Now that Cyberpunk 2077 is delayed again until December 10th, what are you to do? You've grown a lurid blue mohawk, your leather jacket is almost worn in, and your prescription mirrorshades are ready for collection at Specsavers - but for what? You might as well use this time to explore all games cyberpunky, from edgy and nihilistic griping about how the future sucks to wacky cyberjapes that make you wanna jump up and shout HACK THE PLANET. I have some recommendations.
My appreciation for cyberpunk is broad. From the foundational movement, through the sci-fi genre it spawned, then all the way to the tropes and aesthetics which splintered off and became embedded in wider culture, I'm here for it all. I lean towards 80s/90s trashy tropeblasting myself because my youth was filled with B movies and Front Line Assembly albums but hey, whatever floats your cyberboat. To help sate your Cyberpunk 2077 yearnings, allow me to share a few games I like with cyberpunky facets, figures, tones, tropes, inspirations, and off-shoots. They're not all cyberpunk but these all build into cyberpunky feelings for me - and hell, we're decades too late to be purist about cyberpunk.
Weird and grim: Void & Meddler
Look, I am here for taking cyberpunk seriously but you've got to accept that it is also ludicrous and posturing. One of the genre's iconic characters is a 'razorgirl' mercenary with knives under her fingernails, cybereyes which look like mirrorshades, and rerouted tearducts so she has to swallow or spit out her tears on the rare occasion and she cries and c'mon now. No game I know captures the spirit of trying real hard to be edgy and cool more than this adventure game.
In Void & Meddler's grim future lives Fyn, who's been living tired and aimless without memories and is rolling the dice on one last chance to regain any strong feeling. Fyn works in a corner shop with people she hates, puts in occasional nights DJing at a club filled with human-animal hybrids and fetishwear, and does not think twice about consequences for other people. She cares so little that one puzzle solution is egging a stranger into suicide just to distract a guard so she can threaten someone else with a knife. We're meant to feel sympathy because she's a victim of an awful future but she's a right arsehole of a dystopian antihero.
I say with great affection: cyberpunk is often cynical, misanthropic, and trying really hard to be cool. I've been there, I've had the haircut, and I've grown it out. Now I want to give cyberpunk protagonists a warm smile hug and a hot cup of a tea like an aunt who understands that you're going through something but wants you to know she's there for you. It is just perfect that one of Fyn's idle animations is flicking a V to the world.
Weird and grim, for funsies: Dog Of Dracula 2
Dog Of Dracula 2 feels like the flipside of Void & Meddler: all the clichés and posturing but played for laughs.
We were a hero, once, but by the year 2000 everyone in Neuvo Tokyo is forced by the megacorps to live jacked into the cyberbahn and we're just a washed-up animal groomer with a soy sauce habit. Dog Of Dracula revels in trashy cyberpunk cliché, like a mother bird chewing up clumsy 90s stories and references then regurgitating them into our mouths as beautiful jokes. It's such a joyous and funny lampooning which shows a clear love for everything it's sending up. And it's so funny.
Dog Of Dracula 2 is free from Game Jolt.
Big tech is dehumanising: Eliza
If you really want to get into technology companies thoughtlessly doing terrible things for profit, Eliza explores the idea at agonising length.
This visual novel from Zachtronics about an AI-guided therapy system might be light on leather jackets and neon lights but it sure has a lot to say about how enthusiasm for tech and its megabucks runs roughshod over people's lives. I refer you to our Sin's Eliza review:
"The problem with the Eliza AI isn't just the awful corporate terminology — every session ends with the same sloganised spiel and starts with the same fake small talk. It's not the grotesque gamification the proxies are subjected to — you gain XP after each session, and the corporate system even has achievements (plus they lie and manipulate data anyway 'for better results'. The sheer arrogance of it). It's not even the horrible parts where you're given permission to go through clients' emails and chat logs. Oh, it's legal, and they gave it voluntarily. But they gave it in a fucking counselling session, and here you are reading a script that directs them to an EULA. It turns my stomach. But that's still not what the problem really is.
"The problem is, it's a system made by people who don't really know what it's like on the ground."
Bring on the future, baby.
HACK THE PLANET: else Heart.Break()
Hacking the planet is vital, we all know, for liberating ourselves from the joke of the corps. In else Heart.Break(), you can - and should - also hack the planet by rewriting the code of almost everything around you.
The hacker rebel hacker is a classic cyberpunk figure, mastering technology to stick it to The Man. In this open-world adventure game, your mission of truth and justice almost seems a burden when you've realised you can hack not only computers but the rules of reality. As Brendy said in our else Heart.Break() review:
"I hacked buns, beer, coffee, flowers, turtles. Once, I hacked a glass of liqueur so that it would make me smell great AND make me impossibly drunk. Then I thought: why stop there? I added the lines: 'Charisma(100)', and 'Say("Wonderful!")'. My thinking behind this last hack was that drinking the liqueur would make my character say how refreshing it was. But obviously, the code pertains to the object itself. So now I had this new superdrink that not only made me beautiful, fragrant and drunk, but also exclaimed 'Wonderful!' anytime I drank from it."
Super wizard class hackers wish they were this good.
Blade Runner rip-off: Blade Runner
You could play any number of games which draw their cyberpunk aesthetic and philosophical bent from the Blade Runner movie, or you could just play the Blade Runner game.
Westwood's 1999 adventure game runs parallel to the movie, visiting many of the same places and characters. You get to play with the magical photo-exploring machine, ask people awkward questions while staring at a big video of their eye, drive a hovercar, and wonder maybe if you're a robot too but what is humanity anyway? It's very familiar as Blade Runner but with a new cop investigating a new case of crime robots. By and large, it's a good'un, and I've enjoyed revisiting it recently.
After decades lost in the digital kipple, Blade Runner was recently rescued by a combination of ScummVM and GOG and is back on sale for £8.
Cyberspace japes: Hypnospace Outlaw
Where there are hackers, there's the 'net. And what a 'net this is, a Geocities sprawl visited by sleepers jacking in with their Hypnospace headbands. Unfortunately for them, we're an agent of The Man.
Hypnospace is a treat to explore, a 90s blast of colour and noise across homepages and webrings. As it did back in the day, it feels personal, exciting, and free. But we're here to curtail that, initially on the hunt for infringements like copyrighted images and bootleg digicurrency. But there maybe be more to Hynospace than meets the eye, and it'll take a seasoned cybercop to solve all its secrets.
Also, the song Christmas Pain In Christmas Town from one of its netizens is an absolute yuletide banger.
A crack team of covert operatives: The Red Strings Club
A bartender, an implant crafter, and a hacker must fight a megacorp. I love it when a plan comes together.
The megacorps are at it again, and the only people who can save us from brainwashing are an unlikely crew with subtle skills. Our bartender's an information broker armed with emotion-manipulating drinks, our hacker practises social engineering over a phone with voice-spoofing software, and the crafter uses a cyberlathe to spin implants that can also sneakily alter emotions. Look, the corp are trying to eliminate all negative emotions and that's bad so we get to screw with them, right? Right? As Matt got into with his The Red Strings Club review:
"It's a question the game wants you to be asking, with one sequence in particular doing an excellent job at challenging easily made assumptions about what's right and wrong. The irony of Donovan pumping people full of mind-altering chemicals in order to thwart a plot revolving around neurological manipulation isn’t lost on the characters, either. Between customers you get to chat to an ethical android called Akara, who'll quiz you on the nature of morality, humanity, technology and the links between them."
If you want philosophical pondering about technology, transhumanism, ethics, and all things cyberpunk, Red Strings is here for you.
A crack team of murderers: Syndicate's co-op
For serious wetwork, all good megacorps need an elite squad of amoral cyborg agents armed to the teeth with long coats and longer revolvers.
Hidden in a game about some nerk named Miles Kilo, the Syndicate reboot's four-player co-op mode is more fun than the outrage would let you believe. Look, it's not the new Syndicate I wanted either, but I had a great time doing terrible things with a pal. It's a strong muderborg experience, cutting through low-ranking meatbags with our high-tech weapons and abilities then facing more of a struggle against similarly augmented agents. I do like the feel of Starbreeze shooters, and all I really want in an FPS is to play a shouty lady with a chunky revolver, a pump-action shotgun, a mohawk, and rude 'tude. I wish this had been the focus of the game, not the story campaign which genuinely stars one Miles Kilo.
With Cyberpunk 2077's multiplayer not expected until 2022 at earliest, this might slake your thirst for cybermurder.
Syndicate is £8 on Origin. Wait for a sale then spring a load of gift copies on your nearest and dearest murderpals?
Tokyo-inspired cities: Yakuza 0
1980s Japan has been a huge influence on the look (and fictional histories) of cyberpunk, so why not go straight to the source?
Is it cyberpunk? No. But I think cyberficionados still might get a lot from it. Stride through nightlife districts of Tokyo and Osaka in the year 1988 as a mobster with a sharp suit and something to prove. You're just a pawn in someone else's scheme, but what's new? A seasoned cyberpunk like you is used to being used and discarded by the powers that be. Sega's open-world brawler RPG has the bustling cities you crave, the intrigue you can't help falling into, and the karaoke you long to sing. Also, one character is incredibly excited about their revolutionary shoulder-carried 'bag phone', and I can't think of anything more 80s cyberpunk than that.
Yakuza is a tonic to the nihilism and fatalism of many cyberpunky things. The two beautiful, muscular dads we play have fists of steels and hearts of gold, always willing to take a break from their serious problems to help a child in need. We may all be pawns of The Man, man, but we can be there for each other.
Yakuza 0 is £15 on Steam.
This is only a few games representing a few facets of cyberpunk I enjoy. So many more games do so much more. What would you recommend, gang? Tell us all why it gets your tactical neural implant pumping.
This article was originally posted in January.