Cyberpunk isn’t a happy notion. It isn’t a clean and shiny utopian promise, rather a neon hued painting depicting the breakdown of social order. Despite the peak techno revolution, cyberpunk fiction revels just as much in the dystopic future where technology might have ended up doing more harm than good. And yet, somehow this angsty subgenre of sci-fi has mesmerized many of us through the years with its masterstroke combination of lowlife, high tech, AI, mega corporations and so much more. Therefore, it was not surprising when the whole spectrum of gamers was swooning over the reveal of Cyberpunk 2077 at this year’s E3. But the game is in its early stages and years away from release. Now how do we scratch that cyberpunk itch that the game’s trailer has surely conjured up in us? Well, by grabbing some underrated cyberpunk gems from the Steam Summer Sale, of course. We all are aware of the usual heavy hitters like Deus Ex, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon or the rebooted Shadowrun games that encapsulate this genre. But I’ll be going a bit deeper down the rabbit hole today to suggest some games that might not have gotten the same media attention but are worthy of your time all the same. And did I say they are dirt cheap in the Steam Summer Sale?
Dex is an open world, side scrolling, action RPG that takes place in a far future Cyberpunk setting and takes some inspiration from classic Metroid and Castlevania games. The city of Harbor Prime, the setting of the game, has been beautifully constructed with an incredibly immersive environment.
Dex also possesses a politically intriguing main quest and a somewhat solid gameplay base. It focuses on both melee and ranged combat. If you can tolerate the occasional gameplay hiccups, there’s a lot of fun to be had. It is currently $1.99 on Steam.
VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
VA-11 HALL-A is the rare cyberpunk adventure that actually manages to remain interesting until the end with a unique mechanic and loveable characters. You play as Jill who works as a bartender at VA-11 Hall-A. The story is nonlinear and instead of being decided by dialogue options, it changes depending on the drinks you make for patrons at the bar. There are regular clients with their own personalities and the people who work at the bar themselves who slowly grow on you.
Mixing drinks and serving a particular drink to people is basically the main gameplay here. I absolutely love the character designs and the subtle animations at play both in characters and in the bar environment. The title screen itself is worth having a big poster of framed in your room. Go buy it for a measly 10 bucks on Steam.
Right from the off, Observer is textbook cyberpunk. Grim and brooding with atmosphere, its world feels like a digital recreation of a William Gibson novel. Observer uses this unsettling ambiance to tee up a gripping horror narrative, but it also simultaneously weaves in themes of paranoia and espionage classic to the genre. It had me utterly captivated over the course of six hours, soaking up the tension of its eerie environment and locked into unraveling the mystery of its story.
Starring Rutger Hauer of Blade Runner’s Roy Batty fame, in this game you play as an Observer- an augmented KGB police detective- who’ll wander around a retro-cyberpunk vision of future Poland piecing together an ever-thickening plot. For the most part, the gameplay that translates this story is engaging enough and the game does a good job of shepherding you between objectives without ever feeling as though it’s holding your hand. Observer is currently $6.29 on Steam.
Ruiner is a tense, top-down shooter and a series of equations written in blood, bullets, neon. The maiden game from Reikon Games pretty much demands the fluidity of twin-stick control, even at the cost of mouse-and-keyboard precision. And by “demands,” I mean the game kicked my head in six ways ’til Sunday before I realized the optimal way to play. The game’s world is as red as Carrie on prom night and puts about as much value on human life.
Its harsh cyberpunk aesthetic never lightens up and never gets old. The satisfying combat calculations of the game come together, execute smoothly and consequently gives you a rare cathartic feeling. You can also endlessly tinker with the skill builds that lets you build your own play styles. Grab it for just 10 bucks from the Steam store.
Back in 1993, Bullfrog made a ground-breaking cyberpunk tactical combat game called Syndicate. Its 1996 sequel, Syndicate Wars, was one of gaming’s lost Ur-genres, an even darker game about religion in a fully-destructible cityscape. Both were perfect recreations of grim cyberpunk worlds that you had to take over with your gang of cyborgs, by stealth, hacking or straightforward ultraviolence. Satellite Reign (named punningly after Satellite Rain, the most indiscriminately-destructive of Syndicate Wars’ weapons) is a spiritual sequel to those games.
You take control of a corporation seeking to muscle in another corp that’s dominating your city, using a group of four specialized cyborgs. As a tactical combat game, it runs a close second to XCOM, which is saying something. The game’s open world is a grimy labyrinth of urban design, and it’s an absolute joy to explore. You’ll feel like a kid playing with the most badass action figures you could ever have owned, set atop the biggest playset your imagination could handle. If you can survive the unforgiving opening hours of this game, I promise you there is something special in there. And all this for less than $2 in Steam. I mean, talk about getting a bang for your buck.