The Cyberpunk literary movement reached peak popularity in the late 80’s/early 90’s, which lined up beautifully with the rise of the PC and the home console.
Millennial children grew up hacking into evil mega-corporations, foiling the plots of sentient AI overlords, and generally just blowing shit up with awesome futuristic weapons.
The non-stop flood of Cyberpunk books, movies, and games produced in that time period eventually made us all a little tired of the genre, and we collectively set it aside for a while.
But now it’s back in a big way, so whether you are a Cyberpunk rookie or you just need a refresher, here’s my list of the best that the cyber-enhanced world has to offer.
|Initial Release Date||2007 (The Orange Box)|
|Platform||PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3|
You could argue that Portal is simply Sci-Fi, but all of the hallmarks of a great Cyberpunk game are there: a downtrodden protagonist from the underprivileged class, an evil megacorporation, a technology-gone-awry crazy AI villain, and cool high-tech gadgets.
Portal also has a lot of crossover appeal, and along with Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII has a broader audience than most Cyberpunk games.
Portal is an absolute monster of a meme-generating machine, and is a commonly shared touchstone in the nerd community even among those who haven’t played the game.
You should totally play Portal though, if you’ve never tried it. It’s fairly short and the story, dialogue, and voice acting are among the best in all of gaming. The teleportation-based puzzles are some of the most fun you will ever have in a game as well.
Deus Ex (Original)
|Initial Release Date||June 23, 2000|
The graphics on the original Deus Ex ain’t easy on the eyes, but this venerable Cyberpunk title is so iconic today that the bad graphics are a part of its charm.
It’s such a highly regarded, widely referenced game that even if you for some crazy reason don’t like the Cyberpunk aesthetic, you should still play through Deus Ex at least once just to be culturally literate. Seriously: it’s that important of a game.
Divergent storylines and multiple quest solutions are commonplace nowadays, but even by today’s standards the amount of player choice and the narrative depth of Deus Ex is amazing.
I remember how my heart sank when somebody told me that you could save an important character’s life if you were captured during an ambush instead of running away.
I hadn’t saved him in my first playthrough. I felt like such a coward that I immediately started a new save. Now that’s a good game.
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|Initial Release Date||October 31, 1997|
Loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the Blade Runner franchise is one of the original icons of Cyberpunk.
The Blade Runner movie set the standard for visual elements of the Cyberpunk genre, and the release of the director’s cut in the 90’s helped the film maintain its cult status.
Capitalizing on that surge of popularity, Westwood studios managed to pull off the most difficult feat in all of games development: make a good game based on a movie.
Westwood Studio’s Blade Runner got everything right; it wasn’t just the usual movie tie-in cash grab. The visuals were spot-on, some of the original cast members voice their characters, and the game included some pioneering gameplay mechanics like randomized NPC schedules and more.
Fortunately, Blade Runner is now available to play on modern PCs. It’s a fun adventure game to play even today, and it helps broaden the Blade Runner universe a little bit.
Deus Ex Human Revolution
|Initial Release Date||August 23, 2011|
|Platform||Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC, more|
|Developer||Eidos Montreal, Ion Storm|
|Publisher||Square Enix, Eidos Interactive|
If you were into the Cyberpunk scene a decade ago, you’ll remember that the hype for Deus Ex Human Revolution was unreal. Cyberpunk had been on the decline in the 2000’s, and Eidos Montreal/Square Enix capitalized on the public’s desire to see a return to the genre.
Human Revolution went on to sell over 2 million copies, which is a gigantic number compared to the sales of earlier games in the series.
Reboots and new trilogies can make fans nervous, but Deus Ex: Human Revolution largely delivered what people wanted.
You have a lot of choices to make, and it isn’t easy to keep your companions alive through the whole game. Human Revolution demonstrated that Cyberpunk was ready for the AAA title main stage.
|Initial Release Date||March 29, 1998|
The Japanese have taken a liking to the Cyberpunk culture from the beginning and have taken it in their own distinct direction.
The popular manga and even more popular movie Akira is a world-famous Cyberpunk epic which has had an enormous influence on other works in the genre. Tetsuo’s bike is even making an appearance in the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.
Many of the same themes appear in SquareSoft’s 1998 hit Parasite Eve, which arguably makes it a Cyberpunk or at least Cyberpunk-influenced game.
I know there is literally zero buzz over the Parasite Eve IP, but it’s my personal favorite dead videogame series that deserves a reboot.
Like Akira, Parasite Eve takes the Japanese approach of mixing Cyberpunk and horror together to make one of my favorite RPGs of all time.
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|Initial Release Date||May 1, 1993|
The general consensus is that the Sega Genesis version of Shadowrun is better, but I prefer the Super Nintendo game. Yes, the combat is more fun on the Genesis, but I like that the SNES game plays out like one of the Shadowrun novels from the 90’s. I still laugh at the part where you can prank call the final boss and he curses you out.
Shadowrun for the SNES was released by venerable publisher Data East in 1993, when the early Cyberpunk craze was still going strong.
There’s a fair bit of grinding for XP and cash, but quality cyberware doesn’t come cheap. If you liked Shadowrun Returns, you’ll like Jake Armitage’s original story on the SNES.
|Initial Release Date||July 25, 2013|
Coke vs. Pepsi. Warhammer vs. Warcraft. Cyberpunk 2020 vs. Shadowrun. Every popular product has an imitator, but occasionally that imitator can become a success in its own right.
That’s certainly the case with Shadowrun: before CD Projekt Red announced Cyberpunk 2077, people had largely forgotten that Shadowrun started off as a pale imitation of Cyberpunk 2020.
But now the tables have turned. Shadowrun Returns pushed Cyberpunk back to the forefront of pop culture five years ago.
The original game and its sequels are some of the best, most polished, well written top-down RPGs ever made, and they proved to game developers that Cyberpunk was still a viable genre for turning a profit.
Without the popularity built on the success of Shadowrun Returns, I’m not sure that Cyberpunk 2077 ever gets made.
Final Fantasy VII
|Initial Release Date||January 31, 1997|
|Publisher||Square, Sony Computer Entertainment|
Final Fantasy VII broke away from the medieval Steampunk vibe of its predecessors and became the most famous example of Japanese Cyberpunk in videogames.
It has the horror elements that you’d expect to see in a Japanese Cyberpunk game, drawing heavily from Akira as source material: the biological freak show that is the Jenova Project, evil scientists, Kaiju and mecha. Completing the Cyberpunk theme, there’s also the obligatory evil megacorp, literal class warfare, and of course a badass futuristic motorcycle.
Many people point to the late 90’s as the golden age of gaming, and its crown jewel is Final Fantasy VII. Even people who don’t like videogames have played it- that’s how huge of a cultural impact it had.
It helped that SquareSoft gave it a tremendous marketing budget, including what is probably the best videogame commercial of all time. If you missed FFVII when it first came out, be sure to pick up the reboot when it launches on March 3rd, 2020.
Metal Gear Solid
|Initial Release Date||September 3, 1998|
I know this might be hard to believe, but once upon a time Hideo Kojima made video games instead of bizarre walking simulators with fanny pack babies. Just kidding. Sort of. I mean, the guy makes some pretty weird games, but back in his prime Kojima created what I still consider to be his masterpiece: Metal Gear Solid.
MGS is pitch-perfect Japanese Cyberpunk, with the bizarre plotlines, futuristic technology, and the badass hero with a crazy backstory that we’ve come to expect from the genre.
Like “the cake is a lie” in Portal, or Keanu Reeves driving the mega-hype train for Cyberpunk 2077, Metal Gear Solid’s boss fight with Psycho Mantis became a cultural moment that transcended videogames.
I know that there have been other games that have played around with the fourth wall, but none have done it so well, or been so influential in gaming as Metal Gear Solid.
Good luck finding a way to play the original, although there are rumors of a reboot coming.
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|Initial Release Date||November 11, 2008|
|Platform||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, multiple|
Usually, everything in Cyberpunk is so dark, but Mirror’s Edge bucks the trend and embraces the warm glow of the sun. The visuals in this Cyberpunk FPS/action hybrid game are brilliant and will stick with you for a long time after playing. The plot is fairly standard Cyberpunk, but functional.
Mirror’s Edge makes my list not only because it’s an awesome Cyberpunk game, but also because it’s been so influential to gaming as a whole.
The freedom of movement and level design in Mirror’s Edge have set a standard of excellence that other games have tried to live up to for the last decade.
If you missed this the first time around, give it a try: it’s short enough to be beaten in a weekend.
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