[Story time with H0tl1ne! After a brief hiatus, we're back in the saddle. As it shows, some habits prove really hard to kick.]
I can't help but notice how rapidly has the overall feeling of the game changed over the last five years.
Yes, Android always was a future cybernoir dystopia, although despite all the corporate struggle over human lives and minds, the societal struggle to push back the economy shift caused by the android revolution, the scheming and backstabbing, it still felt somewhat... marvelous to me. Yes, we're still a bunch of pricks that find it hard to live on the same planet together, but look, somehow we're in space now! And we've built the Beanstalk up to the sky, a dream shared with our most distant ancestors! Hell is other people, yes, but look at us, making new, synthetic people out of scrap metal and/or biomass! And they are sentient enough to ask what does it mean to have a soul! We've got flying cars! And holographic television! And geothermal ener... You know what, never mind that one. The point being, the future is dark, but it is also brilliant. And, to me, this sole notion was somehow light-hearted, optimistic even!
Now that I think of it, it's all caused by the first impression this game made on me. In the good old Core Set, you might have stolen some secrets, yes, but what secrets were those? Some corporate mumbo-jumbo about requisitioning things? Job openings for people good with guns? Buyout of some rival company? Or perhaps was that some beta testing schedule or the biggest ad banner to ever light up the sky? Underwhelming, isn't it? It's almost like those people were doing legitimate business instead of shady deals you assumed. Does your breaking and entering feel meaningful to you already? Black hat - more like dunce hat, eh?
(There was a Minority Report-based exception to the rule, but it only serves to prove me right. Corprations five years ago had next to no dirty secrets to begin with. And this... feels pretty crucial in a game revolving around stealing or protecting dirty secrets. Right?)
Luckily, the Revised Core Set is here to make things right again.
Take a look at this one. Bioroids are advertised (and thus commonly believed) to be completely harmless. They've got these sweet built-in directives that prohibit the machines from hurting a human being - or even allowing one to be hurt at all. Metal men are your biggest friends! They are programmed to love you! Wouldn't that be horrific if any single one of these ever had an ability to, out of the blue, change their mind and murder the crap out of you? Whew, good thing that's never come to pass!
Suddenly, Project Ares.
"Who wants to start a war?" What war? That's pretty obvious - our new additions are called Ares, like the ancient greek god of war (not Kratos). With Project Ares you're not only giving your bioroids guns. You're doing something so much more meaningful - you're lifting their restrictions to kill. Contradicting your own status quo. Whatever the Runner has in their rig, you really gotta hate it to do something like this.
That war you're starting? It will be waged in the media. The sole idea of fiddling with the three directives is enough to cause people to panic, given how little love they already have for tin men taking their jobs. They will crap all over you if you don't do it gently - "we lifted his restrictions and he demolished a pawnshop, it was fun but let's never do it again ever pinky promise (until Aesop gets his arm back in the socket)" probably won't cut it either. I imagine this is why you have to advance this agenda four times: making bioroids kill stuff seems easy, it's preventing the outrage that could prove difficult. There always will be voices of dissent - that one bad publicity you get for turning Ares on the cybercriminals at the gate - but that's not much compared to what happens if somebody gets his hands on the unfinished project...
Because then, the public is going to know you're in your basement, cooking up an army of murderbots. Nobody is going to listen to you explaining this was done for the good of science (and bane of pawnshop owners to Heinlein and beyond). Good show, Runner. Two points for you and thanks for being such a badass hero of the far future. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to sharpen my pitchfork.
Again, who wants to start a war? Because you certainly don't. Get this Ares scandal under control and do it right now. Maybe if you spend enough time on this, we could get away with a shot or two before we lock it up, never speak of it again.
This might be a weak (or niche) piece, but damn me if it's not thrilling to put it on the table. With Project Ares, you really are doing the forbidden thing. "But the runner gets to pick what gets trashed and what not!" Yes, I know. That is the point. For example, do you remember that time in Darkest Dungeon when a certain eldritch abomination forced you to choose which one of your beloved heroes is going to die next?
It's all about this thrill, this pressure. When you get to pick the target, it's clear as day - poof, Gerbil lady gone, console gone, breakers gone. No drama. When they do... Do I trash this? Or that? Which part of my extremely valuable combo rig I could part with and still be able to do anything? Sometimes it's plain, like with a one-credit Bank Job kept purposefully for this occasion (or these stupid frickin' breakers that keep reinstalling over and over again until you puke)... But then, sometimes it is not. And this is when Project Ares turns out to be a really, really fun card.