Well, it’s 2021, and the gaming industry clearly isn’t satisfied that we’re heading towards a dark, technology dominated future. They want it now – and they’re going to keep making games about it until it happens.
Believe it or not, you’re actually spoiled for choice if you want to explore cyberpunk themes through gaming. Every entry in this list brings something a little bit different to the table, be it chill exploration, intense gunplay, or drunk anime girls. You could say that these games have no place being compared to each other – that they’re different genres united by a common theme, and no one title is better than the other.
You could say that, and I’d respond “These games have no pla-nyeh-nyeh-nyeh-nyeh-blblblb” in a mocking, sing-song tone of voice.
So, if you’ve got a bit of time to kill waiting in the ripperdoc’s office, sit down, engage those ocular implants, and download our favourite cyberpunk games of all time.
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#6: CYBERPUNK 2077
It had to be on here somewhere, and maybe the bottom rank is a little harsh. Love it or hate it, CDPROJEKTRED‘s troubled creation got the whole world talking about the cyberpunk genre – probably for the wrong reasons, but even so.
When you strip away all the hype, the bugs, and the disastrous last-gen launch, you’ve still got a quality game. Night City isn’t quite the playground we hoped it’d be, but there are brilliant stories to be found within it. If you’ve ever enjoyed Fallout 3 and beyond, you’ll probably have a pretty good time with Cyberpunk 2077. The world is beautiful for all its emptiness, and it has some ridiculously high quality sidequests.
Cyberpunk 2077 was never going to live up to the hype. Both CDPROJEKTRED and the fanbase share some blame for that, but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer. As of now, the game is in a “stable” state, and the next-gen update is surely somewhere on the horizon. You can pick it up dirt cheap, too – it’s currently under £20 on CDkeys.
So if Cyberpunk 2077 is so good, why is it at the bottom of a list populated exclusively with indie games? Well, truth be told, every other game in this list just does something a bit more uniquely interesting (and they worked immediately after purchase).
For players who like: Exploration, shooting, great storytelling, bug-induced goofiness and light RPG elements.
Not for the faint of heart, Ghostrunner is a punishing parkour adventure that challenges players to climb a dystopian tower with little besides a sword and some quick reflexes. It balances the main character’s remarkable agility with a one-hit-kill mechanic which will see you repeating a run over and over again until you get it right.
Ghostrunner is Mirror’s Edge set in a world that’s even more broken. You’re a cyborg ninja with a chip on his shoulder (well, several chips, most likely) and you’ve got to wallrun/mass murder your way up Dharma Tower to pulsing synthetic beats.
It is a ballet of death and destruction, a dance which demands perfection. Ghostrunner hits that perfect balance – it’s hard, but rarely does it feel unfair. If you’re looking for a cyberpunk game that gets straight to the point – this is the one for you.
At time of writing, Ghostrunner is free to play on Steam until the weekend! You can also pick it up at half price thanks to a Midweek Madness discount.
For players who like: A challenge, Mirror’s Edge, parkour, tight controls and firm but fair difficulty.
#4: OBSERVER: SYSTEM REDUX
Observer is quite simply the best game Bloober Team have ever made, and much like the other games on this list, approaches the cyberpunk genre in a different light. Despite being innately horrible as a concept, we don’t see an awful lot of cyberpunk horror, and thankfully Observer does an excellent job with it. System Redux is essentially the next gen update, adding ray tracing, 4K textures, and a smattering of quality of life changes.
As grizzled detective Daniel Lazarski (voiced masterfully by the late, great Rutger Hauer) you’ll explore a miserable yet fascinating apartment complex in Krakow, 2084. The twist is that Lazarski can go beyond the walls of the complex by hacking the minds of interrogation subjects, exploring the nightmarish hellscapes that lurk within shattered human psyches.
So if you’re looking for an especially dark cyberpunk tale, look no further than System Redux. It is, without a doubt, one of the most finely crafted experiences on this list, and it definitely beats out Cyberpunk 2077 and Ghostrunner when it comes to impactful world-building. You can check out our Observer: System Redux review right here for a deeper look at what it has to offer.
For players who like: Layers of Fear, Blade Runner, psychological horror, questioning reality.
Cloudpunk released in April last year, a gorgeous delivery simulator game that tasks you with delivering packages high and low throughout the sprawling city of Nivalis. It’s all brought to life through a vibrant use of voxel art, the trademark smog and neon masking the harsher edges and knitting the world together as a whole.
Honestly, Cloudpunk was pretty close to the number two spot on this list – I reviewed it earlier this year and gave it 9.5/10, the same score I awarded the number one entry. As highly as I rate Cloudpunk, though, it’s definitely not for everyone. If you love the lo-fi/cyberpunk aesthetics, you’ll probably love flying around Nivalis – for a while. The campaign is of fairly impressive length, and while the story certainly takes some dramatic turns, it’s not exactly action packed.
Cloudpunk is a game about driving around and thinking – two things that might not be at the top of your list when it comes to cool cyberpunk games. But if you’ve had enough of all the violence, it could be the perfect antidote. Developer ION LANDS released DLC in the form of City of Ghosts, a new, sequel-length story, earlier this year – it’s more of the same, which is excellent if you feel the same way about it as I do.
ION LANDS also have cyberpunk life-sim Nivalis in the works, essentially a sandbox set in the world Cloudpunk has already established. It promises business management, food-growing, fishing, home decoration and social interactions. Promising stuff – we’ll have to wait and see how it holds up.
For players who like: Driving, philosophy, walking simulators, storytelling.
#2: VA-11 HALL-A
Sukeban Games originally released VA-11 HALL-A in 2016, but it’s developed in such a way that it’s essentially timeless, and as such, deserves a place of pride on this list. It’s quirky, it’s beautiful in that “lo-fi beats to ____ to” sort of way. As you spend your days tending to the bar at VA-11 HALL-A (nicknamed Valhalla by those who frequent it), you’ll uncover funny, interesting and poignant personal stories.
You don’t make choices, you make drinks – and these might just shape the lives of your patrons as they all navigate the lonely yet impossibly crowded perils of life in Glitch City. VA-11 HALL-A outranks all the other fantastic entries on this list purely because of how unique and personal it is – for all the bombastic sci-fi elements cyberpunk carries with it, there’s plenty of human comedy and tragedy to explore too.
For players who like: Quirky humour, strong narratives, bartending, anime.
#1: THE ASCENT
The Ascent is without a doubt the most impressive game I’ve played this year. It’s a glorious fusion of Diablo and Borderlands, set against an incredibly grim cyberpunk world on the brink of collapse. The Ascent is really interesting because it’s much further in the future than we usually see in the genre – if you think less Blade Runner‘s slick, neon dashed cities, more Mass Effect meets Warhammer 40K, you have a pretty good idea of the vibe it puts out.
I feel like The Ascent has turned me into even more of a desperate cyberpunk evangelist – I haven’t yet been able to enlist any friends to shoot the everliving crap out of Veles yet, but I’m not going to stop asking until someone does. This is a game with heaps of potential, and perhaps most important, the skill/discipline necessary to back that potential up.
The Ascent doesn’t just talk a big game, it is a big game, and I really hope developers Neon Giant make the most of their astounding success. It’s buggy in places (seriously beginning to think this is all one big cyberpunk meta-joke at this point) but certainly not enough to warrant holding out on it. Definitely not enough to justify pulling it from digital storefronts, cough, cough.
The Ascent is some of the best cyberpunk fun you can have, an incredible world packed with dark detail, rich lore and tons of fun. Admittedly you will be solving most of your problems with piles of bullets – there’s no room for stealth on Veles – but mixing things up with different tactical abilities and augmentations will keep it fresh for The Ascent’s entire runtime.
I’ve already linked to our review, but you can check it out here if you’re still not sold on it.
For players who like: Diablo, Borderlands, twin-stick shooters, Mass Effect, 40K.
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