The 10 best cyberpunk games on PC
1. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Honestly, the question was never whether Deus Ex would end up topping this list, but whether this or the original would take the crown.
The first game is of course a classic, but time hasn’t been especially kind to its technology or some of its ideas, and politically it’s from a very different era. Human Revolution lacks some of its raw scope and imagination, but is a far sleeker experience that builds on what the original does so well, and what other franchises have brought to the immersive sim genre in the intervening years. Yes, the boss fights suck, and can rightly go and stand in the corner with those copies of Invisible War and Mankind Divided’s garbage ending, but in all other respects, Human Revolution still holds up extremely well as a glimpse of a possible future.
It helps that, while the original Deus Ex was largely built around conspiracy theories—groups like the Illuminati and so on—Human Revolution concentrates on transhumanism and the societal chasms between the haves and have-nots that are only widened by the addition of technology. As gravelly-voiced, professional not-asker-for- this Adam Jensen, you’re in the rare position of being in the middle of the situation, with a body full of fancy toys that isn’t exactly yours. You’re neither truly with the rich and powerful in their ivory towers, nor down with the gutter-rats, but perfectly placed to either prop up a failing society or help it come crashing down.
This gives Human Revolution a resonance that many other supercop fantasies struggle with, in a world perfectly set up to explore technology in both its positive and negative forms. The same science that can replace an arm or eyeball can also be abused, or simply demonised, with just a few flicks of a switch. Fancy cyborg gear can elevate the average person, but also make them subject to its creators in both body and soul. Is it a fair trade? What if the people just seize it?
The sequel, Mankind Divided, focuses on the social issues of all this, with questionable success. Human Revolution handles it more elegantly by simply presenting the situation, and allowing you, the player, to decide which path is correct. Admittedly, this boils down to pressing a button and watching a video clip, but still. While it lasts, it’s a solid shooter, a thought-provoking game, and also it lets you punch people through walls.
It’s amazing that we had to wait so long for either of the two big cyberpunk tabletop RPGs to make their way to PC—if you ignore Microsoft’s team-based FPS Shadowrun, which everyone really should. Despite both SNES and Mega Drive owners getting Shadowrun games in the early ’90s, we had to wait until 2013 for Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun Returns. The original campaign, Dead Man’s Switch, is solid enough. The sequel (originally an expansion pack before thankfully being re-released as a standalone game), is phenomenal.
Shadowrun’s take on cyberpunk is a complex one, mixing in magical and fantasy elements, with the players—shadowrunners—as mercenaries in a world gone mad. Dragonfall absolutely nails this, essentially giving you a team, a general objective to raise enough money for a big mission, and a city of opportunities to pick and choose from. It’s not a complex business simulation or anything like that, but it conveys the vibe of being a shadowrunner far more effectively than a series of mandatory missions ever could. You spend time with your team and get to know their personalities and problems, help them out, and slowly improve your gear until you’re ready to take on literal dragons.
All of this plays out in two basic modes: RPG exploration, and solid tactical combat that makes good use of your team and their abilities. The magical parts of the setting really help with these, allowing the action to go beyond guns.
The third game, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, was also an excellent RPG, but it was this sense of actually being in control that made Dragonfall stand out, both in its series and the genre in general. It’s a structural approach we don’t often see, and yet one that doesn’t get in the way of a strong main storyline and a satisfying ending. What Dragonfall lacks in raw technology, with its relatively simple engine and graphics, it more than makes up for in scope and heart.
It’s one of the best RPGs of the last few years, and one of the best cyberpunk games full stop. Harebrained is now part of strategy behemoth Paradox Interactive—here’s hoping it’s working on something even bigger and better.
3. Blade Runner
Developer: Westwood Studios
Westwood’s Blade Runner absolutely nails the style of the movie, recreating its locations with fully animated backgrounds, and offers a score painstakingly recreated by the composer from the original. It’s a brand new story in the Blade Runner universe, playing out concurrently with Deckard’s. The first act especially is a masterful bit of work, plunging you deep into the world and dripping with atmosphere. You get to perform the Voight-Kampff test, face off with replicants who aren’t afraid to thrust you into an arcade sequence without warning, and generally live for a while in a more-or-less perfect recreation of LA, 2019.
4. Watch Dogs 2
The first Watch Dogs was more overtly cyberpunk than its sequel, but it’s also a far inferior game. Watch Dogs 2 picks up everything it did well, particularly the use of hacking as a primary weapon and a city in which everything can be manipulated, and throws out everything else. While the sequel doesn’t have much raw story, it does a great job of making new hero Marcus Holloway feel like part of something important. Watch Dogs 2 puts you at the bottom of the social ladder, then hands you a hacksaw to bring the system crashing down. Doing so makes for great set-pieces and a genuine feeling of power.
5. System Shock 2
Developer: Irrational Games
The System Shock series isn’t quite the same flavour of cyberpunk as most of the games on this list, but it stands as one of the first truly successful attempts at the genre. Its villain, rogue AI SHODAN, is deservedly considered one of gaming’s greatest baddies, and the first game’s take on cyberspace as a surreal maze of wireframe graphics and deadly geometric shapes certainly warrants the series its place. The sequel largely drops that element, but replaces it with a new interest in transhumanism by way of the ‘improvements’ offered by a more evolved SHODAN, who refuses to be humbled by needing to rely on a mere fleshbag.
See More: The 10 best cyberpunk games on PC