The altogether post-modern phenomenon of Cyberpunk is defined by these key concepts; its infatuation with technology, its occurrence in a distopian future or at least some bleak parallel universe and its ironic perspective; embodied by the central protagonist...your typical anti-hero. Rising to prominence in the 1980's and heavily influencing the movies and science fiction literature of that period it became an 'established' counter culture movement. It was of course during this time that computer games were becoming an established form of entertainment; you could say the two grew up together. It is then no surprise that the general ideas, themes and situations suggested by Cyberpunk found arguably their most relevant host in the technologically fueled and suitably ironic medium of computer games.

This game, essentially a real time squad based strategy game, presents a highly evocative urban distopia; where thugs, brain addled Junkers, religious zealots and amoral law enforcers all prowl the streets in a desperate power struggle for the hearts, minds and credits of the public. Pulling the strings are the ominous Syndicates with the money to invest in superhuman cybernetically enhanced agents to carry out their often unscrupulous objectives. You control a crack squad of these agents and must manage their affairs as they traverse the major cities of Earth in a bid to quash the Church of the New Epoch (or visa-versa). Not relying purely on RTS this game offers a research tree, resource management, engrossing geo-political plot and a non linear approach to completing well as some truly outrageous weaponry. A Cyberpunk classic in every sense (the original game Syndicate is also highly recommended).

Something of a paean to the film Blade Runner, Snatcher still manages to articulate what is a very similar story in a manner that is both fresh and extremely enjoyable. Play switches from standard point and click adventure to Virtual Cop style shoot outs (a Menasor light gun is necessary to get the most from this game), which certainly helps maintain a sense of danger and urgency throughout (unsurprisingly rare in point and click adventures). The graphics and characters are in the anime style of the late 1980's, reminiscent of cyberpunk shows such as Bubblegum Crisis and Cybercity OEDO 808. Developed by Hideo Kojima who would later continue his Cyberpunk trend with incredibly successful Metal Gear Solid. This game is also noticeable for one of the best computer game soundtracks of that era. I believe there is in fact a sequel entitled Policenauts for the Sega Saturn which is superior to even this; needless to say I would love to get a copy.

Although something of a lightweight thematically this action RPG, based on the ever popular FASA pen and paper RPG of the same name, is certainly a lot of fun. Not concerned with just your typical Cyberpunk fare, this game chucks in the whole of Tolkien as well. Dragons are in charge of companies and elves seem to make great hackers. You start of as a amnesiac who needs to get his life back together; with nothing better to do you soon become a runner, hacking his way through Cyberspace and failing that, blasting your way through the sprawling Megalopolis in search of your lost identity. There was a game of the same name on the Megadrive which is truer to the original role playing system and offers a more substantial RPG experience; I have been meaning to play it for a while but have just never found the time; if it is anywhere near as enjoyable as this I would be very impressed.

Based on the famous Cyberpunk novel by William H. Gibson, Neuromancer is a graphical adventure in which you play the role of a hacker who has just uncovered the beginnings of eerily sinister cyberplot. The game mechanics are smooth, the locations evocative and the juxtaposition between the real world and cyberspace has never been bettered in any game. The game world is incredibly detailed; information, tip-offs, hints, clues and leads come at you in abundance, with no electronic journal or notepad to keep track, keeping your own notes becomes essential, making the detective work involved seem all the more satisfying. Of all the games on this list this adventure is arguably the truest to the Cyberpunk genre.

This is a highly ambitious action adventure game set on an asteroid dominated by a creepy techno-religious sect. You awake in a jail cell to find you have been turned into a semi-human cybernetic monster; understandably annoyed you pummel your irksome robot cell mate to death with his own limb and burst out into one of the most detailed sci-fi game worlds ever created. The game dynamics shift from exploration to puzzle solving to high octane battles at the drop of a hat. By means of the numerous journals, datacubes and characters which you uncover as you explore the labyrinthine asteroid; slowly the true horrifying purpose of the installation and it mutated denizens dawns. Although the interface is somewhat clunky it is well worth overcoming as there was barely a moment of game time which I did not find memorable. Also noticeable is the voice acting which for once actually enhances the game experience as opposed to making it seem trite.

This is a classic point and click adventure genre. The eponymous steel skies are infact the roofs of the self contained cities where the majority of the human population is crammed. Serving under an uber-totalitarian robot master brain, life "beneath a steel sky" is unsurprisingly rather sour. Luckily your character, Robert Foster, grew up in the wastelands, known as the Gap, outside of the states 'civilizing' influence. At the games onset you are abducted by the military and sent back to a life in the city; however your flight is hijacked by an unknown group and your adventure begins. What is essentially a typical cyber punk / distopian setting is made more engaging by the superb interface, good sense of humor (provided mostly by his sardonic robot sidekick Joey) and all round excellent scripting, pacing and plot.

In what is usually a child friendly genre there is no other point and click adventure I know off which deals with such powerful subject matter, let alone in a manner which is thought-provoking. This is based on a short story by Harley Ellison whom I know very little about other than that he was heavily involved in this games design and actually plays the main vocal role. The plot revolves around the usual rogue AI theme but this time it succeeds in its mission and exterminates all human life (where the hell was Arnie?); except for five people. These last vestiges of humanity are taken beneath the Earth to the nexus of the artificial intelligence and subjected to 109 years of physical and psychological torture. Eventually the computer tells them of a way to end their suffering: by completing a quest...and so the story ominously begins. There are in fact five quest and each is unique to the individual characters; each quest a voyage of self overcoming which forces each person to face their own deepest fears or forever live in torment. This is an intelligent and relentlessly gloomy adventure that leaves an indelible impression long after it has been completed.

This is a rollercoaster of a first person action RPG; containing fantastic gadgets, weapons, cybernetic enhancements, imaginative plot twists, conspiracies and characters. On top of this Deus Ex has well written dialogue and an extremely detailed game world. Basically this game has it all. Although essentially a linear mission based game, the levels or zones allow for extensive exploration and the sheer amount of weapons, upgrades and abilities encourages many different styles of play; during the first mission you can opt to duke it out with the guards at the main entrance, simply hack through their security systems and waltz in or find an even less official way to enter the building; this kind of freeform game play is echoed throughout. This classic has Cyberpunk written all over it (ok something of an emphasis on the cyber) however anyone just interested in gaming in general owes it to themselves to play this game.

Standing on the shoulders of Fallout 1 and the much earlier post apocalyptic adventure Wasteland, Fallout 2 hits a high note that very few other CRPG's can mach. Set in a North America ravaged by nuclear war; overrun with mutants, disease, sin and corruption; dominated by zealous fanatics, big businesses, technology cults and organized crime. This game presents a truly bleak vision of the future. You are cast adrift in this sea of troubles and must forge a living fighting against the horrors of the radioactive holocaust or sink gleefully into depravity and indulge in a life more in keeping with the complete absence of society. Of course you neednt be so dramatic and can quite happily forge ahead with a little of each. The graphics and stylistic angle of this game are another highpoint; although this game deals with some suitably futuristic dilemmas, stylistically this is a distinctly 1950's vision of the future. Buck Rogersesque ray guns and jumpsuits are common place, rusted out Chevrolets line the streets, family friendly advertising lies bullet riddled at the side of the road and a half broken wireless drones out a steady stream of golden oldies. Aside from the superb artistry involved this 1950's setting does well to emphasize the irony prevalent throughout the game; the naïve faith in technology and the nuclear family blown apart for all to see. Massively open-ended, yet with satisfying characters and plots around every corner, this game is a tour de force.

Ranking amongst the very finest games ever made, System Shock II is still heralding the future of computer gaming over seven years after its initial release. Alone and in constant danger, on board a vast starship billions of miles from Earth, you alone must thwart the sinister machinations of both a maniacal rogue artificial intelligence and an unknown alien consciousness; starting out with nothing more that a wrench. You wake to find the ship empty of human life and in a disturbing series of pre-recorded messages, journals and psychokinetic emanations (ghosts), slowly the dismal fate of your crew is revealed. Never in any other game has fear been made so palpable, never has the desire to survive transcended into virtual reality so distinctly. Played on the hardest difficulty setting (highly recommended) every bullet, every skill point and every ounce of cunning must be used to navigate the tortuous corridors of your interstellar prison. The groans, ominous mantras and the cold whirr of defence turrets keeps you transfixed to the edge of your seat; the use of sound in a game has never been used to such powerful effect. This game is deep and involving on a level that almost no other can match; employing the full use of an extensive range of weaponry, abundant psychic powers, skills, research trees, exotic cybernetic upgrades and gadgets. Ultimately System Shock II combines the depth and involvement of the best computer RPG's with the instant immersiveness typical of games from other genres. Merely describing the game mechanics do not do this game justice; the complete experience is one that will live on in video game legend.

In compiling this list I have realized that although countless hundreds of computer games explore facets of the Cyberpunk environment, characters, technology and to some extent ethos, very few embody the concept of Cyberpunk directly. Perhaps this lack of Cyberpunk games can be linked to the computer game medium itself; after all when engrossed in an interactive electronic art form, controlled by an artificial intelligence, with the possibility of people from all over the world beamed through cyberspace and appearing as characters on your screen, the Cyberpunk setting doesn't seem such a necessary place to visit. Whatever the reason; the titles that define Cyberpunk as a gaming genre are amongst the most engrossing, relevant and enjoyable I have ever played. This is Adam Strang...logging off...

List by Strangbox (05/26/2006)

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