When you're looking for an experience that can be explicitly categorized as "cyberpunk," you needn't look far to find a game that perfectly encapsulates the feeling of living in the dystopian future seen in films like Blade Runner and Johnny Mnemonic. The cyberpunk aesthetic lends itself to video games like ducks take to water.
CD Projekt RED's Cyberpunk 2077 may be the biggest player in the arena right now, but there are smaller developers with some very intriguing projects. Exploring the genre doesn't mean you must restrict yourself to exploring Night City, especially if you find that plunging headfirst into the urban sprawl is too stressful with all the bugs plaguing the game at present.
Here are some of the games that represent how much the cyberpunk genre has evolved over the years, with some suggestions you can go play right now -- as long as you aren’t still mired in what Night City has to offer, after all.
Go back to where it all began by jumping into the Blade Runner universe, cyberpunk incarnate. This PC point-and-click adventure game developed by Westwood Studios debuted in 1997 and interpolated the Blade Runner universe with its own set of characters and an original story. The events of this adventure run concurrent to Ridley Scott's classic film. Instead of playing as Rick Deckard, players are tasked with taking on the role of detective Ray McCoy, who's tailing a gaggle of dangerous Replicants. The mission? Neutralize them, of course.
Rick Deckard makes an appearance in-game, but this video game “sidequel,” as it was billed, is content to follow story crumbs placed by McCoy and the cast he meets along the way. It takes place not too long after the first movie begins. From there, it branches off and tells its own tale with Ray taking the lead. In many ways, the game is a sequel as much as it is a side story.
Along the way, players react to results of Voight-Kampff tests, question suspects, and collect clues that are filed away in McCoy's Knowledge Integration Assistant (KIA). It's a worthy extension of the film, and thanks to its recent GOG release, it’s easily accessible and can be enjoyed in a weekend.
Bloober Team’s Observer is nothing like its first effort Layers of Fear. It isn’t meant to be a horror game, but it somehow ended up being one of the most terrifying deep dives into a cyberpunk world to hit PC. In its unique tangle of weirdness and social isolation, it finds ways to mess with players’ heads that resonate with them long after settling in for a lengthy play session.
Observer stars Daniel Lazarski (the late Rutger Hauer), a Class B citizen in 2084’s Poland, where castes determine how you’ll spend the rest of your life. Lazarski is suddenly thrown into the middle of an investigation when he receives a call from his estranged son Adam. Shocked to hear from his son, Lazarski ends up losing the call but tracing it to a dingy old Class C apartment block. He arrives to find all the citizens on lockdown for some reason, which is where you’re expected to begin investigating.
It’s question after question from there, as you’re left to your own devices to figure out what’s really going on. What’s happened to Adam, and why are all the citizens trapped in their apartments? All the while, you’ve got to keep Lazarski going, giving him his psych medication to keep him stabilized -- and if you don’t? He’ll face hallucinations and even death at some point, and not by one of the creepy apartment tenants’ hands.
It's your job to figure all of this out, and in a hurry. Observer makes for satisfying cyberpunk gaming amidst some admittedly terrifying segments that will linger with you long after you unplug.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
The Deus Ex series is the quintessential cyberpunk tale, especially the original. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided continues the story of Adam Jensen, which began in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
This entry picks up two years after that game, where Jensen finds himself stuck dealing with an uprising that augmented humans have started. But even though he "never asked for" his cybernetics before, he's grown accustomed to them. This time, he's better, stronger, and ready to take on the world. He's open to plenty of different customization options if you choose to implement them, too. This allows you to play the game how you see fit.
Jensen has a series of hidden augments as well. You can choose to unlock a power buried deep within him, but in turn, you'll have to get rid of another power permanently. Once you make the decision, you can't go back, which forces strategy that wasn't otherwise seen in Human Revolution.
As Jensen, you'll ransack secret bases, aid captured augmented humans, and otherwise right wrongs in a dystopian future that feels uncomfortably real. There's something new to do everywhere you turn, so if you're drawn to Cyberpunk 2077 for the massive world and number of missions, this game might be the next best analog. It’s also quite a bit more serious than some of the other games with similar settings, so it will scratch that overall genre itch nicely.
Ghostrunner is a fast-paced mixture of parkour and first-person combat born of a collaboration between game developers One More Level, 3D Realms, and Slipgate Ironworks. It’s lightning fast, a mesmerizing mix of style and substance that puts you in the shoes of cyberwarrior #74, a “living weapon” meant to explore a massive structure in a dystopian cyberpunk world: Dharma Tower. Humanity is all but extinct, and the remnants can be found in this looming monolith of a building.
That means you’re fighting through both the living world and cyberspace. The story unfolds quietly as you unlock additional segments of the game. And while the narrative is indeed interesting to follow, the most exciting part of Ghostrunner is the frenetic action that unfolds as you make your way through the game.
You might think it’s all about getting through each level from beginning to end. However, you’re really learning new ways to navigate by stringing together moves you may not have tried before. Enemies fall with one slash, except when they’re wearing heavy armor, but so do you. You’re basically weaving in and out of danger, constantly teetering on the brink of death. It can be blindingly frustrating, but that’s also part of what makes it such an exciting game.
Whether you try to complete a segment 10 or 100 times, it never ceases to be entertaining, especially since you have the chance to really appreciate the cyberpunk-tinged atmosphere every time you make a move. The game won’t always be on your good side, that’s for sure. But it will make sure you never feel at ease. That’s what being a cyborg ninja’s about, anyway. Ask Metal Gear Rising’s Raiden.
Booting up the isometric Ruiner gives you little fanfare. All you need to worry about is the objective thrust upon you as soon as the game begins: KILL BOSS. And you're going to follow that order to a T as you enter a futuristic version of Bangkok that looks wholly unlike how we know it today.
You're a robotic-like drone tasked with clearing out one area after another, seemingly controlled by the restrictive helmet placed on your head. There's a hacker behind your actions, and she's out for revenge. Her brother's been kidnapped by a megacorporation, and the enigmatic hacker named "Her" will stop at nothing to make sure her needs are satisfied.
Ruiner is a satisfying ballet of blood and violence that feels satisfying to jump into and play for hours at a time. You move to and fro through at a breakneck pace, slicing baddies in half in a bid to reach your next destination. It's about as dark as you'd expect from a cyberpunk adventure, and you'll want to spend plenty of time in this world.
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