Cyberpunk and other punks in games

What is cyberpunk
Cyberpunk is a science fiction genre. It originated in the 1980s. First, Ridley Scott directed the film “Blade Runner” (1982), a little later, William Gibson wrote the novel “Neuromancer” (1984). In Japan, the genre got a big boost with the animated film Akira (1988) and the manga Ghost in the Shell (1989-1990). The comic was the basis for the 1995 film adaptation, from which the Wachowski duo scooped up a handful of ideas for The Matrix (1999).

Cyberpunk is characterized by an image of the near future. Technical successes in it coexist with class stratification. There are slums next to the skyscrapers. Instead of government, there are transnational corporations, instead of television – virtual reality, instead of our usual medicine – the purchase of electronic and mechanical “improvements” for the body. A handful of people enjoy the benefits of civilization, the rest of the world is in decline. “Cyber” in the word “cyberpunk” just indicates high technology, “punk” – the decay of society. Social injustice is opposed by a lone hero, often a hacker.

The rise of cyberpunk coincided with an era of change and social tension. The USSR split into a dozen states, in South Africa riots related to the transition from apartheid to democracy thundered, in Berlin the wall that divided the city was destroyed. Cyberpunk also painted these unstable times, which met with a response from the audience.

“Ghost in armor”

The genre itself was invented by writers and directors for purely marketing reasons, in order to isolate themselves from science fiction in general, to stand out from the general background. That is why he has no clear criteria. In cyberpunk derivatives, they are also weakly expressed.

Cyberpunk in games
Cyberpunk took root in games, because it was initially focused, like virtual entertainment, on adolescents and young people. In addition, both directions carry a “geeky” charge, which makes them related.
















Notable projects in the cyberpunk setting emerged in the 1990s. The shooter System Shock (1994) depicted a hacker versus an evil AI on a space station. Nightdive Studios is currently busy remaking it.

System Shock: Enhanced Edition

In the point & click adventure Beneath a Steel Sky (1994), dark cyberpunk scenery coexists with an abundance of jokes in conversations. Beneath a Steel Sky’s protagonist Robert Foster returned last year in fully 3D Beyond a Steel Sky.

Blade Runner (1997) by Westwood Studios (Command & Conquer) borrows locations, music and characters from Ridley Scott’s painting. You control not Rick Deckard, but Ray McCoy, but the task is familiar – the pursuit of replicants.

Blade Runner

Omikron: The Nomad Soul was released in 1999, like Shenmue, and also offered a mixture of action and adventure. One of the minor characters was played by David Bowie. Bowie also appeared in Omikron as the lead singer of The Dreamers. After Omikron, the Quantic Dream team released a much more high-profile Fahrenheit and since then have become too carried away with interactive films.

Deus Ex relied on the gameplay elements of shooters and RPGs. The last part, Mankind Divided, thundered 5 years ago. Square Enix does not want to continue the series.

Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition

Not without projects under the Matrix license. Enter the Matrix (03) scared away fans by offering to play Niobe and the Ghost from “Reloaded”. In The Matrix: Path of Neo (2005), the Chosen One was finally brought to the fore, but the action was branded for technical errors, unsightly graphics, a strange ending, where Neo fought the gigantic Smith.

The massively multiplayer RPG The Matrix Online existed in 2005-2009. Despite the original decisions (for example, the developers themselves controlled the plot characters like Morpheus), The Matrix Online did not attract any significant audience and outright lost to the heavyweights of the industry.

The Matrix Online

A new surge of interest in cyberpunk occurred in the second half of the 2010s. The role of Cyberpunk 2077 and Blade Runner 2049 are to blame. Interesting projects include the run & gun arcade game Ruiner (2017), the adventure Cloudpunk (2020) about a courier / taxi driver on an anti-gravity cushion, and the parkour action Ghostrunner (2020), where “game over” occurs after the first missed shot.

Cyberpunk 2077 (2020) was supposed to put a bold point in the genre at the moment, but its premiere was accompanied by a wave of “bugs”. Instead of “game of the year,” Cyberpunk 2077 has become the disappointment of the year for millions of gamers.

Some “punks” arose as a counterweight to cyberpunk, others spun off from it. The most famous are those who have bright features.

So, in steampunk / steampunk there is usually no place for pessimism and dystopia. We are shown the industrial civilization of the 19th – early 20th centuries. At the same time, they are equal to Victorian England. Steam locomotives puff on the rails, steamboats plow the seas, steam tanks roar in war. In general, the focus is on huge machines. The mood of the works is upbeat, victorious, with faith in science, which does not cancel the division of society into workers and manufacturers.

Ideas and images of steampunk are clearly conveyed by the manga “Fullmetal Alchemist” (2001-2010) and the cartoon “Stimboy” (2004). A darker steamy universe appears in the film Chronicles of Predatory Cities (2018). Frostpunk’s strategy (2018) goes further and makes people survive in hellish cold with steam engines.


The isometric RPG Arcanum (2001) pits steampunk and fantasy together, and the stealth action Thief: The Dark Project (1998) – steampunk and the Middle Ages. Plus noteworthy is the Dishonored series, inspired by the Victorian era. In Dishonored, Arkane encourages users to complete missions creatively by trying different approaches. It’s a shame that Arkane has now turned its back on single-player games and switched to multiplayer.

Dishonored 2

If we start from the chronological framework, then dieselpunk follows steampunk – this is the 1920s-1940s, the time between the First World War and the Cold War. The diesel engine replaced steam engines.

Dieselpunk is eager to experiment with alternative historical scenarios, as reflected in the Wolfenstein series. We also recommend taking a closer look at RTS Iron Harvest. Its events take place in the 1920+ universe, invented by the Polish artist Jakub Rozalski. After the First World Empire, they did not disappear, only instead of Germany and Russia, there is the Saxon Empire and Rusvet, and the independent republic of Polania (Poland) is sandwiched between them. Fortress robots march across the battlefields.

Klokpunk is similar to steampunk, but there is a nuance – steam mechanisms are replaced by clockwork ones. A popular representative of the genre is the Syberia series by Belgian game designer and artist Benoit Sokal. Particularly successful is the first part, where Kate Walker meets robotic automatons and travels on a mechanical train. In the second, she finally reached the island of Siberia and saw mammoths. In the third, the authors’ fantasy ran out. Expectations from the fourth, Syberia: The World Before (coming out December 10), are extremely low-key. Sokal died in May of this year, not having lived to see its premiere.

Syberia: The World Before

Using Syberia as an example, it is difficult to judge the time frame of klokpunk, because Kate Walker’s adventure takes place as if out of time.

In the professional press, it is customary to single out postcyberpunk and equate it with familiar science fiction. Biopunk is one of the offshoots of postcyberpunk.

In a biopank, the world is ruled not just by corporations, but by bio-corporations. Viruses, experiments on humans and mutants are included.

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden

In the ranks of the biopunk, Resident Evil was retroactively recorded. You can remember the fresh Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, a tactical strategy about the talking duck. BioShock (2007) and BioShock 2 (2010) are also considered biopunks. But BioShock Infinite (2013), dedicated to the flying city, is already about steampunk or airpunk.

By the way about the airport. It resembles steampunk, but the action takes place on huge air ships or floating islands. Projects like this are rare; let’s call Skies of Arcadia (2000), an RPG of their Dreamcast era, and HighFleet, which debuted on PC in July.

Skies of Arcadia

In the nanopunk, nanotechnology rules, as you might guess. Remember the nanosuit from Crysis that gave the hero super powers?

Finally, we got to the atompunk, aka Soviet-punk. Draws an alternative world after the Second World War – with spies, nuclear weapons, extremely aggressive and advanced communists. Examples: Command & Conquer: Red Alert (1996) and the under development Atomic Heart.

What is the bottom line
It makes no sense to list all the “punks” in games, because fans, such an impression, are eager to attach this word to anything, if only it sounds catchy. The main thing is that derivatives still haven’t overshadowed cyberpunk itself. Coming soon is a remake of System Shock, a remaster of Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition and an extremely beautiful adventure platformer The Last Night. Well, do not forget about the film “The Matrix: Resurrection” – the premiere in Russia is already on December 16.