Do Ya Feel Lucky, Cyberpunk?

Cyberpunk is much-loved here at the Slowdown. If there’s one thing I and Martyn have in common, it’s our fondness for cyberpunk masterpiece Blade Runner. Ridley Scott’s neo-noir thriller has had a considerable influence on the genre since its release almost 3 decades ago. Neuromancer and Ghost in the Shell are two other favourite stories of mine that have inspired countless movies and games. So it has been a pleasure to notice a growing number of games cropping up recently that celibrate cyberpunk themes and offer more than just a nod to the aforementioned properties.

Gemini Rue
Fans of Blade Runner may recall that the original movie tie-in game was a point ‘n click adventure. This indie offering from WadjetEye Games, recently covered in more depth by Martyn, wears its inspirations on its sleeve but has confidence to explore new ground. With its moody art style and an immersive soundtrack, Gemini Rue sticks close to its neo-noir roots and offers an intriguing dual narrative following the parallel journeys of two protagonists, mysteriously linked in some way.

Frozen Synapse
I’d been a fan since the beta, and on release it managed to impress even further. Games tend to only occasionally foray into virtual worlds as part of their gameplay, but Mode 7 Games’ Frozen Synapse takes place solely in a virtual world. A “simultaneous turn-based strategy game” with both a singleplayer campaign and multiplayer mode, Frozen Synapse manages to fuse itself with its established world - the interface and your interaction with the game is part of the game’s internal fiction, a smooth transition into the story not unlike that found in Introversion’s Uplink. Assisting an underground movement in their cause to topple a megacorporation, you plug yourself into the system and command every action of your peons in infiltration and combat. If that isn’t cyberpunk, I don’t know what is.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Eidos Montreal’s prequel to one of the best games of all time is only a week away, and I’m excited to say the least. Human Revolution is rich with artistic flair, its “Cyber-Renaissance”1 aesthetics exude a glowing gold-black motif that pervades every screenshot. The dense cityscape of Shang Hai draws similarities to the futuristic metropolis in Ghost in the Shell and the rain-drenched downtown streets in Blade Runner. The cyperpunk influences don’t stop there, though: the game’s key theme is transhumanism, and the gameplay involves modifying your body with cybernetic augmentations to grant you new abilities. Another staple of the literature, hacking, is abundant here too, allow you to compromise security systems and computer terminals.

Hard Reset
A surprise announcement a few weeks back revealed Hard Reset, a sci-fi shooter that is to launch only a month from now. It’s not often that games have such a short pre-release marketing cycle, and it could prove to be a good move by industry veteran supergroup Flying Wild Hog to keep the buzz fresh in the minds of gamers. Described as “a marriage of Painkiller and Diablo”2, Hard Reset is a PC-only shooter from the school of over-the-top action games like Painkiller and Serious Sam. It doesn’t look like it will be faithful to any particular genre mainstays but it certainly has dystopian and futuristic-looking environments and a host of sci fi gadgets and weapons, so there’s that to look forward to.

Prey 2
The first Prey from Human Head Studios was a mishmash of portals, aliens and Native American mythology. The sequel looks to eschew almost everything but the name, but rather than be an obvious franchise cash-in it seems to have taken an identity of its own. Very little media has been released thus far but word is it appears to be a cross between Assassin’s Creed and Blade Runner. An open-world cyberpunk game? Can it possibly be so cool? We’ll have to wait and see, in the meantime have a gander at the screenshots and concept trailer.

E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy
This is an odd, odd beast. We’ve had a brief look at it before, but even after launch it’s not so easy to describe. E.Y.E is a sci-fi fantasy RPG shooter using the Source engine, featuring an overwhelming number of options in terms of character customization and environmental interactivity. I haven’t yet had a chance to try it out, but from what I’ve seen of it, cyberpunk elements comprise just one part of its many aspects. Not only is it possible to hack enemy turrets for your own use, but it’s entirely possible to be hacked yourself, at which point you have to fight back to regain control. A very interesting indie title that may be worth a closer look.

This “cyberpunk Lord Of The Rings” MMORPG was only just announced the other day, so we don’t know much at all about it other than it will be free to play, it is based on a series of books by Tad Williams, and that it is expected to release in 2012.

This last one isn’t quite a game - at least, not yet3. At GDC 2011 Epic Games dropped this bomb on the industry, a video demo of what they envisioned as the next-gen game. Running on a monster rig, the stunning realtime sequence showcased the very cutting edge in visual technology offered by Epic’s Unreal Engine 3. Titled ‘Samaritan’, the video featured a trenchcoated man in shades, a walking trope of cyberpunk. It is a scene that could have been taken right out of Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell, with cybernetic humans trading blows and gigantic robots joining the fray. Seeing as even the Gears of War series started out as a tech demo demo back in the early days of Unreal Engine 3, it’s possible that we could see a whole game fleshed out from this concept. Here’s hoping.

I am sure that’s not all that we can expect to see in the coming months. There have been numerous rumours over the past year of a Syndicate reboot, and they’ve reached a breaking point with an almost-certain expectation of some kind of announcement at Gamescom taking place in Cologne, Germany this week. The classic cyberpunk franchise sorely needs to return, let’s hope EA is working on it.

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