With Cyberpunk 2077’s private E3 gameplay demo now out in the wild, hype for CD Projekt Red’s follow up to The Witcher III has reached a new high. Streamed on Twitch, the demo showed off around 45 minutes of gameplay footage to an estimated 460,000 viewers. According to GamesIndustry.biz (opens in new tab), this massive audience became the largest for an upcoming game so far this year, and made CyberPunk 2077 the seventh most-watched game of 2018.
Clearly, the diverse open-world of Night City has fans clamoring for all the dystopia and body modification promised by the cyberpunk genre. Based on the 1988 RPG simply called Cyberpunk, CDPR’s game takes place in a not-too-distant future where the world is controlled by massive corporations, and people are just as much machine as they are human. Crime and violence abound in this city, and it’s up to the player to make their way through the world and confront the corporate threat.
With no release date set in stone, however, it’s unknown how long we’ll have to wait to jack into Cyberpunk 2077. Luckily, the cyberpunk genre is filled to the brim with excellent titles to play in the meantime. Below are nine games that offer up their own versions of a dystopian future and corporate oppression.
Essentially a cyberpunk XCOM, Invisible, Inc. drops players into the cyber-shoes of a resistance group dedicated to fighting against the world’s corporate overlords. Players choose the order in which to tackle procedurally-generated missions while outfitting their team with mods that enhance their ability to bypass security, hack control panels, and knock out enemies. Successfully completing a mission rewards you with new ways to upgrade your cybernetic soldiers, from giving them more actions in a turn to increasing the number of turns downed enemies stay unconscious for.
The most novel element of Invisible, Inc. comes in the form of Incognita, an all-purpose AI that players can leverage during missions. Serving as a way for players to interact with the level, Incognita can remotely hack security cameras, distract or lure guards, and even give your team extra actions for a turn. One of the most impressive tactical games in recent years, Invisible, Inc. has something for strategy buffs and cyberpunks alike.
Blade Runner laid much of the foundation for what the cyberpunk genre would become, so it’s only fitting that Observer takes most of its cues from the iconic 1982 film. You take on the role of detective Daniel Lazarski, who’s played by Rutger Hauer, one of the stars of the movie. In Observer, a digital plague has killed off a huge portion of the population, and the corporation Chriton has taken the opportunity to swoop in and take over. Lazarski is a Chriton agent, and one day a call from his estranged son kicks off a mind-bending thriller.
Observer tasks players with investigating various crime scenes by hacking into the minds of victims and witnesses. As much a psychological thriller as it is a cyberpunk story of oppression, Observer makes liberal use of ambient sound and visual misdirection to ensure that the player never feels comfortable in the world. It’s a cyberpunk experience unlike any that came before, which is high praise considering the pedigree of the rest of this list.
Deus Ex series
In 2000, developer Ion Storm redefined what a cyberpunk video game could be with Deus Ex. The game is a blend of first-person shooter and RPG with an emphasis on player choice. Missions present multiple paths to victory, from stealth to outright firefights. This sandbox-style approach to level design is a philosophy still employed today.
Despite taking place in an imagined future, the Deus Ex series uses real-world organizations and settings to build its in-game fiction. The Knights Templar, the Illuminati, and more are all referenced. Social prejudice is also an element of the Deus Ex story, as those possessing body augmentations are often looked down upon by society.
System Shock 2
Before BioShock, Ken Levine and Irrational Games made their mark with 1999’s System Shock 2. A sequel to the 1994 game by Looking Glass Technologies, System Shock 2 is an atmospheric shooter-RPG hybrid that sees players facing off against malevolent AI SHODAN aboard a derelict space station. Cyberpunk sensibilities abound, as SHODAN is known to experiment with methods of bioengineering that merge human with machine.
The influence of System Shock 2 reaches beyond the cyberpunk genre. Irrational’s brand of storytelling has since become the standard by which other games are often measured, and the tense, survival horror-esque gameplay remains a mainstay in immersive sims to this day.
Billed as a ‘cyberpunk Hotline Miami’, Ruiner is a top-down action game awash in brutality and dystopia. The corporation known as Heaven rules over the city of Rangkok, where the protagonist must rescue his kidnapped brother. With the help of some less-than-trustworthy voices in his head, he takes on wave after wave of enemies in this bloody adventure.
Ruiner’s gameplay is standard twin-stick shooter fare, but the variety of weapons, and boss encounters, keep things feeling fresh for the most part. The story is unfortunately bland and cliched, but the brutal combat and interesting enemy design make Rangkok a destination worth visiting at least once.
In 2012, developer Harebrained Schemes raised nearly $2 million (£1.5 million) on Kickstarter to bring Shadowrun Returns to life. A CRPG revival of the classic franchise, Shadowrun Returns puts players into the role of a shadowrunner looking to solve the murder of their old accomplice. Battles are turn-based and take place on a grid similar to XCOM, and there are many different character classes available, such as the decker, street samurai, and the rigger.
In 2014, a standalone expansion was released. Dragonfall was an entirely new campaign set in Berlin, and starred a new cast of characters. The critical reception of Dragonfall was significantly better than the base game, but taken as an entire package Shadowrun Returns packs a lot of cyberpunk hours into one of the best CRPGs in recent years.
Transistor begins with main character Red removing a talking sword from a dead body. What follows is an enthralling and stylish story of isolation, corporate greed, and romance. Gameplay is a mixture of turn-based and real-time action that defies most conventional labels, and requires both quick reflexes and savvy planning.
Superb voicework keeps the story moving forward at a steady pace. The city of Cloudbank is designed in such a way that the player somehow feels both a part of something greater and also incredibly alone; a delicate balance that speaks to the skills of developer Supergiant Games. It was recently announced that the game is coming to the Nintendo Switch, so now is a good time to give it a play.
1993’s Syndicate is a tactical game of covert operations. Each mission puts the player in control of a group of cyborgs bent on world domination through territory control and a series of assassinations. Having you play as a corporation in a cyberpunk future is a change of pace for the genre, and the game’s emphasis on the micro-management of economy and soldier upgrades puts it in the company of strategy games like Civilization.
In 2012, the Syndicate series saw a reboot in the form of a first-person shooter. It received middling reviews, but it’s worth playing if you’re looking for a tight shooter and an admittedly-generic cyberpunk story.
2015’s Technobabylon manages to stand apart from other cyberpunk adventure games thanks to memorable characters and a terrific story. The plot revolves around an evil AI that controls the city of Newton, and a serial killer known only as The Mindjacker.
Technobabylon is filled with unexpected plot twists, and enough clever puzzles to satisfy fans of old-school point-and-click adventures. The city of Newton feels real and lived-in, and the game’s three protagonists are flawed and human, their decisions weighty. If you’re looking for a cyberpunk getaway ripe with intrigue, Technobabylon is surely your destination.