Hackers. Androids. Body Augmentation. Political conspiracies. Neon. Since cyberpunk's inception in the early '80s, the anarchist trappings of the genre have taken root in culture, resulting in influential and ridiculously stylish works across all mediums – including video games. Observer, a unique cyberpunk horror game that feels like a combination of Blade Runner and Silent Hill, launched today (spoiler: it's pretty great) so what better time than now to take a look at the best cyberpunk games of past and present? We ranked these games by their influence, whether they have (or will) stand the test of time, and how they use the genre's strengths to create intriguing, unique gameplay.
With that in mind, let's get to it injustice-fighting cyberpunks.
Years before Starbreeze rebooted this series as a stylish and violent first-person shooter, Syndicate was a strategy game by Bullfrog, the makers of Dungeon Keeper and Magic Carpet, that pitted corporations against each other in a grim future. You controlled a squad of four cyborgs and sent them into various competitors' bases to steal their resources, kidnap their personnel, and cause all kinds of havoc in order to conquer more corporations and take over more territory. Syndicate's disturbing but tactically deep gameplay remains fresh, and its seemingly simple narrative was actually ahead of its time, encouraging you to play not as a do-gooder but a scummy tactician willing to do anything to get the job done. Nearly two decades later and Syndicate remains one of the most influential cyberpunk games. Even better, it's still fun to play.
9. Shadowrun Returns
Shadowrun made a huge splash when it released for the Super Nintendo in 1993, becoming one of the most important RPGs of its time as well as an essential cyberpunk video game. Unfortunately, the license didn't result in many more interesting video games for a while. Microsoft's 2007 multiplayer centric "reboot" lacked so much of what made the original game and its rich world so fascinating. However, in 2012, indie developer Harebrained Schemes Kickstarted a proper revival. An isometric RPG, Shadowrun Returns wisely used the original game's world while also setting off on its own path, with an open-ended system that let players navigate this future on their own terms. Want to be a wise-cracking Orc who talks through every difficult situation? Or an Elven hacker who can also throw down when it's brawlin' time? Shadowrun Returns has something for everyone but is particularly interesting to D&D fan who love crafting stories and characters with the tools provided.
Taking the reins on a beloved franchise is a Herculean task but Harebrained Schemes more than delivered on its promise to bring Shadowrun's fusion of fantasy and cyberpunk back to the spotlight. Two expansion packs, Dragonfall and Hong Kong, also greatly increased the amount of content of the base game and are worth playing as well.
The most recent entry on this list, Observer is unique even within the realm of cyberpunk because it doesn't use the familiar neon-lit urban sprawl to tell a story about the horrors of body augmentation and economic despair. Instead, Observer is a claustrophobic game that takes place in 'the stacks,' a rundown apartment complex where monsters of both flesh and the mind await you as you search for your missing son and take on a corporate conspiracy. Filled with jump scares, plot revelations, creepy set-pieces galore, Observer is the best of both worlds for fans of horror and sci-fi. Also, the game has Rutger Hauer, who played the android Roy Batty in Blade Runner, voicing the protagonist. Can't beat that with a dismembered replicant arm. For more on Observer, check out my review.
7. Invisible, Inc.
This much can be said about developer Klei Entertainment: They never make the same game twice. After having players sneak their way through Mark of the Ninja and try and survive for as long as possible in Don't Starve, Klei took them to the future, casting them as a tactician in the futuristic espionage-filled world of 2074. A mix of XCOM's high-stakes strategy and Syndicate's cruel corporation themes, Invisible, Inc. has carved out a name for itself as a challenging rogue-like strategy game. As a member of a private intelligence agency, you must build up a team of spies, hackers, and other operatives to take on greedy corporations hell-bent on controlling the world. Boasting Klei's beautiful animated art style and satisfying tactical gameplay, Invisible Inc. is sure to delight strategy fans and sci-fi rebel wannabes alike.
Supergiant's follow-up to Bastion retained the top-down look of the incredibly successful indie, but traded fantasy for science-fiction. Players take on the role of a mute former songstress named Red who wields a giant talking sword as she navigates the futuristic city of Cloudbank. Transistor's enigmatic storytelling and its tactical battle system are equally engaging, letting you use powers called functions in battle to defeat a robot army controlled by corrupt city officials know as Camerata. Though the battles can get repetitious toward the end, Transistor is ultimately, as Matt Miller wrote in his review, a trek "into a strange and enchanting world."
For the cream of the cybercrop, head over to the second page.