A few from off the beaten path, and Blade Runner
The Big One is coming. To be fair, any game CD Projekt Red released after The Witcher 3 was going to be huge, but going with a cyberpunk theme made this a megaton release. Media of all forms have been obsessed with this genre for years, and fans gobble it up. It lets people like you and me glance luridly into the corners of our imagination where fears of shadowy evil governments, the horrors of technology, and the worst excesses of humanity all combine into a vile soup. Then you can turn the power off and pray that we never end up in that dystopian world. Play it or watch it, just hope we don’t live it.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a mere month away from release, so close we can almost taste it. Gamers everywhere are planning what weapons, body mods, and genitalia to give themselves. But until it drops we have to get our kicks with some classic cyberpunk gaming instead. There are dozens of these lists on the internet today, so I tried to find the road less traveled and recommend a few you may not have heard of, plus Blade Runner because everyone’s heard of Blade Runner.
Future Cop LAPD
This PS1 title uses a cyberpunk setting for some fun action, blasting uber-criminals in your convertible police mech through the streets of LA in 2098. Envisioning a city in flames (literally and figuratively) where criminals have the cops outgunned and out-teched, the game began life as another entry in the venerable Strike series before converting to what you see here. It controls well and is a lot of fun to play just like its brethren. With missions revolving around scenarios like “uber-criminal X turned the observatory into a plasma cannon to shoot down commercial airliners”, it’s ridiculous fun that will put you in the proper mindset for further adventures of a similar ilk.
Crusader: No Remorse/No Regret
I’ve included these two games together because they are functionally the same, the sequel (No Regret)maintaining the same real-time action and 3/4 isometric viewpoint as the first. Hailing from the days when DOS was still the prevailing game platform, these two games were the pinnacle of cyberpunk action at the time.
With an Orwellian-nightmare-come-true plot, the World Economic Consortium (WEC) has taken over from the world’s governments and subsumed the populace as drones for its evil machinations, rendering individual rights and freedoms a thing of the past. You play as The Silencer, formerly a member of the WEC enforcer squad who has gone over to the resistance group fighting against the bad guys, with the goal of ending their stranglehold on the little people of the world. Pretty standard stuff, but the action was quick, bloody, and well-made across both titles, and thus both games belong in your library.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong
Built with the bones of a popular and long-running tabletop RPG universe known as Shadowrun, Hong Kong is the most recent iteration of the digitized version of the franchise. This is a world where magic and technology, humans and orcs, all coexist together. Set in 2056 the titular city is now known as the Hong Kong Free Enterprise Zone and, as you probably guessed, the enterprise is anything but free and the city is run by evil corporations with aspirations of dominance. The downtrodden live in a slum of nightmarish proportions and conditions, replete with the flashing neon signs and gangland turf wars once can expect in such an Asian cinema-inspired landscape. Your character is part of a group investigating what is going on in the city and how it connects to the corporations, and the plot unfolds from there.
The game itself is a tactical turn-based RPG in the classic X-Com style, with action points determining what movement and actions can be undertaken in each turn. Guns, magic, and mystical characters abound, and in true RPG style, your stats and chosen upgrade paths decide whether you’re going to talk your way out of a fight or shoot your way through it. For good cyberpunk-y measure, you can take part in virtual fights inside the game’s version of the Matrix, through a process known as decking. It’s all good pulpy fun like the genre should be, and it’s a great way to spend 20–30 hours while you wait for the big-C to get here.
Blade Runner (1997)
And now we come to the Grand-Daddy of Them All, the one on the lips of anyone with even an ounce of affinity for science fiction. Ask anyone what cyberpunk “looks like” and the world of Blade Runner is likely what would come to mind: flying cars, video screens and neon wherever you look, and massive skyscrapers piercing the sky while the common folks suffer in slums at the base of those ivory towers.
Blade Runner famously traffics in one of the other main themes of cyberpunk fiction: androids (or humanoids as they are sometimes called), the artificial intelligence that powers them, and the fear of it all from the humans who created them. The game’s story runs parallel to that of the book, but the most important parts of the lore hold true for both: replicants are engineered by humans to do various tasks, but if they get out of line, a special group of police known as Blade Runners is sent to ‘retire’ them. But to retire them, the police must first find them, using the Voight-Kampff test to tell the replicants apart from humans.
The game tells an original story using those basic tenets, and is a point and click adventure game in the grand Sierra tradition. Made by none other than the creators of Command & Conquer, Westwood Studios, the game is widely considered one of the best movie-to-game adaptations and a solid adventure game to boot. You play as a Blade Runner, tasked with hunting down a group of replicants that have become dangerous to humans.
You will utilize your detective skills and various options in conversation with the potential replicants, as well as the famous Voight-Kampff test, in the hunt for your prey. The focus here is on investigation, not combat, though there is some of that on offer if the situation calls for it. Think of it as a cyberpunk L.A. Noire, but whatever you call it, just play and enjoy.
Now the video game world holds its collective breath, waiting to see if Cyberpunk 2077 can hit its most recent release date, December 10th. Until then, there is a wealth of small-c action tobe had across various eras and platforms with which to satisfy your neon-lit, corporately-dominated dystopian fantasies.