For many, the genre of cyberpunk is one of great possibilities. Often pushing the boundaries of modern technology alongside picking at the strains of society, cyberpunk has been used to explore very human themes in tech-focused ways to great effect.
Although many of the best examples of cyberpunk fall into the realms of literature and film, the genre has also been the focus of some phenomenal video games over the years. Here’s Game Rant’s picks of the best cyberpunk video games of all time.
Blade Runner is ending its 35-year hiatus on the silver screen this year with the release of Blade Runner 2049, but this beloved adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? did not remain entirely in the realm of film. In fact, alongside a series of spin-off novels, there were two Blade Runner video games released.
One of these, released in 1997 by Westwood Studios, proved to be an excellent example of cyberpunk in action. An adventure game at its core, it included voice work from much of the original movie’s cast for added authenticity, and told a detailed and interesting story with thirteen different possible endings to boot.
Developer Bullfrog Productions was once synonymous with the world of strategy games, holding a firm grip on the genre through the likes of Dungeon Keeper, Populous, and the Theme games. However, one of the darkest turns for the studio also turned out to be one of its most memorable, with the cyberpunk-focused Syndicate games.
Although the original Syndicate is undoubtedly a classic, it’s the sequel Syndicate Wars that truly realised the potential of the series, with huge advancements in the overall tactical gameplay and setting. The series would eventually see a return as a shooter in 2012, but there’s no getting away from those excellent strategy roots.
Released back in 2015, tactical stealth game Invisible, Inc. immediately struck a chord with gamers, with heavily stylized graphics and some great stealth gameplay. Mixing in roguelike elements alongside XCOM-esque turn-based strategy, it’s easy to see why this title from Klei Entertainment became such an indie darling upon release.
However, it’s in its cyberpunk elements where the game truly shines. Taking on the role of an operator for agents working for the titular espionage agency, Invisible, Inc. has plenty of elements that fans of cyberpunk are bound to enjoy, from its neon stylings through to its AI-centric plot.
Released earlier this year, Observer takes a more horror-focused look at the ideas of cyberpunk. Set in a world where the police have the authority to hack into people’s minds, the player takes on the role of a detective investigating his estranged son’s apartment block, and there are some disturbing things to find.
Delivering a heavy experience, and set in Poland after a ‘digital plague’ has killed thousands and cybernetics are rampant, the title is certainly one for gamers after a tense experience. Although Observer may not reach its full potential, there’s a wealth of excellent content here, with genuinely tense gameplay and some very deep themes to explore.
The Shadowrun series of games has been a long-standing part of cyberpunk culture for many years. Starting as a tabletop role-playing game, Shadowrun manages to perfectly blend the worlds of science fiction and magical fantasy through a cyberpunk lens, and has gathered itself a huge following in the process.
With that success comes, of course, video game adaptations, and it’s hard to look past 2012’s Shadowrun Returns in terms of quality. Bringing the series back to its RPG roots after a botched attempt at a multiplayer shooter a few years earlier, Shadowrun Returns almost perfectly encapsulated the tabletop game, leading to a number of further releases.
Transistor is proof that cyberpunk games can be downright beautiful. With a wonderful art style and a vibrant palette, this game from the creators of Bastion understandably gained itself hugely positive reviews upon release, even winning awards in the process.
It’s easy to see why, too. Alongside the stunning graphics and wonderful soundtrack, the action RPG manages to fluidly combine live-action combat with the ability to stop time and plan out further steps, and has a touching story that lasts long in the memory.
Nothing quite encapsulates the idea of cyberpunk like hacker culture gone awry, and there have been a number of games over the years that have tried to tap into this notion, with a shout out more than deserved for 2001’s Uplink. However, it’s perhaps 2015’s Hacknet that best shows off how much fun simulated hacking can be.
Indeed, Hacknet certainly feels authentic, and there’s an incredible level of engagement to be found in the game’s text-based console. With discussions over the power of hacking wrapped around the hints of a larger conspiracy, this title is certainly one to try out.
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
This adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s 1967 short story of the same name has gained itself a cult following since its release in 1995, and with good reason. Indeed, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is one of the most unnerving video game experiences that can be had, and it has hardly been dampened by age.
Set in a world where humanity has all but been made extinct by an evil supercomputer, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream follows the last few surviving humans as they are tortured by the computer AM. Making incredible use of point-and-click mechanics, this title is definitely one of the best unknown horror games available.
System Shock 2
The System Shock series has more than earned its keep as a great example of cyberpunk in gaming. Mixing together threads surrounding rogue AI and the dangers of technology with intricate cybernetic gameplay mechanics, the two titles still have a strong following to this day, while the upcoming third System Shock‘s interest in VR could certainly pose some interesting questions.
Although the first System Shock certainly has a place in gaming history, it’s fair to say that System Shock 2 surpasses the original. Amping up the danger and the scares, and including some of the most shocking moments from villainous AI SHODAN, there’s a reason why System Shock 2 gains fond memories from those that play it.
When in comes to cyberpunk games, it’s impossible not to talk about Deus Ex. The game, which was released in 2000, was as innovative as they come, implementing some incredible mechanics for a game of its time and showcasing gameplay that users had quite simply never seen before. When the title’s truly engaging plot is also taken into consideration, it became an almost immediate classic.
Since then, Deus Ex has expanded into sequels, with the relatively recent releases of Human Revolution and Mankind Divided earning plaudits and the appreciation of fans. Although Deus Ex may now be on hiatus, here’s hoping that the series will return for a much-needed upgrade sooner rather than later.
That brings us to the end of our countdown of the best cyberpunk games available. Hopefully, among the titles listed above will be a game suitable to meet any cyberpunk needs a gamer may have. As always, be sure to let us know in the comments if there are any other cyberpunk games you would like to have seen included.