Words by Greywolfe
I like some science fiction in my video games. I adored the Dig and have played Portal from end to end at a friend's house. [Getting stuck towards the end becasue "flinging" was a bit of a tricky thing to master.] I wasn't crazy about Doom, exactly, but I played it, wanting to see what the fuss was about at the point where first person shooters got going. Likewise, I adored the Science Fiction spin on Master of Magic called, aptly, Master of Orion. It spawned two sequels [neither of which I particularly cared for, but they're there.] and - for a long while over the summer of 1994, a buddy and I played through UFO: Enemy Unknown together, delving into that game's secrets.
But there's a very weird lack of Cyberpunk games and I sort of wish we could fix this
The Files Are In The Computer!
There have been a couple of hacking games, of course. Historically, the most ambitious of these has been Uplink, a game by Introversion Software. Introversion are an independant game maker that slowly works on pet projects that they release into the wild - usually to great acclaim. They don't necessarily sell like gangbusters, but every project has been basically unique and unlike anything else we've seen before in gaming.
Uplink was their very first game and it spawned a small handful of imitators that never quite took off. In that game, you're tasked with being a hacker and finding your way through increasingly crazy computer systems to help [or hinder] a virus from destroying the internet.
As good as that game was, you never really got away from the Hollywood-esque hacking terminal that you viewed the world through. So there wasn't a great deal to see of the - assumed - cyberpunk future that world was drenched in.
There have been other imitators of this particular game genre culminating in a similar "experiment" in the form of Hacknet, a game that focuses on a sort of similar style: you + terminal = game!
Dystopias Are All The Rage
The lack of cyberpunk games is also interesting from at least one other perspective: video gaming loves doomsday scenarios. Witness everyone getting into a frothy sort of mania over the impending Fallout 4. That game has dystopia written all over it and yet...there's no cyberpunk version of the same thing.
We have all kinds of other dystopias, too. But mostly zombie dystopias. Gaming development has sort of clung to the zombie thing for WAY too long in the form of games like H1Z1, Rust and the all-star that got the multiplayer version of the genre all-singing and dancing, DayZ.
There are many takes on the dystopian future that all seem to centre around guns and gunplay, which is too bad, because as has been shown in literature through folks like Neal Stephenson in his seminal work of Cyberpunk-y fiction "Snow Crash" and the wonderfully evocative William Gibson with his incredibly tactile sense of description, cyberpunk can be very thought provoking and slow. Culminating in - of course - action-packed set-pieces that might require guns.
But there doesn't seem to be room for much cyberpunk in any of these dystopias. Since all of them default to gunplay, there's little time to do any kind of finessing with computers and rendering alarm systems and combat droids obsolete through a thoughtful hack here or a subtle blackmailing through data-heist there.
Cyberpunk Could Be Amazing
This is all kind of awkward becasue Cyberpunk through computer games could be amazing. Witness the handful of games that have come down the pike that embrace a cyberpunk concept - like Shadowrun [and it's various spinoffs, Hong Kong and Dragonfall.] and the shootery-cyberpunky mix of Deus Ex.
Ignoring the cyberpunk genre classification for both those games for a moment, they've been absolutely hailed by critics as wonderful games built with both an interesting narrative [in the case of Shadowrun] and interesting ideas [in the form of Deus Ex.]
So, there is room for potential there.
Somewhere down the road, there is also CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077 to look forward to - which takes the grand-daddy of the genre in RPG terms and imagines it on computer screens.
I am interested in that particular game, but until we know more about it, that's about all that's going to remain for me. An interest.
We've had such good cyberpunk games in the past - even if they are a little wonky - in the form of a video game adaptation of Neuromancer, or the slow but interesting burn of Circuit's Edge. And most folks who play the shooter-oriented System Shock have come away in awe of Shodan, the malevolent AI that trips up your every step in that game.
It's especially interesting for me, because we're all USING computers to play these games. So, simulating a computer in this context is easier, still. We might need a slightly Hollywood treatment of computer setups - as proved by Uplink, but even that shouldn't be a big problem.
so where are the Cyberpunk games?
PS! I understand most hackers are going to feel awkward that I'm stealing the glider, here, but...my reasoning is that hacking is part of cyberpunk.
Some images courtesy of Pixabay:
The rest were dredged up from the internet at large.