Perhaps you may have heard that CD Projekt Red is working on a game called Cyberpunk 2077, an RPG based on a tabletop game called Cyberpunk 2020. With the pre-release marketing serving to intensify the hype surrounding this title, which is amusingly enough set to come out in 2020, it is becoming increasingly difficult to wait for the release date to arrive. In the meantime, why not try out some other cyberpunk games?
Like any other genre, not all representatives are born equal. Furthermore, what qualifies as cyberpunk is often debatable, although there are certain criteria that must be met for a project to be considered. Primarily, cyberpunk envisions a future where cybernetics and electronics have developed to an incredibly high level, becoming ingrained into every facet of life. Conversely, the standard of living of the average person is not up to scratch and there is a vast gulf between those in power and the common folk.
Here are the five best cyberpunk games not created by CD Projekt Red and also five of the subgenre's worst offerings.
10 Best: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers
This entry is somewhat questionable, as Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is far from Atlus' best Megami Tensei game; in fact, it ranks among the weakest in the franchise. Obviously, it is still a pretty decent monster-catching RPG, one that offers a fun mix of puzzle-solving and turn-based combat. The first-person dungeon crawling can get a bit tedious, while the fact monsters do not gain levels and must be constantly fused gets tiresome after a point.
While the franchise has produced superior games (Shin Megami Tensei IV, just to name one), Soul Hackers has the most fully realized cyberpunk setting. The campaign takes place in the futuristic Amami City, where everything has been connected to a single network and people spend their time relaxing in a virtual world. The story is not brilliant but Soul Hackers has a great sense of atmosphere and a solid cast.
9 Worst: Judge Dredd: Dredd Vs. Death
Judge Dredd has a rather spotty track record when it comes to video game adaptations, with many falling on the side of terrible. Dredd vs. Death is a bizarre first-person shooter that has the bones of something passable but is held back by braindead AI and combat that uses gore to mask its otherwise unspectacular gameplay mechanics.
As most presumably know, 2000AD's Judge Dredd takes place in Mega-City One, an overcrowded metropolis where crime is so rampant that special officers were commissioned to act as judges, juries, and executioners. At best, Dredd vs. Death has a few impressive backdrops which do justice to the comics, but they are few and far in-between.
8 Best: Shadowrun: Dragonfall
Shadowrun is a quintessential cyberpunk franchise, starting out as a tabletop RPG before being adapted into novels and video games. An argument can definitely be made that 1993's original deserves a spot on this list, but 2014's Dragonfall may be an easier entry point for those looking to dip their toes into this series.
Shadowrun's universe is fascinating, combining advanced technology with magic while revolving around a group that specializes in stealing data from megacorporations. Dragonfall takes place in Berlin and focuses on a Shadowrunner who is betrayed during a mission, setting the stakes for a thrilling story that asks many complex questions along the way. The tactical turn-based combat is also quite challenging and fun, especially for those who enjoy games like Invisible Inc.
7 Worst: Akira
There are multiple ways to experience Akira. Katsuhiro Otomo's manga is obviously the original and definitive version, but 1988's anime is also a landmark release for the Japanese industry and the cyberpunk subgenre. Both versions hold up brilliantly and make the most of their Neo-Tokyo setting where gang violence and human experimentation is the name of the game.
Speaking of games, TOSE's Akira is awful. As a precursor to the visual novel, Akira is held-back by graphics that are simply incapable of animating the required emotions to sell the story, while the gameplay boils down to occasionally making a choice that doesn't amount to much in the long run.
6 Best: Ruiner
A slightly more recent entry, 2017's Ruiner is a top-down shooter that boasts visceral melee combat, a plethora of ranged weapons, and stunning visuals that contrast vibrant colors with traditional dingy cyberpunk environments. The year is 2091 and the city of Rengkok is under the thumb of a megacorporation known as Heaven, with the city being split into sections run by different (but universally violent) gangs.
Puppy, the silent protagonist, only wants to rescue his brother from the clutches of Heaven, although he ends up getting dragged into a coup attempt. Along the way, a lot of blood will be spilled.
5 Worst: Bomberman: Act Zero
Change can be good. Survival necessitates a willingness to adapt to the passage of time, even if sticking to the same old formula sounds far safer. Nintendo's flagship franchises have shown that it is more than feasible to innovate while remaining true to a license's roots; unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Bomberman: Act Zero.
Dropping the cute aesthetic typically associated with Bomberman for a dark and lifeless cyberpunk visual style, Act Zero looks ugly while also being frustrating to play. Cyberpunk primarily works when the story immerses players into the world, so they can understand the sociopolitical climate that governs this twisted reality. Act Zero is mainly set in bland arenas, permitting absolutely nothing to be learned about this universe.
4 Best: Deus Ex
Arguably the definitive cyberpunk game, Deus Ex embodies the moral dilemmas associated with the subgenre better than nearly every other game. With new skills being unlocked through nanotechnology that can be tailor-made to suit a user's playstyle, Deus Ex is a brilliant first-person shooter, a deep RPG, and a thought-provoking critique of social class.
Due to an illness known as the "Gray Death," the population is dying out at an alarming rate, with the sparse cure being limited to those higher up society's food chain. JC Denton works for UNATCO, a task force enlisted by the United Nations to take down terrorist acts carried out by the unchosen many. Human Revolution and Mankind Divided are also fantastic.
3 Worst: James Cameron's Dark Angel
Yes, it counts! Dark Angel has all the essential ingredients to qualify as cyberpunk: Artificially enhanced soldiers, a shadow corporation, a world ravished by an electromagnetic attack that ruined most technology, and a protagonist who loves to wear black. The TV series is quite a lot of fun, but there is a reason 2002's video game adaptation is forgotten.
In all fairness, James Cameron's Dark Angel's one high-point is its Seattle setting, which genuinely fills lived-in. The walls are lined with detailed graffiti, the character models embrace the punk aesthetic, and the story is solid. Unfortunately, the beat 'em up combat is immediately stale, with the gameplay loop only being broken by some of the worst stealth sections ever.
2 Best: System Shock 2
If there is one game worthy of standing above Deus Ex, System Shock 2 has to be it. 1994's System Shock introduced the world to one of gaming's greatest villains, SHODAN, an AI in charge of a space station who decides to eliminate humanity after a hacker removes the computer's moral component.
Somehow, the sequel manages to improve on the original in nearly every way, further fine-tuning the RPG mechanics while maintaining its predecessor's horror tone. Once again, the player must navigate a terrifying starship packed with SHODAN's bioengineered subjects. System Shock 2 is perfect in every way and should be considered a must-play for anyone remotely interested in gaming.
1 Worst: Rise 2: Resurrection
Rise of the Robots' premise is basically a mix of The Terminator, just with the robots resembling mechas rather than Austrian bodybuilders, and RoboCop, in the form a protagonist who has a robotic body but a human mind.
Nevertheless, the lore is not terrible. Set in 2043, the world's leading megacorporation, Electrocorp, designs the ultimate supercomputer so the company can keep up with society's ever-growing demands. Alas, the AI is infected by a virus and gains sentience, leading to a robot revolution and not-RoboCop setting out on a mission to take down the supercomputer.
The derivative premise is tied to a clunky and unsatisfying fighting game that makes terrible use of an expansive roster. Fighting games live and die by their combat, and Rise 2: Resurrection is as cold as an ice cube. Weirdly enough, Brian May actually wrote the theme songs for Rise of the Robots and its sequel.