You don’t have to wait until 2077 to find good cyberpunk games on PC. Hell, you don’t even have to wait until September. While CD Projekt RED’s upcoming opus will no doubt be the entry point into the genre for many, cyberpunk has been thriving on PC for years.
Cyberpunk has been around since at least the ’70s, starting as sci-fi literature that emphasized the dark, street-level side of futuristic technology, especially social control and cybernetics. Cyberpunk’s popularity on bookshelves, tabletop games, and the silver screen has waxed and waned, but the genre has always been well-represented in the PC gaming world. Maybe there’s something about these renegade computer geeks tinkering with hacked-together hardware that really appeals?
So buckle up, jack into your deck, and engage your ocular implants to scan the best cyberpunk games on PC.
Deus Ex / Deus Ex Mankind Divided
We start with a PC gaming legend and a luminary of the cyberpunk canon in its own right. Deus Ex nailed the genre’s themes while also being a landmark game for its willingness to incorporate player choice. Orwellian government, social tension, cybernetic enhancements, sinister conspiracies — Deus Ex checks all the boxes. Playing as counter-terrorist agent JC Denton, there’s always a few different solutions to tackle any problem that comes your way, regardless of if you favor going in guns blazing, stealthy infiltration, or making use of various gimmicks. At the time, Deus Ex attracted a lot of praise for being completable without killing a single soul.
The original Deus Ex still holds up today, but it can be further improved by the free community-made Revision mod. Deus Ex: Revision overhauls the graphics and music while also adding new modes and environmental details that smooth out the experience of playing a vintage 3D game.
But if you’re looking for something more modern, then 2016’s Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has you covered. The latest installment in the series continues the story of Adam Jensen, a cyborg operative hunting terrorists in a future where humanity has turned against the cybernetically augmented population. You can check out our full review of that title. Mankind Divided‘s story uses cybernetic augmentation as a vehicle to explore social issues, not necessarily so effectively. For the player, it’s a great excuse to be an arm cannon-toting badass, though.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall DC
William Gibson meets Gary Gygax. The “other” big cyberpunk tabletop RPG franchise after Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun welded the cyborgs and hackers of Neuromancer to the elves, trolls, and sorcerers of Dungeons & Dragons. The world has been shattered by a supernatural cataclysm that spawned monstrosities and caused many humans to transform into fantasy races.
And of course, technological abuse has run rampant and the political order as we know it has collapsed, leaving ruthless megacorps to step in. The world is double-screwed. Also, double-cool. Who’s to argue with a cybernetic orc shaman?
Harebrained Schemes made a trio of Shadowrun isometric RPGs that are all are worth checking out, but Shadowrun: Dragonfall DC is a personal favorite. Set in the anarchic dystopia of Berlin, your custom character must assemble a band of memorable misfits to avenge a fallen comrade and unravel a conspiracy involving a powerful dragon lurking behind the neon city lights. Dragonfall gets the shadowrunner lifestyle right, as your rag-tag team take on mercenary work to finance their efforts in the main story mission. Once you’ve beaten Berlin, the sequel, set in Hong Kong, also comes highly recommended.
Va-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
Cyberpunk has always had a love for its lowlife heroes. Naturally, seedy dive bars are a staple of the genre. In VA-11 HALL-A, you get to be behind one such a bar and serve up drinks to the varied clientele of your establishment. Part mixologist, part psychologist, the right combination of flavors and chit-chat will get the patrons to open up more about their lives and problems.
No traditional dialogue trees here — rather your choice of drink affects what happens next. Do you make the customer exactly what they want? Put a little extra kick in it? The gameplay lies in figuring out the effects of different ingredients and using them to advance the story in the way you want.
Sure, there’s a wider world out there you don’t see, and it’s 100% cyberpunk hellhole. But despite VA-11 HALL-A’s limited visual perspective, your conversations will reveal the whole setting through the intimate, human stories told in this dive that reeks of “dog urine and hand soap.”
The Red Strings Club
Sunshine and the countryside isn’t very cyberpunk, so we’re sticking to the nightlife for this next entry. The Red Strings Club does also feature bartending, but it is overall wider in scope than VA-11 HALL-A. In this narrative game, you alternate among playing bartender Donovan, freelance hacker Brandeis, and Akara, an android with a penchant for ethics.
Each character has their own skills and accompanying mini-games that play a role in the plot as they team up to take on a sinister corporate conspiracy. Aside from bartending you’ll have the opportunity to design genetic implants using your pottery skills and undertake corporate espionage.
The Red Strings Club isn’t as gritty and nihilistic as most cyberpunk fare. You never get the sense that a cyborg street war is about to erupt. Rather, the narrative is more interested in the lives of its characters and raising questions about transhumanism, AI, and moral philosophy. The dialogue is funny and thought-provoking, and although the game is relatively short, it’s worth replaying a few times to see all the possible narrative threads.
Technobabylon is a point-and-click adventure set in the cyberpunk future of… 2087. Take that, CDPR. And it’s superb. Technobabylon‘s setting lays the dystopia on thick with emphasis on biomechanical tech. People have their bones turned into bombs, human meat is turned to food, and wetware computers host VR simulations. Throughout the game, the player’s perspective switches among “The Man” cyber-cop Dr. Lao, fellow cop Dr. Regis, and down-and-out VR addict Latha Sesame.
Technobabylon really shines through its characters. Each of the three playable individuals in the story has their own motivations to pursue and connections to explore. Smart dialogue and a well-written story elevate Technobabylon to being one of the best games of its kind. The puzzles will be familiar. You collect objects to use them in the right place and advance the story. Some puzzles do veer into LucasArts-style unfairness, but thankfully the characters will usually pipe up with a helpful comment. For those hungry for more cyberpunk point-and-click, Gemini Rue, also released by Wadjet Eye, is worth a look.
As you may expect from the team that gave us Layers of Fear, Observer is a horror-tinged take on cyberpunk. This short, tense mystery game takes place in “the stacks,” a derelict apartment complex that houses societies lowlifes and castoffs. In true genre style, you play a grizzled detective, the titular “observer.” The cyberpunk twist? You use neuro-technology to hack into the minds of the insane. As you can imagine, it ain’t pretty, as the psychic feedback causes terrifying hallucinations. For added pedigree, the protagonist is voiced by the late Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner‘s Roy Batty.
Observer mixes up a typical cyberpunk detective/conspiracy story with plenty of tension and scary moments. Our cyborg cop is on a personal mission to find his missing son, and he gets more desperate towards the end of the game. You will have to decide whether to recklessly use your augmentations to wrest information from the desperate inhabitants of the stacks or take another, more potentially humane approach. Observer is only about five hours long but intense and full of atmosphere.
Listen up, young ‘uns. There was once a time when every new game by Peter Molyneux was a genuinely exciting event. Syndicate Wars is one of the best titles from the ’90s Bullfrog games era and a classic PC game for the ages. Rather than being a renegade cop or hacker raging against the system, you are the system in Syndicate Wars.
Taking the side of the Orwellian EuroCorp government forces or the apocalyptic Church of the New Epoch, you control squads of goons in battles for supremacy in a cyberpunk cityscape. You can equip your goons with heavy weaponry, cybernetic implants, and performance-enhancing drugs, but it’s equally important to manipulate the environment, either by destroying buildings or mind-controlling the hapless citizens and enemy mooks into supporting you.
Although it looks graphically dated, Syndicate Wars was ahead of its time and the gameplay is still satisfying today, with lots of different ways to accomplish each mission. And you can get it from GOG for just a few bucks.
The future’s not so bright
This selection of seven may be my personal top picks, but truth be told, there are more than enough great cyberpunk games out there to tide fans over until 2077. The game, that is. Honorable mention goes to Beneath a Steel Sky (adventure), System Shock 2 (FPS), and Ruiner (action). If there are any cyberpunk gems you think I’ve overlooked, don’t hesitate to recommend them in the comments.