In our reviews of Cyberpunk 2077 (one for each lifepath), we noted that the game definitely has the genre look but didn't quite seem to have the right genre feel. It's not just about the elements being present, but their effective deployment in creating the right atmosphere and tone. CD Projekt RED's opus is definitely an addition to the genre, but hardly a definitive one. It's been done before, and it's been done better.
Here's our picks for ten games that better represent the cyberpunk genre.
Honorable Mentions: VA-11 Hall-A, Meat Puppet, SiN, Mirror's Edge, Perfect Dark, Remember Me, Satellite Reign, Observer, Ripper
10. Shadow Watch
This one is kind of "on the line," but it's future forward enough to create a sense of separation from our current world, while also touching on the question of corporate security forces. True, you're playing part of those forces, but you're also working for a reasonably altruistic reason. It doesn't quite hit on the more dystopian elements, very much a "cyberpunk lite" sort of title. But the vibe for Shadow Watch, however subdued, is there.
9. Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive
Forget the FMV kitsch and Roswell Conspiracy elements, The Pandora Directive is almost "post-cyberpunk," but the mix of high tech tools and lowlife film noir elements puts it firmly in the genre. More than any other game on this list, it takes into account a radically altered ecological environment, an element which is sometimes hinted at in other works, but actually shapes the environment and the characters in this one.
8. Blade Runner
No, this isn't a mis-post from our sister site FlickLuster. There was a Blade Runner game, developed by Westwood Studios (creators of the Command & Conquer RTS series). Serving as a side story to Ridley Scott's iconic film, players are working the same rainy streets of Los Angeles, circa 2019. And you're doing the same dirty job as Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard: hunting down replicants and "retiring" them. The game won the Interactive Academy of Arts and Sciences' Adventure Game of The Year award, keeping the spirit of the film while also being a good game with multiple endings. It had a tough act to follow, and it did a man's job all the way through.
7. Uplink: Hacker Elite
Computers and hacking have been a major element of the cyberpunk genre since Neuromancer came out. So it's not surprising that you can play as a console cowboy. Comparatively speaking, Uplink is somewhat narrow in its focus, but that is very much to its benefit. Anything which is not directly involved in pulling a hack is extraneous, which definitely describes more than a few hackers out there in the real world. No, it doesn't have a fancy VR interface or anything like that. But it does give you the feeling of being a digital highwayman.
6. Beneath A Steel Sky
This point-and-click adventure game, much like The Pandora Directive, could almost be called post-cyberpunk. Yet the themes of hyper-urbanization, grotesque disparity between haves and have-nots, and the equally distasteful choice of corrupt corporations or Big Brother-style government which is often found in the genre is definitely on display here. The fact that the game's visuals were done by award winning comic book artist Dave Gibbons (Watchmen) certainly doesn't hurt. It's a little short on the chrome and neon you might expect, but it's definitely got the tone down cold.
5. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots
Despite being set not too far into the future (based on its original release date), there's a lot of cyberpunk elements to be found in this particular instalment of the series. From subtle bits like Old Snake's "Octo-Camouflage" suit and the notion of "smart" weapons tagged to the owner, to the more radical stuff like an AI running PMCs and the elaborate cybernetic prosthetics some of the bosses are running around with, it hints at the "low intensity conflicts" which are often mentioned in various pieces in the genre but are rarely, if ever, spoken about. If you had to give a good reason for Hideo Kojima showing up in Cyberpunk 2077, then MGS 4 is probably the best one you could come up with.
4. Crusader: No Remorse
It's all too easy to dismiss this one as a big dumb action game, particularly with its somewhat campy storyline and over-the-top writing. That being said, it does show how one can play with the genre for a giggle, even a slightly nervous giggle. It's also probably one of the best executions of a character forging their own destiny in spite of the crapsack circumstances they're stuck in. Campy or not, we're rooting for the character not because we're controlling them, but because we believe in them.
3. System Shock
This is one of the heavyweights of the genre when it comes to video games. Some might argue it falls into the post-cyberpunk bucket since it's set in space. But when you consider that it's dealing with a megalithic corporation, shady executives, and an AI which is batshit insane and horrifically well armed, and you've got yourself some pretty strong cyberpunk going on here. System Shock carved out a niche in gaming that gave players something more than just shiny chrome and neon lights. It gave us a deeply thoughtful game wrapped up in the trappings of a "mindless" shooter.
2. Deus Ex
Without System Shock, there would be no Deus Ex. And yet, I would argue that between the two, Deus Ex is the better game. The newer entries in the series are nothing to write home about, but the original game remains a landmark in the industry and in the genre. Some might decry the whole "ancient conspiracies" angle, but it stands to reason that if a conspiracy wants to stay quiet, it has to adapt to the times or make the times adapt to its desires. It came out at a very unique time, when the Internet was still novel and the idea of oppressive government security was still a laughable hypothetical. But this game stripped away the novelty and got at least some people thinking about how easily the boots could come down.
1. Syndicate (1993)
Yes, I'm talking about the original Syndicate, not the weak sauce shooter that ruined its good name. Probably the first cyberpunk game to put you on the other side of the power equation, and showing you just how fragile that power really was. Yes, you were playing a ruthless corporate bastard who enslaved random strangers (and occasionally VIPs), destroyed their body autonomy by stuffing them full of cybernetic prosthetics, and sent them on suicide missions with an absolute disregard for collateral damage. All for profit and world domination, in that order. But if you screw up, particularly in the early stages, you're gone. This is how the Corpo Lifepath should have gone.
What did we miss? What's your take on the games that did better service to the genre? Tell us below or hit us up on Twitter!