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The Best Cyberpunk Games of All Time

The Best Cyberpunk Games of All Time

Neon cityscapes, human augmentation, and corporate overlords. From Bladerunner to Akira, everybody loves a bit of cyberpunk, and it seems like gamers are no exception. These are the best cyberpunk video games ever made.

Cloudpunk

Cyber-trucking
Image Credit: ION LANDS

We’re kicking things off in the Cyberpunk genre with something a little divisive. Cloudpunk is a classic “Marmite” game. Some people can’t get enough of it, it puts other people to sleep. Personally, I think it’s a story-rich (although perhaps gameplay poor) chunk of cyberpunk dystopia that fans of the genre shouldn’t miss.

The reason Cloudpunk got such a mixed response is probably its lack of focus. The setup is very simple. You are “Rania,” a recent immigrant to the futuristic city of Nivalis. In order to raise the funds she needs to find a new body for her robot dog “Camus,” Rania must work as a delivery driver for the titular Cloudpunk corporation.

The story unfolds gradually as you learn more about the city and its inhabitants through your work. It can slow to a crawl at times, but the narrative twists and turns make it worth the occasional slow moment. The characters are fun, the visuals are breathtaking, and flying around the city has an appealing zen quality. It might play like cyber-truck simulator, but Cloudpunk’s storytelling more than makes up for it.

Ghostrunner

cyberpunk ninja action
Image Credit: 505 Games

In stark contrast to the previous game on this list, Ghostrunner is all about the gameplay. The pinpoint platforming and combat can be punishing at times, but once you get in the zone, it’s a feeling few games can match. If you like Hotline Miami or SUPERHOT, this is all that with all the cyberpunk ninja craziness you could ever want.

The story is basically non-existent, but it just doesn’t matter. Running, jumping, and slicing your way through the game is so viscerally satisfying it barely needs any context at all. If you’ve got the skills, you can parkour yourself into the middle of a group of enemies and slice them all to pieces without missing a beat. The fluidity is simply remarkable.

At 6-8 hours long, this is by no means something you’re going to play obsessively for months on end. This is a perfectly paced burst of adrenalin that will have you gripped for its entire duration. Ghostrunner doesn’t waste a single moment. It might not have the depth of some of the other games on this list, but it’s still one of the best cyberpunk games of all time.

Beneath a Steel Sky

The best cyberpunk adventure game
Image Credit: Revolution Software

Some of the best cyberpunk games ever made were released during the ’90s. There’s stiff competition, but if pressed, I’d say Beneath a Steel Sky is the best of the bunch. A collaboration between Charles Cecil (co-founder of revolution software) and Dave Gibbons, of Watchmen fame, it quickly became a cult classic. The vision of a ruined future Earth is masterfully crafted, interwoven with a dark, complex story.

I don’t want to say too much about the story. I think this is a game that you should allow to surprise you. What I will say is that it handles a number of difficult themes with remarkable sensitivity. This is a bleak vision of the future, but one that has some interesting points to make. Again, without wishing to spoil, the narrative centers on “Robert Foster,” an orphan who is kidnapped and taken to the dystopic Union City. After that, things get a little bit complicated.

The writing is excellent, but the art deserves praise too. Beneath a Steel Sky is one of the best-looking games of its time. There’s a definite comic-book influence, unsurprising given Gibbons’ involvement, and every scene is loaded with detail. It may be closing in on thirty years old, but Beneath a Steel Sky is still one of the best cyberpunk games ever made.

Ruiner

Ruiner Game
Image Credit: Devolver Digital

If you like it a little bit hard, then Ruiner might be the game for you. It’s gritty, it’s brutal, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Where a lot of the other games on this list tend towards a certain complexity, Ruiner is all about pure, visceral combat in a grimy cyberpunk industrial complex. It may not be a thinker, but not everything in this genre has to be.

Ruiner is an old school, isometric shoot ’em up. You must shoot, circle, and strafe your way towards rescuing your brother, who has been kidnapped by “Heaven” an evil conglomerate. The story beyond that is something of a light touch, but the central character “Puppy”, whose mind has been hacked does present an interesting mystery.

The other thing that you need to know is that this game is hard. Combat is fast and unforgiving, and you can die in just one or two hits. Enemies are relentless and they give no quarter. With all that in mind, I strongly recommend playing with a keyboard and mouse if you can. You’ll need all the help you can get and the boost in accuracy and speed a mouse can give you could be all-important.

System Shock

A classic cyberpunk game
Image Credit: Electronic Arts

The original System Shock is one of a handful of games that can lay claim to having codified the immersive sim. It appears consistently on lists of the best games of all time and is the ancestor of such modern classics as BioShock. It’s also cyberpunk through and through, which means fans of the genre should check it out if they can get past the dated visuals.

The plot revolves around an AI called SHODAN that controls the space station the game takes place on. After an attempt to hack into SHODAN results in the loss of its ethical constraints, it takes over the station completely and turns everyone it doesn’t kill into mutants or cyborgs. It’s all very “I have no mouth and I must scream”. This is an AI you should be afraid of.

I should warn anyone who wants to give this one a go that playing this game can be a little jarring if you’re used to more modern creature comforts. The HUD is an obtuse mess, and the controls could be a lot more intuitive. Push through that though and you’ll find a rock-solid RPG with an incredible atmosphere and a quintessential cyberpunk narrative.

Quadrilateral Cowboy

Hack your way to victory
Image Credit: Blendo Games

Hackers have always been a big part of cyberpunk, and no game has realized the fantasy of being one as well as Quadrilateral Cowboy. In most games, hacking is relegated to either a mini-game or in some cases merely a button prompt. In this game, however, the noble art of hacking is finally done justice. It’s a little bit different, but Quadrilateral Cowboy is definitely one of the best cyberpunk games of all time.

You play as a hacker, remotely overseeing agents who are busy infiltrating buildings and stealing important documents. Your job is to write programs that disable or manipulate the enemy security systems, clearing the way for your guys on the ground.

This is the perfect game for anyone who has ever wanted to feel like one of those all-powerful hackers in a movie, bending the world to your whim from afar while your friends do all the manual labour.

This is certainly a niche game. It can feel like actual coding at times, and the art style is certainly unique. I personally really like the big blocky characters, but I can see it turning some people off. This is an experience for a very specific sort of person, but if you like cyberpunk themes and games that make you feel clever, I say go for it.

Observer

A deep, dark, cyberpunk mystery
Image Credit: Aspyr

It’s amazing how well cyberpunk and other genres blend together. We’ve seen all sorts so far, but Observer is a unique mix. The best way I can describe it is as a Sci-fi-detective-psychological horror game. It’s also one of the best cyberpunk games ever made.

When detective Daniel Lazarski (voiced by the late great Rutger Hauer) receives a phone call from his estranged son Adam, it sends him down a dark twisted path of murder, conspiracy, and betrayal. This is a Bloober Team game, which means an emphasis on narrative, often at the expense of gameplay, but Observer gets the balance just right.

As an “Observer”, Lazarski is able to scan for biological material, utilise night vision, and crucially, hack into dead people’s brains via the “Dream Eater” and relive their memories. The sequences where you explore other people’s minds are definitely highlights. They can be seriously unsettling and genuinely scary.

Observer combines an enthralling mystery with a rock-solid horror atmosphere. Don’t sleep on this one. It’s a proper Sci-fi, cyberpunk detective noir, and it looks fantastic to boot.

The Ascent

A beautiful cyberpunk world
Image Credit: Curve Games

This is another one for you action lovers out there. A visually arresting twin-stick shooter that pulls no punches when it comes to loot, big guns, and plenty of things to shoot with the big guns. It is reminiscent of Ghostrunner in that the story isn’t all that great, but it’s worth playing for the action, and how well realized the world is.

The city of Veles must be seen to be believed. The level of detail is stunning, and the lighting effects are simply gorgeous. The developers also did a wonderful job of realizing a classic cyberpunk aesthetic.

There’s nothing hugely original on display, but neon lights, mohawks, and body modification have never looked so good. If you’ve shelled out for a PS5 or a high-end PC and want to put it through its paces, The Ascent is a great choice.

The pacing is a little wonky, and some late-game sections can be a real slog, but when it all comes together, rolling and shooting your way through enemy hordes is a blast. There is also extensive character customization, both in aesthetics and gameplay. Most of the time, The Ascent is dumb fun, but the emphasis is on the fun, not the dumb.

Cyberpunk 2077

A lot of flaws but a lot to like
Image Credit: CD Projekt Red

I agonized over whether or not to include this game here. Overhyped, underwhelming, buggy, and the most boring name imaginable. Cyberpunk 2077 has a lot going against it, but despite everything, it contains one of the best-realized cyberpunk cityscapes I’ve ever seen. If you’re a fan of the genre, it’s worth exploring.

It’s an uneven experience, to say the least, but there are high points. When it works, it can be absolutely incredible. Just stepping out into the smoky, neon metropolis is a moment worth savoring. Technical incompetence aside, the developers did a great job putting the world together. I was always half expecting to bump into Rick Deckard at some point.

The gameplay is varied enough, but won’t blow your mind. It has improved since the initial release, but it’s still by no means outstanding. The stealth and combat aren’t what kept me playing. The story, or perhaps the characters are a lot more interesting. The player’s (“V’s”) consciousness is being overwritten by Keanu Reeves and their relationship is fascinating. I wouldn’t blame you for ignoring Cyberpunk 2077, but there is something worth playing in there somewhere.

Shadowrun Returns

Shadowrun Returns
Image Credit: Harebrained Schemes

The Shadowrun universe is absolutely vast. The first tabletop RPG appeared in 1989, and a huge number of books, games and other media have appeared since. Fortunately, no prior knowledge of the franchise is required to enjoy the cyberpunk fantasy mash-up that is Shadowrun Returns. If you like tactical RPGs dive on in.

The setting is absolutely fantastic, and there’s nothing else quite like it. Set more than one hundred years in the future, the world of Shadowrun Returns is one part cyberpunk, and one part high fantasy. It’s a classic cyberpunk city, but with trolls, elves and orcs thrown in. It’s worth a look for the novelty alone.

The actual story is both complex and pretty grizzly. It starts with an investigation into a serial killer who surgically removes organs from their victims and doesn’t get much more upbeat from there. It’s all classic cyberpunk though, transhumanism, secret societies, that sort of thing.

Gameplay-wise, while it can be a little linear at times, but Shadowrun Returns does everything a good CRPG should. A robust class and levelling system, deep, tactical combat, and dialogue trees aplenty. It’s old school stuff, and that’s just the way we like it.

Deus Ex (2000)

One of the best cyberpunk games ever made
Image Credit: Eidos Interactive

The original Deus Ex is undoubtedly one of the best cyberpunk games of all time. If not one of the best games period. The poster child for the immersive sim genre, Deus Ex interweaves a number of complex gameplay systems, with a bleak vision of humanity’s future. This is a world where conspiracy, secret societies, and mysterious new technologies are everywhere.

What made Deux Ex special was the agency it gave the player. Every objective could be completed in myriad ways, and you were free to build the JC Denton (the protagonist) you wanted. NPC interaction was also hugely innovative, with characters able to react to you in different ways and even be killed off before their time in some cases.

The only real criticism I have for Deus Ex regards the graphics. Yes, it’s more than 20 years old, but they didn’t look great even when the game was first released. As you can imagine, time has not been kind. But let’s not dwell on that. Deus Ex is a deep complex game with a remarkable degree of interactivity. It might not be a looker but trust me, once you start playing, you won’t care.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

A brilliant parody
Image Credit: Ubisoft

A lot of cyberpunk books, games, and films take themselves very seriously. That’s by no means a bad thing, but it does mean that a game as unashamedly silly as Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s ’80s style insanity can feel like a breath of fresh air. Its certainly intended as a parody, but it comes from a place of love. Hop onboard your giant laser dragon and get started.

As a spinoff for Far Cry 3, it’s short and snacky, but Blood Dragon manages to pack a hell of a lot in. Cheesy one-liners, ridiculous action sequences, and a relentless synth-wave soundtrack are all here, and their all great. You also have a quadruple barrel shotgun at your disposal, which basically makes the game immune to criticism.

Not being a full game in its own right, Blood Dragon is often overlooked. That’s a shame because it’s a perfectly paced piece of absolute nonsense (in a good way) that anyone who likes old-fashioned action movies and cyberpunk style should check out. It really makes the most of its admittedly pokey playspace, and ought to go down as one of the best cyberpunk games ever released.

Cruelty Squad

Corporate Dystopia
Image Credit: Consumer Softproducts

I didn’t think I’d like Cruelty Squad as much as I did. For one thing, it looks like an absolute mess. A deliberate effort was made to make the game as hideous as possible which was so successful I almost stopped playing straight away. I stuck with it though and was pleasantly surprised by the game’s themes, structure, and ambition.

In a world run by all-powerful corporations, you must carry out a number of contract killings on behalf of the “Cruelty Squad”. The corporate overlords mark someone for dead, and you hunt them down and kill them. It’s an amazingly bleak premise, but one with a serious point to make. Increasing corporate influence on our lives is a key cyberpunk theme, and Cruelty Squad takes it to the logical extreme.

Each level is a sandbox, and so the game plays like the (monstrously ugly) offspring of Hitman and Deus Ex. How you approach and execute your objective is up to you. There are also all kinds of little details scattered about that flesh out the world in subtle ways. From the objects, you find to the way civilians react to the killings.

That’s our list of the best Cyberpunk games ever created, are there any games we’ve missed? Let us know about them in the comments!

Written by Robert Webb

2 Comments

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  1. I agree very much with this list.
    I myself would have added these to the list:

    System Shock 2
    Soma
    Deus Ex Human Revolution
    Technobabylon
    Gemini Rue
    Doom3
    System Crash
    Beyond A Steel Sky
    Remember Me

    • All classics in their own right! I remember being impressed by Human Revolution, much more so than Mankind Divided.

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

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