Under The Radar: Cyberpunk Games - Cola Powered Gamer gives us a special treat for October!


Cyberpunk was covered extensively in film, TV and of course video games. The games covered here will be those that you probably haven’t heard of or have simply gone under your radar. So here's a personal selection from me, Cola Powered Gamer!

Gemini Rue


Released in 2011 and developed by Joshua Nuernberger and published by Wadjet Eye Games, Gemini Rue is a cyberpunk point-and-click game which is a breath of fresh air, after the decline of the genre.

You control Azriel Odin a former assassin that has switched sides and is now working for the police. Landing on the planet Barracus, he is looking for his brother, who has been kidnapped and taken to a facility Center 7, which is at an unknown location in the galaxy. Taking inspiration from Cowboy Bebop and Blade Runner, the game manages to find its own style and tell its own story without ripping them off. The game features good puzzles, without the use of “moon logic” and features brief, but simple action sections. The music and voice acting are satisfactory, for this small indie game, and the game even manages to have a philosophical dialog without it being ham-fisted. Gemini Rue might be a small and charming game, but it will tell a strong mature story and offer an enjoyable experience.

Technobabylon


Another game published by Wadjet Eye Games and developed by Technocrat Games, developed in AGS and released in 2015. Technobabylon is set in the cyberpunk city of Newton and has you investigating a series of murders. The game lets you control three characters, Latha Sesame the hacker that escapes the explosion in her building, and CEL (Centralized Emergency Logistics) agents Charles Regis and his partner Max Lao, investigating a series of murders by someone named Mindjack.

Technobabylon has a strong story and a good engaging world, but the game still finds time for brief moments of humor. The game has many details put in its worldbuilding to make it believable and plausible. Almost everything in the game is explained, how each device works, the political situation in the world, characters motivation, and other small details. Puzzles are mostly simple, and there are a few that will offer a challenge, but the game offers more than one way to solve certain puzzles. There are also moral choices which will impact the rest of the game. The graphics are 2D pixel art, and each scene is unique and scenes in the Trance (cyberspace) are designed with an 80s/90s style of cyberspace in mind. Technobabylon is a bit longer than other Wadjet Eye Games, but it will keep you occupied until the end.

Binary Domain


Binary Domain is a third-person shooter released in 2012, published and developed by Sega (Devil’s Details for the PC release). The game is set in Tokyo in 2080, in a world where global warming has worldwide flooding, leaving much of the world uninhabitable. Because of all of this, robots are used as a main labor force. The story follows Dan Marshall and his squad are being send to bring order to the robotic community as they infiltrate the community and want to make humans redundant. The game features the so-called “The Consequence System” which will decides how your teammates will view and trust you in the story. The ending is impacted, based on the level of trust between your teammates. Binary Domain, also had a cool feature, which lets you talk to your teammates and give them orders (by using your mic) or you can use the in game menu.

You can also choose your own teammates, when the teams split up. The game also has procedural damage, which means that some robots will adapt to the damage taken, and you must find other weak spots to beat them. The enemies are quite diverse, and they come with their own weapons and tactics. Also the boss fights are quite frequent, and offer a good challenge. The weapon selection is good and can be upgraded using nanomachines and weapon upgrades which can be bought from shops. You can also use nanomachines to upgrade your skills and find the play style that best suits you.

Binary Domain is a good third-person shooter with tactical elements, which features an unexpectedly good story, and the action will certainly keep you on the edge.

Blade Runner


Developed by Westwood Studios and published by Virgin Interactive in 1997, Blade Runner is a pretty faithful recreation of the movie. Similarly to the movie, you play as a cop, Roy McCoy whose mission is to terminate “replicants”. Several of the characters from the movie make an appearance, but Rick Deckard does not appear in speaking roll. He is referred, and even seen on couple of occasions and his actions from the movie are mentioned.

Blade Runner is an adventure game, but it does not feature classic inventory puzzles and requires you to pay attention and have good reflexes, but this makes the game more atmospheric. In the game you can use the Voight-Kampff usually at predetermined point in the game, although on occasion the game gives you an option of administrating the test. If the test is positive, you have the option of killing them, arresting them or letting them go. The game begins shortly after the film, and McCoy is tasked with investigating with the group of replicants suspected of killing of animals. As the story progresses, McCoy is framed for the murder of the civilian and from there on story gets more intense. The game has multiple endings, which are based on your actions and decisions you made during the story.

Not available for purchase on-line stores, the game can hopefully be located on several abandonware sites. If you manage to get the game working, you will certainly not be disappointed.

Perihelion


Perihelion was developed for Amiga and released in Europe, this obscure game has a very good atmosphere, ominous soundtrack and a cool setting. Inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune series, Perihelion is set in a world devastated by wars, where cyborgs, psionic cultists and genetically engineered mutant, who are all ruled by Imperial Clones.

The story tells the tale of a powerful god named “The Unborn”, who wants to breach reality and cause chaos along the planet. To combat this the Emperor summons six prophesied heroes kept in stasis just for this occasion. Perihelion is a first-person dungeon crawler with some tactical element, fairly short lasting only 8-10 hours, but it focuses mostly on the story. There are no random encounters, which is good because the battles are slow and kinda underwhelming. While the atmosphere is superb and story is interesting, you will spend most of your time roaming cities and dungeons and figuring out what is the next move. The other problem is the interface, and things like crafting your own spells becomes frustrating due to its poor execution and design.

Perihelion is declared abandonware by its designer Edvard Toth, who also put together a game and an emulator for anyone to download, but it can be also found on several abandonware sites.

Hacker


Developed by Activision and released in 1985, Hacker is truly a unique game. The game was presented by Jim Levy by pretending that something was wrong while attempting to connect on-line company headquarters to demonstrate the game. After several attempts he logged into mysterious non-Activision server, before saying “That, ladies and gentleman, is the game”. You assume the role of the Hacker, who accidentally acquires access to a non-public system. It turns out that you hacked into Magma Ltd. and you eventually gain control of the robot which travels through around the globe, via deep underground tunnels. Not long after, the player is informed that shredded parts of a secret document containing Magma Ltd. plans for world domination are stolen. You are instructed to retrieve the documents by bargaining with spies around the world. The documents must be retrieved in order to U.S government from thwarting their plans. From here on in you must retrieve the documents and deliver the to Washington D.C. The robot tunnel system is large and unmarked, and relies on trial and error.

The game originally released without no information on how to play, thus giving you the experience of actually hacking the system and adding to immersion. Also the game lacks a save game function, and if you fail you must start again from the beginning. Hacker was Activision’s third best-selling Commodore 64 game. Try this game if you have the patience or if you want to play one of the first hacking games.

Syndicate (2012)


Released in 2012, and developed by Starbreeze Studios, and released for PC, PS3 and XBOX 360 is a reboot of an old Syndicate franchise that was developed in the ’90s by Bullfrog Productions. This time the game is set in 2069, and you play as Miles Kilo an agent of EuroCorp, and you are tasked with the elimination of important people from rival corporations, and along the way, you discover deeper darker secrets. The main part of the story is the DART chip, which lets you access the “dataverse”, making most electronic devices obsolete. Because of the DART chip, nations were also made obsolete, and the world is governed by mega-corporations. In this world, there are two groups those who accepted the chip and unchipped, who are denied benefits and are abandoned.

The combat is centered around the DART chip (Damage, Armor and Reaction Time), which is basically higher damage and more armor. Using the DART chip will make nearby enemies and objects will be highlighted, but it will run out of power. You also have the ability to hack the enemies DART chip, and you can make enemies weapon backfire, make the commit suicide, and also make them shoot other enemies and then commit suicide. In Syndicate you earn upgrades, by shoving the device in their head and pulling out the upgrade, but sadly you can’t do this and acquire bosses abilities. The game also lets you kill civilians but you are not required to do so. Weapons are good, the shooting is good, mostly using the same system as in other Starbreeze Studio games. The syndicate also features a couple of film stars like Brian Cox, as the CEO Jack Denham, Michael Wincott as your mentor and Rosario Dawson as Lily Drawl a scientist. The story for the game was written by Richard K. Morgan, who the devs approached after reading his Altered Carbon novel. Syndicate was vastly overshadowed by Deus Ex: Human Revolution released a year prior which gave you more options and maybe did the cyberpunk theme a little better. Syndicate is worth a shoot, just pretend it has nothing to do with the original games.

B.A.T. II – The Koshan Conspiracy


The Koshan Conspiracy is a game developed by Computer’s Dream and published by Ubi Soft in 1992. The game is a sequel to the 1990 game B.A.T and is superior in every way. It is a mix of a point-and-click adventure game with some light RPG elements. The game is set in Roma II, the most important city on the planet of Shedishan. You play as an agent of “Bureau of Astral Troubleshooters”, and you must investigate a murder of Sylvia Hatford, a fellow BAT agent, who was investigating the business of a mysterious dealer of important raw materials..

The world is vast, deep and immersive. Playing nowadays, you will need the manual or a guide because the game doesn’t feature a tutorial or instructions in the game of any kind, which is kinda typical of games from this era. You can customize your character, program your arm computer, and drive vehicles. The game also features several mini-games, where the player can earn money, and also shooting is done through a simple mini-game. The game is not without flaws, as you, for instance, must advance the time in order for shops to restock, or the fact that you must press the magnifying glass icon several times to find things in a given scene. You must also write down quests, as the game doesn’t have any kind of quest log. Play The Koshan Conspiracy if you have the patience and want to see an attempt of immersion in early adventure games.

Neuromancer


Neuromancer is a game based on the famous William Gibson novel of the same name, released in 1990 for DOS, Amiga, Apple II, and several other systems. You play as Case, a cyberspace “cowboy”, on Chiba City and you are of course broke. The first thing you must do is get yourself a computer (an Ono-Sendai Cyberspace Seven deck), and access cyberspace. To get yourself a computer you must amass enough money (you may be forced to sell a few of your organs)m and buy or download the right software (here they are called “softwarez”).

The goal of the game is to penetrate cyberspace, a limitless grid of information and find out what happened to several hackers, who have disappeared. To do this you must gather clues, by roaming the streets and back alleys of Chiba City, interact with people, learn skills, and have enough money. Once you get yourself in cyberspace, you will quickly learn that it is guarded by ICE (the other one), which stands for Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics and AIs. ICE are semi-intelligent programs developed to prevent unauthorized entry, and AIs do the same, but they have a chance of frying your brain, which was an inspiration for the tag line: “Hacking can get you killed”. The great thing about the Neuromancer is how alive the world around you feels. You had the option of logging on to BBS in-game, posting on them, downloading files and posting them on other BBSes. The world is may seem too open for some, especially if they are expecting an old school adventure game. Neuromancer had great graphics for its time, joystick and keyboard support, lots of self-referential humor, a great soundtrack by DEVO, and most importantly no copy-protection. If you want to see how old games did cyberpunk, play this game.

Snatcher


Hideo Kojima second game released in 1988, a year after the first and original Metal Gear game. Snatcher is an adventure game, which for the most part plays like a visual novel, with some action segments. The game was released for PC-8801, MSX2, PC Engine, Playstation, Sega Saturn, and Sega CD which is the only one with an official English release. On its release, the game released almost no exposure, and the game carried a Mature rating which at the time did not sit well with some retailers after the Mortal Kombat, and other games Senate hearings. Because of all of this the game flopped and was only remembered by hardcore fans.

Snatcher is fairly linear and direct, but it features a very engaging world. Set in a world where one-third of the world population was wiped out by the mysterious virus, the game takes place fifty years later. In the city of Neo Kobe, a strange life form appears, apparently out of nowhere. These life forms turn out to look like exoskeletons, disguise themselves as humans, and begin kidnapping (snatching) high ranking humans. You play as Gillian Seed a member of the JUNKER unit formed to counter this threat, find out where they came from and their purpose. Snatcher takes heavy inspiration from several cyberpunk works, most notably Blade Runner, Akira, and The Terminator, and of course Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Although technically a visual novel, it takes some of the mechanics from adventure games. Everything in the game is operated by menus, removing a need for pixel hunting, a thing most adventure games are known for. But this brings several problems, as you must use several actions to do specific things. For instance, you can’t just open a door, you must look at it, knock, investigate, shout if you must, and then open the door. You get items by looking at them, investigating and then Gillian decides to pick it up. Kojima uses the old trope of amnesiac character and some parts of the story are predictable, but there are still some parts that have a pretty good twist. Fan translation for Sega Saturn exists, and the game can be completed in about six hours, but like a good game, it’s worth playing it more than once.

VA-11-HALL-A


VA-11-HALL-A: Cyberpunk bartender action or sometimes Valhalla is a different take on the visual novel. Valhalla was initially developed for a Cyberpunk Game Jame in 2014, but the devs Sukeban Games, game developers from Venezuela, decided to make a full game. The game takes elements from cyberpunk, anime and PC-98 graphics and it works pretty well. The game uses a Game Maker: Studio engine as it was easy for the developers to add “crazy effects” and was easy enough to port to different platforms. The game had a small team and was designed and drawn by Christopher Ortiz, programmed and written by Fernando Damas and the music was composed by Michael Kelly, and they managed to produce a good, but modest cyberpunk game.

You play as Jill, a bartender at the titular bar of VA-11-HALL-A (pronounced Valhalla), and your job is to mix drinks and listen to peoples stories and problems. Each time someone orders a drink, you must make them a drink, through a relatively simple menu. The game world is believable, as well as some of the problems it faces. The game takes place in Glitch City, and in a world where corporations rule, food shortages are a thing, humans are infected with nanomachines to oppress them, where White Knights (a police unit) ensure that everyone obeys the law, and of course corruption and crime. You also get to visit your home, and it’s important to buy Jill stuff to keep her happy, so she can focus more on her job and offer better drinks. You can also check for news, and use apps on her phone. At the begging of each day, you can choose which music to play on the Jukebox, which is surprisingly good and really sets the mood. All of the bar’s patrons are unique and you will also encounter regulars at the bar. The game also has several references to RoboCop, Blade Runner, and other games and movies. Try this game if you want a relaxing game, and a pretty good story, just remember to have a drink ready.

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream


Based on a short story of Harlan Ellison of the same name, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, is a point-and-click adventure, released in 1995. Developed by The Dreamers Guild and with help from Ellison himself, the game was released for MS-DOS, when the DOS was already becoming obsolete, which was partly why the game was overlooked by the gaming audiences.

Similar to the short story, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is set in post-apocalypse where all that remains is supercomputers and five humans. One of the supercomputers AM (short for Allied Mastercomputer, voiced by Ellison himself), has destroyed all of humanity except for five humans, whom he has been torturing for the past 109 years, by using their fatal flaws to construct their own metaphorical hell. You must make decisions dealing with paranoia, insanity and even genocide, solve riddles and possibly free yourself from AM’s control.

Ellison wrote a 130-page script for the game, along with the help of David Sears who divided each character’s story into their own narrative. The game goes into more detail about each character’s background, personalities, why did AM choose these particular people and AM’s possible motivation. You can also die in the game, and the game is not forgiving, and you must keep an eye on your “spiritual barometer”. Each action you do will affect the “spiritual barometer”, and the character’s expression and even the music will change in some cases. You can also get stuck in some areas and may have to try everything with everything, there is also some pixel hunting and you must save/load in order to get everything right. There are even several endings to achieve, even a good ending is available if you do everything right. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is a game for adults, a true case of psychological horror, and it will provide you with a unique experience. Due to the controversy with the WW2 scenario, which was completely removed from German and French versions, which made the game unbeatable, but the complete game is available on GOG, for those who want to play the whole game.

Project Eden


Released in 2001, and developed by Core Design (the game was made by Neal Boyd and Heather Gibson, the level designers of first two Tomb Raider games), Project Eden is a mix of third-person shooter and puzzle solving, with some light platforming.

The game is set in an overpopulated world, and the Earth diameter is increasing with the growth of mega-cities, each one that houses millions of people. You control Urban Protection Agency agents and you must investigate the disappearance of people and you must work your way down through the layers of mega-city.

You must use each agent in your team to solve problems and puzzles, and you must get all of your characters through the level simultaneously. Each of the agents has a unique ability, some are good at shooting, the other one at hacking, etc. The level design is good, and it makes you feel like you are discovering new ways and paths, not that you just simply get to the new level. AI is decent and some enemies respawn, and some will get back to life after you shoot them, forcing you to think where to best position your agents.

The game is certainly limited by its technology, but it will provide you a nice challenge. The story and atmosphere are good, and the narrative is certainly original and will draw you in as you continue to play it. It has a good mix of tactics and puzzles in a cyberpunk setting. Project Eden is now available on GOG for a nice modest price.

Shadow President


Cyberpunk setting and political simulations are quite rare, and one of those games is Shadow President. Developed by DC True and released in 1993, Shadow President is best described as a geopolitical simulation with cyberpunk elements.

The game puts you in the role of the US president, in a situation similar to the Cold War and the early ’90s/the late ’80s. Your only goal is to stay in power, as not getting reelected will result in a game over screen. There is so much to do, that it may be impossible to keep track of everything. You can prepare Kuwait to be invaded by Iraq, improve human rights in Africa, depose military dictatorships, stage coups, and even nuke countries. You can also try to make a world a better place, but this is a difficult task. A month in a game is a long time, as you will be interrupted by events and other tasks. Once a society becomes peaceful, they are still pretty much the same society, and if they hated you in the beginning, they will continue to hate you, or at least they will dislike you. You will deal with foreign diplomatic crises, send foreign aids and of course wage wars, which is an unavoidable part of the game.

If you abuse power or perform poorly, you can be faced with your cabinet members resigning, Congress might try to impeach you, and even THE terrorists will try to assassinate you. The UI is good and elegant, and you can switch between menus with ease. Shadow President uses the CIA World Factbook (circa 1991), and you can access it at any time to get info on countries and you are going to encounter and deal with. Shadow President was successful enough and it received in 1996 it received a sequel called Cyber Judas. The games are not available in any online stores, but they can be found on some abandonware sites.

Cypher: Cyberpunk Text Adventure


Cypher: Cyberpunk Text Adventure, or simply Cypher is a text adventure released in 2012. It may seem out of place that a text adventure was released in 2012, but Cypher updates the traditional formula of text adventures. The game uses music, sound effects and even graphics in some cases.

The game is set in NeoSushi City, formerly known as Tokyo, several years after a part of the moon hit the Earth’s surface, destroying much of the civilization and the internet. Corporations now rely on individuals who are able to courier data using cybernetic implants. You play as Dogeron “Dog” Kenan, a courier and after a deal goes bad, he becomes a wanted man. You carry a code so important that the whole city is trying to kill you.

The game uses inspiration from Blade Runner and Total Recall, and it has a good cyberpunk atmosphere. Gameplay largely consists of you reading descriptions of places and objects, and you must provide input using a text parser (obviously). Further detail is provided by background music and sound effects, and there is even an animated portrait of the player character on the right side of the screen. Anytime you collect an important item, they will also be displayed on the right side of the screen.

The game initially was released in three versions: Standard, Deluxe, and Collector. Deluxe and Collector came with extra “feelies”, and each one was released with the soundtrack included. Also, at first the game was released with some sexual sound effects in the hotel scene, but after some complaints, the sound effect was removed from later versions of the game. Being a text adventure released after nearly 30 years, Cypher will offer you a good read and a nice cyberpunk experience. The game is available for purchase from developers web site and is available for Windows and Macintosh.

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