With Shadowrun Hong Kong and Satellite Reign both primed to launch, spicing up our dreary meatspace lives, and let’s not forget Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – which we got to see for this first time this summer – I thought maybe I could fatten you all up with even more neon-infused cyber romps in the form of this here list of the best cyberpunk games on PC.
This is not an exhaustive list of every cyberpunk game, but it contains some of the most fascinating and sometimes weird cyberpunk games you could hope to get your inquisitive hands on. It’s time to dust off your decks and trenchcoats and head out into the rain.
Best cyberpunk game based on a novel
It would be rude to write about cyberpunk without making sure to name drop Neuromancer and author William Gibson pretty quickly. Neuromancer is the cyberpunk novel, giving us the word “cyberspace” and a new style of science fiction.
Neuromancer the game isn’t quite as massively influential, but remains an interesting adventure game. It’s loosely based on the novel, but spins a new yarn with a console cowboy searching for missing hacker buddies.
The game’s split between hanging out in Chiba city and taking trips into cyberspace to fight countermeasure programs and dangerous all in an effort to find the source of the protagonists vanishing chums and hits a lot of the themes from the novel.
It’s a 1988 adventure game, though, so if you do fancy taking it for a spin, be prepared for a shitty interface, arbitrary deaths and bit of a challenge.
Buyer’s guide: Neuromancer is abandonware, so you’re going to need to use your Google skills for this one. You can find it for download on a lot of abandonware sites.
Best cyberpunk game where you can be a dwarf hacker
Shadowrun is a proper weirdo. Elves and Orcs and magic spliced with hacking and street samurais and giant corporations – it’s Tolkien mixed with Gibson, and it’s bloody marvelous. And it’s a great pen & paper game, but you’re not here for that.
Dragonfall is an expansion to Hairbrained Schemes’ Shadowrun Returns, and improves on it in almost every way. Set in New Berlin, you control a group of shadowrunners, each with their own fleshed out backstories and rich personalities, as they attempt to… well, it’s a mystery, so you’re better off finding out for yourself.
What I can tell you, without spoiling things, is that you will spend most of your time infiltrating various facilities, employing firearms, magic, summoned spirits, robots to get what you want. Oh yes, and you’ll be able to venture into cyberspace, where you’ll fight AI programs in an effort to hack into critical systems.
Building a character is a real joy. You can be a surly Dwarf rigger, master of wee robots, whose knowledge of the shadowy underworld helps him handle criminals, or a virtuous Orc street samurai with contacts in the big corps. How you progress your character will open some doors, but close others.
Best cyberpunk game about working for 'the man'
Most cyberpunk games put you in the role of someone outside of the manipulative, corporate system, but the original Syndicate put you in charge of a group of cyborg mercenaries working for the man.
In Syndicate Wars, you can work for both the man, EuroCorp, or a group of religious zealots trying to start a revolt. The end result is the same: shit gets blown up, people get mind-controlled, and all the normal folk suffer. It’s great!
It’s one of those games that deserves the accolade “ahead of its time” offering fully destructive sandboxes and so many ways to tackle missions. This is a game where you can level city blocks with nuclear weapons and manipulate entire crowds of innocent people.
Satellite Reign, one of the upcoming games that inspired this list, is very much a spiritual successor to the Syndicate series, so if this sounds like your cup of cybertea, keep an eye out for that this month.
Buyer’s guide: You can pick it up on GOG.
Best cyberpunk game based on a movie based on a book
Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece is probably the most well known piece of cyberpunk fiction, even more famous than Neuromancer. So of course the adventure game spin off would end up on this list. It helps that it’s also brilliant.
Westwood’s Blade Runner is not a direct adaptation, instead spinning a story that runs parallel to the film, putting you in the role of rookie Blade Runner, Ray McCoy, on the trail of some replicants. It hits many of the film’s notes, though, and is blessed with an abundance of atmosphere and, at the time, impressive backdrops and character models.
An adventure game though it may be, Westwood defied most genre conventions. Blade Runner was not about puzzles and the world changed in real-time instead of putting the player right at the centre of things, so you can miss things if you choose to visit or not visit certain locations at specific times. The game also changes around who is and isn’t a replicant, inviting multiple playthroughs.
As McCoy, you explore crime scenes and interrogate LA’s denizens, choosing how to approach each situation. You can be aggressive, sympathetic, chatty – whatever you think will get you the information you need. And how you act determines how the game concludes. It’s a great reminder of how adventure games were always evolving and in many ways drove PC tech before their fall from grace and subsequent resurrection.
Buyer’s guide: Sadly Blade Runner’s original assets are all gone, and there’s no digital version, so you’ll need to shop around and get an old physical copy. Try your luck on Amazon or eBay.
Best cyberpunk game featuring special future-trousers
In Gunpoint, you’re a private detective with fancy future-trousers that allow you to leap like a frog – isn’t life great? No. You might have fancy trousers, but you’re also down on your luck (of course) and about to get in over your head (duh).
Tom Francis’ extremely clever game of infiltration and hacking is built around a cyberpunk story or corrupt corporations and murder, and you can fling people out of windows, which is a whole lot of fun.
As Richard Conway, you’re sort of like a vigilante electrician, sneaking into buildings and rewiring their electronics in an effort to steal disks, hack executive computers and clear your name. Part puzzle game, part platformer, Gunpoint can be tricky, but it’s also forgiving and rewards experimentation and creativity, using a building’s own security systems to your advantage.
It’s very short, but has an in-game level editor blessing it with countless new missions and even trickier challenges. Yes, you can finish the game in an afternoon, but what an afternoon it will be.
Buyer’s guide: It’s on Steam and you can try out the demo as well.
Best tactical cyberpunk game
A squad-based, turn-based tactics game, Invisible, Inc. is a little bit like XCOM, a little bit like Shadowrun, but has no aliens and no magic. It’s just fancy tech and stealthy infiltrations in Klei’s understated roguelike...like.
Here’s the deal: the world is ruled by megacorps, and you private intelligence firm has been compromised, and most of its agents “removed”. You’ve got 72 hours to prepare for a final mission to infiltrate the enemy HQ and insert Invisible, Inc’s AI into their computer, or your done for.
It’s a slick, sneaky game with rich opportunities for emergent gameplay, with each mission escalating in difficulty the longer you spend in it, creating a tense risk versus reward loop as you try to decide whether or not to explore areas in their entirety or just complete the mission and get the hell out.
Meant to be played more than once, completing different objectives unlocks more agents that can be used in new games, each with unique starting loadouts and quirks. It’s extremely moreish.
Best cyberpunk adventure game
Wadjet Eye has published (and developed) its fair share of excellent sci-fi adventure games, including the brilliant Gemini Rue and Resonance, but it’s the more recent Technobabylon that gets onto this list, not just because it’s the most cyberpunk, but because it’s the best adventure game of the lost.
Genetic engineering, oppressive AIs, the surveillance state – Technobabylon is serious business. The game jumps between three characters, two members of the secret police with divided loyalties, and an agoraphobic hacker who prefers to spend her life in cyberspace, and they all become entangled in a cracking sci-fi conspiracy.
This is one of those games that, because of it’s gorgeous pixely aesthetic, gets called “classic” or “traditional” but is absolutely a modern game that, like adventure games used to, attempts to push the genre forward with exceptionally creative puzzles that never actually feel like puzzles.
Logical but inspired conundrums, a deep, multi-layered story and some of the best and most believable world building you’ll have the good fortune to witness – it’s a brilliant reminder that point and click games can still reach new heights.
Best use of a planet as an NPC in any game
I’ve been shoving this game down your throats for a while now, and with good reason. One of the party members in Anachronox is a populated planet. Why have you not played this yet? Oh, that’s right, it sold terribly. Plagued with a long, bumpy development and poorly marketed, Anachronox was rushed out the door by Eidos before developer Ion Storm was really finished with it, and despite critical success, it didn’t resonate as well with consumers.
The weird blend of console-style JPRG combat with western cyberpunk and film noir themes is a bizarre combination, and yet Anachronox makes it work against all the odds. It’s still completely ridiculous though. You’ve got a down on his luck private investigator nicknamed “Sly Boots” living on a city-planet that’s constantly shifting where, if you look up, you’ll see people walking upside down on gravity-defying streets, and somehow this drunk, sarcastic fellow is meant to stop the galaxy from being annihilated.
Anachronox even makes the simple mouse cursor interesting. Instead of an arrow or icon that only you, the player, can see, the cursor is actually a tiny floating vessel containing Sly’s deceased chum in hologram form. I can’t say I’ve come across any other game where the protagonist has hilarious banter with the cursor.
While the eccentric cast and excellent pace, giving you plenty of time to chat, explore and discover just how strange the galaxy is between scraps will keep you grinning for hours, this recommendation is tinged with melancholy. Anachronox was developed with a sequel in mind, and thus the story is left incomplete, and is unlikely to be picked back up again.
E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy
Would be the most French cyberpunk game if it
wasn't for the next one
If it wasn’t for the next game down, EYE would easily be the loopiest game on this here list. It’s mad, French and rarely makes any sense whatsoever, and yet it’s so strange, so ambitious, that it demands to be played.
You play a cyberpunk warrior monk working for a big megacorp, shooting, hacking or doing weird things like psychically cloning yourself as you make your way through sprawling levels. You can try to play through it like a standard shooter, but you’ll want to explore the more esoteric and peculiar abilities at your disposal.
One thing you’ll certainly want to experience is the hacking. While so many games relegate this to a mind numbing but quick mini-game, EYE gives us a turn-based combat experience against deadly AIs. Lose the battle and the AI will hack you instead, infecting you with a nasty virus.
There are too many big concepts, not much coherence and it’s immediately overwhelming. But it’s so bold and weird that it really has to be experienced even if just for a mission or two, and you might find yourself sticking with it till the end.
Buyer’s guide: You can pick it up on Steam, or try the free demo first.
Omikron: The Nomad Soul
Best use of David Bowie in a cyberpunk game
This is the loopiest game on the list. Nomad Soul is fourth-wall-breaking cyberpunk, supernatural fantasy, an adventure game, an action game, a game where David Bowie stars (as an NPC and in the excellent soundtrack) – it’s so many things. Too many things. I love it.
Quantic Dream is more well known for Heavy Rain, but this is where David Cage first started assaulting us with his crazy ideas. And like all Quantic Dream games, it’s very uneven and bites off more than it can chew.
It’s fascinating, though!. You, the player, find yourself drawn into another dimension where you possess the body of a futuristic cop in the bizarre city of Omikron. It starts off as a cyberpunk detective mystery, but eventually spirals into a completely barmy tales about an eternal battle between good and evil complete with powerful demons and a They Live-inspired conspiracy.
While Nomad Soul is primarily an adventure game, it dabbles in lots of other genres, interrupting traditional adventure shenanigans with shooting, brawls and moments where you can just hang out and listen to David Bowie rocking out.
The title refers to the fact that you are a wandering soul, a disembodied immortal that can be reincarnated, possessing new characters. Magic! Ain’t it grand?
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Most gratuitous use of neon in a cyberpunk game
It looks like a Daft Punk video, features giant genetically altered lizards and spawned one hell of a trailer – it’s probably the best DLC Ubisoft has ever made. Is Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon really cyberpunk, though?
I thought long and hard about this one, because nobody wants to read a whole bunch of comments about what is and isn’t cyberpunk. Then I realised that I’m the one making the list, so what the hell, it’s in.
Whatever else it is, it’s very much a pastiche of ‘80s action flicks: a bombastic, silly, explosive ride through weird cartoon sci-fi. It’s a smaller, tighter, more entertaining open world shooter than it’s predecessor and successor, and oh let’s just watch the trailer again.
Buyer’s guide: It’s a standalone expansion, and you can pick it up in lots of places. It’s also bundled with the excellent-but-in-no-way-cyberpunk Call of Juarez Gunslinger, so why not get both?
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
Best not-quite-cyberpunk game to play if you want
to feel terrible
Let’s descend into misery and madness! Hooray! Harlan Ellison’s post apocalyptic short story, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is one of the most disturbing bits of sci-fi literature and actually predates cyberpunk and cyberspace. The game of the same name gets a place on this list, however, because so many elements from the story would make their way into cyberpunk, including dangerous AI, oppression and manipulation.
It’s an adventure game, mechanically, but Ellison, who was deeply involved in the creation of the game, wanted to create a digital story based around monstrous ethical dilemmas. So that’s what he did, and what a horrible thing it is. But it’s brilliant, too.
It forces you into awful lose lose situations as the characters you control – the last people on Earth – are manipulated and tormented by a psychotic AI known as AM. You don’t win in IHNMIMS (that’s a lot of letters), but if you make the right choices, you can lose less painfully.
The Walking Dead’s harrowing decisions have nothing on this, which doesn’t exactly make it pleasant to play through. It’s bleak and uncomfortable, but also provocative and challenging.
Buyer’s guide: A few years ago, you would have had a hard time getting your hands on this, but now you can get it on GOG.
Most memorable antagonist in a cyberpunk game
Though its sequel is more refined and more beloved, the original System Shock was a bit mind-blowing when it came out in 1994, and is the more cyberpunk of the two games. It’s a tricky, complex first-person hybrid that made the previous year’s Doom seem simple and relaxing in comparison.
Set inside a space station, you play as a hacker determined to put a halt to a nefarious AI’s shady plans. That nefarious AI is, as you might already know, SHODAN, probably one of videogameland’s most compelling antagonists.
As well as being a genre-bending FPS/RPG, System Shock allowed you to enter the world of cyberspace, a 3D wireframe realm where you fight SHODAN’s minions, a bunch of deadly computer programs. Sadly this feature didn’t make it into the sequel.
It’s elaborate, emergent and oppressive – essentially Ultima Underworld in space. And it’s a precursor to what is considered by many to be the ultimate cyberpunk game (and simply the ultimate game), Deus Ex.
Buyer’s guide: Unfortunately System Shock didn’t make it’s way onto GOG and Steam along with its sequel, so you might have to do a bit of hunting and Googling to net yourself a copy. It will be worth it though. And by all means pick up System Shock 2 as well, because it’s bloody fantastic.
Simply the best cyberpunk game
The big one.
I could expend a great deal of energy reminiscing about the dramatic narrative that weaves themes of conspiracy, terrorism and transhumanism together with intriguing characters a believable dystopian cyberpunk future. Equally, I could go on and on about the breadth of character customisation, letting players hone shades-and-trenchcoat-wearing J.C. Denton into a cybernetically enhanced soldier, expert hacker, or a ghost, lurking in the shadows. But what I really want to discuss is the incredible level design.
Every map represents a complex sandbox ripe for experimentation. Every combat encounter has the potential to play out in remarkably different ways, should you actually participate in said encounter rather than slinking past it. Secret paths, hidden caches, informants waiting to be bribed and confidential information opening up new routes and options litter levels, ensuring that when players discuss their experiences, it’s like they are talking about different games.
And it’s all so organic. There’s a strong temptation for developers to clearly signpost choices that can be made, to the point where mission objectives explain exactly where you can go and what you need to do, but in Deus Ex it was all a surprise. You don’t know that hacking a computer and reading private emails will give you a code that lets you defeat a tough enemy without a fight, and you don’t know that there’s an item hidden within a level that will unlock a previous invisible, unimagined route to the mission objective - you need to just go out and explore.
Thanks to my ailing memory and all the places I never went, fights I skipped and people I never met, going back and playing it again a few years ago was like experiencing it for the first time. I can’t wait to do it again in another couple of years. But you should do it now.
Buyer’s guide: Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition is available on most digital stores. Get yourself the HD mod, too.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Best sunglasses in a cyberpunk game
I went back and forth about this a lot. I’ve got a love/hate relationship with Deus Ex’s prequel. I love the liberating, open gameplay, the transhumanism premise and the stealth, but absolutely hated the terrible boss battles, the disinterested protagonist, and I’m pretty ambivalent when it comes to the aesthetic, with its gorgeous architecture but horrible piss filter.
Yet here I am, adding it to the list. The Director’s Cut, which improves the boss battles and chucks in the DLC, is definitely one of the big reasons. And as much as there’s a lot about Human Revolution that disappointed me a little bit, it still has all of the best parts of the original.
There’s joy in successfully infiltrating offices and reading everyone’s private emails and eating their lunchtime snacks. And Eidos Montreal did a great job in making sure that every area has multiple points of entry and room for lots of different playstyles.
I’ll even admit that there’s one thing that Human Revolution does better than its grandaddy: it’s more fun to be a gun-toting, elbow-slamming bad ass. It’s not as compelling as playing stealthily, granted, but the game continues to be fun even if you’ve been spotted and your plans all go up in flames.
Buyer’s guide: Pick up the Director’s Cut in most digital stores.
And that’s your lot. 15 brilliant cyberpunk games that should keep even the most ravenous console cowboys entertained. Have I missed your favourite cyberpunk game? Tell me off in the comments and recommend it.