Sate your thirst for cyberpunk adventure with these acclaimed PC games

Articles: Gaming
Oct 24, 2020 Written by:Eric Born

Time never moves more slowly than when I’m waiting anxiously for a game to launch. The wait for Cyberpunk 2077 feels more grueling than most. When the game was first announced back in 2012, I knew it’d be a day one purchase for me. I’m a lifelong sci-fi fan with a special devotion to cyberpunk classics like Neuromancer and Snow Crash, and I just can’t pass up the opportunity to live in that kind of world courtesy of the legendary developer of the Witcher series.

Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t launch until November 19th, however, so I’ve got some time to fill in the meantime. Thankfully, there are many classic and current cyberpunk-themed games to enjoy while I wait. If you’re as antsy as I am for CD Projekt Red’s upcoming title, take a moment to peruse the list below to find a sci-fi adventure that’ll tide you over.

Deus Ex takes you back to the glory days of wearing sunglasses indoors

Let’s start off with the 800-pound gorilla of the PC cyberpunk gaming world: Deus Ex. The first installment launched back in 2000, and it’s hard to overstate its long-term impact. Deus Ex is set in the near future in a world ravaged by a pandemic called the Gray Death. There’s a vaccine, but it’s in short supply, so only the wealthy and those “vital to the social order” can get access to it. You play as JC Denton, one of a new breed of government agents augmented with nanotechnology to better deal with the increasing social unrest.

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A world divided by massive inequality. Technology that blurs the line between the artificial and the human. Tactics that range from hacking to wielding heavily-modded weapons. Is there a game more quintessentially cyberpunk than Deus Ex? Those themes aren’t just a veneer on the surface of yet another FPS. The moral weight of your decisions follows you throughout the game. Charging through a level with guns blazing might help you meet your objectives, but you’ll lose the respect of certain NPCs and may even change the outcome of the game.

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Subsequent entries in the series are excellent in their own right. I’m partial to 2012’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a game with a rich, detailed world filled with rewarding and interesting side quests. Its stealth mechanics, gunplay, and hacking interface are all well-constructed, but its excellent dialogue and riveting narrative make it a standout. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a direct sequel to Human Revolution that takes the story forward in a fascinating direction. Its level design is second to none in the series, and its visuals are remarkable even by today’s standards.

Beneath a Steel Sky is a top-tier point-and-click adventure

Some of my first PC gaming experiences were with classic point-and-click puzzle games like those created by Sierra. One of the best examples of the genre is Beneath a Steel Sky. You play as Robert Foster, a man who survived a helicopter crash as a child and was subsequently raised by a group of outcasts. At the start of the game, Foster is abducted by security forces from a nearby metropolis and his community is destroyed. He’s taken to the city, where the helicopter malfunctions and Foster is able to escape.

In the city, you’ll have to guide Foster as he evades security forces on his way to ground level and the truth about the dystopian society around him. The game is fully voice-acted, a major selling point for its era, and it features some fantastic pixel art. Renowned comic book artist Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame led the graphics team, and you’ll find his touches all over the game from the opening comic book-style cinematic to the character designs.

The star of the show, as far as I’m concerned, is Foster’s AI pal Joey. He starts out the game as a circuit board in your inventory, but as soon as you find a robot shell for him, he becomes an invaluable (if sarcastic) member of your team. The banter between these two adds much-needed sparkle to the game’s otherwise earnest dialogue. As the game progresses, you’ll find increasingly powerful shells for Joey that give him new abilities that you can use to solve puzzles.

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Beneath a Steel Sky is available completely for free through Steam, no emulator required. There’s even a Kickstarted sequel that just released this summer. Key members of the original team, including Dave Gibbons and Charles Cecil, returned to make Beyond a Steel Sky. I haven’t yet given it a playthrough, but the Steam community is singing its praises.

RUINER mixes cyberpunk style and action-RPG mayhem

Navigating a complex world with only your wits and your puzzle-solving skills is great and all, but perhaps you’re more in the mood to dispense justice with a length of rusty pipe and the weapons of your fallen enemies. Better nab a copy of RUINER. In this fast-paced action shooter, you take on the role of a silent masked man trying to rescue his brother from the conglomerate that controls the city of Rengkok.

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The game’s story has some satisfying twists and turns, but it’s the brutal combat that makes it truly memorable. You have an overhead view of your character and his immediate surroundings, a setup reminiscent of the classic Crusader: No Remorse and Crusader: No Regret games. RUINER unleashes endless waves of enemies at you, forcing you to make quick tactical decisions as you take down the gang members, mercenaries, and bodyguards of a futuristic city.

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Your masked hero can deal out some punishment, but he’s no bullet sponge. I died more times than I care to admit while I learned to use his abilities to full advantage. Thankfully, the game doesn’t rub your nose in your failures. Like Super Meat Boy and Superhot, RUINER lets you drop right back into the action where you left off and try a new approach.

Shadowrun Returns is a worthy successor to a beloved SNES RPG

In this time of self-quarantine and social distancing, it’s easy to forget the roots of role playing in tabletop games. People used to gather—in person!—to take on new personalities and characters and explore fantastical worlds of all kinds. Cyberpunk 2077 is only one digital game that’s been adapted from a tabletop adventure. Shadowrun Returns is another title that traces its roots back to the era of dice rolls and character sheets.

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When Shadowrun was adapted for the SNES back in 1993, the result was pure bottled magic. Owners of that console were absolutely spoiled with excellent RPGs of all stripes, but Shadowrun stood out for its unique mashup of cyberpunk, fantasy, and film noir tropes. With its mature storyline and deep dialogue system, it was definitely ahead of its time.

As seminal as that time period was, today’s PC gamers have an abundance of RPG riches at their fingertips, and that includes a rebooted Shadowrun franchise. An overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign brought back Jordan Weisman, creator of the original tabletop game, to develop not just Shadowrun Returns but two sequel campaigns.

No disrespect to the SNES version, but the PC adaptations feature much-improved combat. The games use a turn-based tactical system that challenges you to thoughtfully assemble a team and use their abilities to advantage. Some RPGs force you to choose between the characters you like and the characters that can actually win battles, but in Shadowrun Returns there’s true flexibility in party construction. No single party can do everything in the game, but just about any combination of characters can finish the main storyline. You can grab the full trilogy together, but if you’re buying just one, fans tend to praise the second, Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall, more highly than the others.

These four cyberpunk-themed franchises are only a few examples. Games like Dex, Observer, Watch Dogs, and Neuromancer are all worth playing, and there are many more besides. The wait for Cyberpunk 2077 is almost over, though. There’s only so much time left to catch up on the classics before seeing where the genre goes next. Better jack in and start playing.