Whether it’s a systematic point-and-click adaptation of Blade Runner or high-speed shooter, video games of all kinds have tried their take on the cyberpunk genre. There’s just something about the futuristic hacking, substantial body augmentation, and fighting back against megacorporations that seem to work so well in so many different types of games. With Cyberpunk 2077 on the horizon, cyberpunk is also on a lot of players’ minds right now. While we’ve still got a few months to wait for CD Projekt Red’s highly anticipated RPG, there are already lots of great cyberpunk games to let you live out your dream of hacking the planet right now.
Of all the games on this list, the Shadowrun series may be the one that most thoroughly conveys the cyberpunk aesthetic. It’s got hacking, body modification, down-on-their-luck heroes, oppressive megacorps, and tons of faux-futuristic slang thrown around for good measure. Of course, it’s also got lots of fantasy elements, from spellcasting elves to conniving dragons, which can turn off sci-fi purists. If you can stomach its genre mash-up, the three games in Harebrained Schemes’ recent series — Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and Shadowrun Hong Kong — offer exciting tactical combat, deep RPG progression, and an incredible story.
What brings Shadowrun to life is how it weaves its cast of memorable characters into the life of the cities it takes place in Seattle, Berlin, and Hong Kong. If you have to pick just one, Dragonfall is probably your best bet. It refines a lot of the systems from Shadowrun Returns and is generally considered to have the most developed characters and to set in the series.
Deus Ex series
The original Deus Ex is an all-time classic first-person cyberpunk RPG. Putting you in the shoes of JC Denton, it sets you loose to investigate a terrorist plot and fight the spread of a disease called the Gray Death before plunging you headlong into the conspiracy to end all conspiracies involving world governments, secret societies, and powerful AI. Deus Ex can feel a little clunky by today’s standards, but the unprecedented freedom to approach the game any way the player wants more than makes up for it.
If the old-school feel of the original Deus Ex isn’t to your liking, the more recent entries in the series, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, are more than competent cyberpunk adventures, modernizing the feel of the first game but unfortunately stripping out some of its complexity at the same time.
Rather than using cyberspace, AI, and body augmentation to empower its characters, Observer delves into the more frightening side of cyberpunk. This first-person horror game puts players in the role of a cybernetically enhanced detective with the ability to hack into people’s brains as the ultimate interrogation technique. Not for the faint of heart, the sometimes grisly and often terrifying Observer goes to some very dark places throughout its sci-fi detective story.
Subserial Network is a true original, both in the way the game is played and the story it tells. Launching Subserial Network opens two different windows on your desktop, and throughout the game, you’ll have to “download” files from its fictional version of the internet and run programs you find there, blurring the line between game and reality.
Taking place in a post-human world, Subserial Network turns you into a digital detective tasked with tracking down rogue programs that are trying to upload their consciousness to the internet. It tells its story through chat rooms, forums, web pages, and other ways of interacting with its decidedly non-human characters. Though everyone in the story is a machine and their way of life is entirely alien, their struggles, and the way they express them may make their concerns eerily relevant to some players.
Black Future ‘88
Black Future ‘88 uses cyberpunk more as an aesthetic than a storytelling style, but it pulls it off so well that you won’t even mind the paper-thin narrative. This fast-paced rogue-lite shooter takes place in a world that time forgot, where it’s always 1988 — or at least, an alternate reality version of 1988 heavily inflected by synth-wave music and coated in ‘80s sci-fi action movie references.
In Black Future ‘88, you choose from a handful of unlockable characters and try to climb to the top of the deadly Skymelt tower, dodging traps and blowing apart robots along the way. As you climb higher, the tower will upgrade itself with loot you leave behind, but you’ll also grow stronger by collecting weapons and augmenting your skills with powerful but poisonous drugs. Even that won’t keep you alive for long, though. Each time you start a new run in Black Future ‘88, you’re given only 18 minutes to live. If you like your cyberpunk games stylish and action-packed rather than cerebral, you can’t go wrong with Black Future ‘88.
The point-and-click adventure genre has fallen far from its heyday, but Gemini Rue proves that there’s still lots of life left in the format. It does throw a unique twist into its gameplay by including more action-oriented gunplay sequences, but what makes Gemini Rue stand out is its story.
Throughout Gemini Rue, you’ll switch perspectives between characters to explore its fascinating world from multiple perspectives. Controlling both an assassin-turned-detective and a prisoner in a shady research facility, you’ll follow two separate stories that slowly reveal one overarching mystery from different angles. Gemini Rue makes excellent use of cyberpunk tropes like altered memories and morally compromised antiheroes to tell a tale so intriguing you won’t want to pause the game until it’s finished.