Cumbrian fishing laws) is one that's distinctly familiar. It's through these brief, unguarded conversations that the cyberpunk bartending sim slowly unfolds its story; not of a dystopian world, but of the people living in it.
"You are a bartender at VA-11 HALL-A, affectionately nicknamed 'Valhalla'," explains the text on the game's unusually URL'd website . "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."
I've played a nice chunk of the prologue—enough to get a feel for the basic mechanics. On ordering, you'll need to use the options at the side of the screen to add the right ingredients, select the right options and mix for the correct length of time. Each client will give you a small taste of their personality, but some will stay for longer—filling out the nature of the world through their place within it.
It's analogous as all heck. So far, only the prologue is available. In it, you'll experience the repeated refrains from the unusual and mostly identical clientèle. Here, the game leans on themes of identity in an industry where everyone, largely, is the same. What does it mean to see the same faces every day? What does it mean to be different? Also, there's talk of cybernetic enhancements. Because cyberpunk.
It's an interesting concept, and well executed in what is—at this stage—a somewhat limited capacity. The prologue is currently available in pay-what-you-want form. Those who give over $5 will receive the full game upon completion.
VA-11 HALL-A is due out in December.
[NB: VA-11 HALL-A is being made in association with Ysbryd Games, whose business developer, Cassandra Khaw, has previously written for PC Gamer]