How to Entertain Yourself Following (Yet Another) Cyberpunk 2077 Delay
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The news about yet another change in the release date of Cyberpunk 2077 — the most anticipated game over the past few years — was soon all over the Internet and fast became stale. Every channel, every news website, and every online community has posted the same black-and-yellow screenshot; outraged gamers are sending threats to the developers. Cyberpunk delays have long since turned into a joke, with not only social media but the authors themselves making fun of them.
It's not like another delay of the game under perpetual development is still a surprise to anyone, but the fact is that the wait for Cyberpunk 2077 will have to be not three weeks but twice as long. And since this is not the first delay, all the obvious surrogates like the Deus Ex series and «Blade Runner» have already been re-tried and completed several times over. WePlay went through humankind's cultural heritage and picked several other cyberpunk pieces, which could well have flown under the radar, their advertising being underwhelming. They do deserve more attention, though.
Let's start with a game with a similar setting, designed world, and a variety of puzzles, same as Cyberpunk 2077, and was released an hour before CD Projekt Red announced the delay of their main creation for the third time. A coincidence? Yep ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Ghostrunner is a parkour-centered 3D action platformer where one can try on the role of a cyber fighter (I would like to call him a cyber ninja, but there is no stealth in the game). The player will have to run on walls (hello, Mirror's Edge!), annihilate enemies with a single swing of their katana, stop the time, learn new skills, and experiment, experiment, experiment.
Each location is designed as a puzzle that can be explored at length and in detail, as in Katana Zero, with Ghostrunner rewarding particularly inquisitive explorers with secrets. Most of them merely contribute to understanding the local lore, but there are also very stylish katanas, which is nice since the hero's primary weapon is almost always in the frame.
Fights are very dynamic, even though Ghostrunner can stop the time for a short while. This is mainly down to the fact that there's no health bar: one hit — and you are back at the last checkpoint. So, it will not be possible to stop enemy bullets with your face and go on — the player must always be on the move, monitoring the space and their opponents. Also, the Cyber Warrior you control will not only have to take out opponents while on firm ground — the game will throw new tasks at you non-stop and force you to swing the katana while running on walls, in a tackle, in the air, etc.
All of this makes Ghostrunner sort of a rhythm game, and to catch this rhythm is to ensure yourself a few hours of pure gratification, for which Hotline Miami was (and still is) so well-loved.
Today, when they hear the word «cyberpunk», most remember the already mentioned Cyberpunk 2077, Deus Ex, and «Blade Runner». For some, the «Ghost in the Shell» remake for the silver screen and the TV show «Black Mirror» come to mind, and the nerdiest ones add System Shock and Shadowrun to this list. This list clearly lacks books, even though the genre started with them. So, we will briefly move on from models and textures to paper and ink — to dive headfirst into the ambiance of a novel that once made popular the aesthetics of neon nights, cyberspace, and hacking.
«Neuromancer» by William Gibson was published in 1984 — right timing for a dystopia! The book had everything modern cyberpunk is impossible to imagine without: artificial intelligence, virtual space, cybernetic and genetic modifications of the human body, almighty corporations — and, naturally, social instability, leading to demise and a state of flux: «An entire subculture could arise literally overnight, exist for a couple of months, and vanish without a trace».
After its publication, «Neuromancer» sold more than 6.5 million copies and became an iconic specimen of the genre, referenced in a variety of contemporary games, movies, and TV series. This is often to the detriment of original works, as overused ideas turn into clichés. But “Neuromancer” managed to avoid this fate. The author did not hesitate to pick up the dirtiest, most disgusting manifestations of social decay and apply them to the text in generous strokes. The emphasis is not on describing them but on why these phenomena are signs of decline and should be avoided. And so, even now, Gibson's magnum opus is a fresh and relevant read. Especially now.
To some, this choice may seem too obvious, but let's get one thing straight: «Akira» is an anime film. This in itself slices away a huge chunk of potential audience who dislike Japanese animation with its rigidity and the sparing use of frames. It is indeed the fault of many works, but Katsuhiro Otomo, the author of the original manga, kept the reins of the film adaptation production and budget, so the dynamism and image quality look phenomenal even now, 32 years after the release.
What else makes this work stand apart from the others, besides its country of production and visual style? The issues it raises. Where «Neuromancer» puts the problems of society in the spotlight but keeps the emphasis on cyberspace and the confrontation between hackers and multinational corporations, «Akira» dives deep into the study of human nature. Screenwriters make it very clear how difficult and important it is to keep the dark sides of your character in check and how low a person with no internal constraints can fall.
People in this world are expendable and only interest those in power insofar as they can be mugged, abused, recruited to yet another sect, or become the subjects of a cruel experiment. Weapons are readily available at the black market and are not meant for defense but for subjugating others. Youth and talent are pushed to the sidelines, oppressed by experience and seniority, which makes the ground ripe for a plethora of teenage criminal groups.
«Akira» has more than once been called a masterpiece that introduced the West to the world of Japanese animation. Its influence is felt in the most famous cyberpunk creations, including «The Matrix» and «Ghost in the Shell». The frame above has been referenced so many times that you can find reference compilations on YouTube and Reddit. All of it makes a compelling case for giving «Akira» a chance, even if you are not an anime fan. Trust me, it will take that chance and use it to the fullest.
Yet another classic, but from the comic camp. It is a genre just as plagued by stereotypes and prejudices as anime. The first issue of «Transmetropolitan» came out in 1997, and it was immediately clear that what we are looking at may well be a dystopia, but the dirt is in the eyes of the beholder. And the beholder in question is journalist Spider Jerusalem, whose razor-sharp essays, irony, and astuteness not only earn him a bad name but also put several politicians in the box.
The comic is one of a kind for several reasons, and the first one is the genre. It is the so-called post-cyberpunk, where the atmosphere of hopelessness and somber hues are replaced with neons and social satire. This is why you shouldn't expect Batman-level gloom — the pages of «Transmetropolitan» are alive with color. The second reason stems from the first: it’s the huge amount of detail. Artist Derick Robertson has made every effort so that the world doesn't look sketchy and angular, and that reading the comic soon turns into poring over the images: street panoramas are full of freaks, intricacies, and witty (or not so much) inscriptions.
Last but not least come the plot and characters. Writer Warren Ellis let his imagination run wild and created the City. It is a place awash with corruption, drugs, and technology that Spider Jerusalem hates with all his journalistic soul but also depends heavily on. The City authorities are constantly fighting the opposition and the media behind the scenes, so they dislike the main character with his thirst for truth and no-holds-barred approach fueled by alcohol and illicit stimulants.
Such a narrative can not just get by with a small number of characters, and the authors have made most of them really charismatic and diverse. The dialogue is rife with sarcasm and foul language, and Spider's first meeting with his new boss (and old friend) ends with the phrase: «Your first deadline's tomorrow. I want to see eight thousand words. PRINTABLE words. I still remember that essay you wrote when the Beast got elected. I do not want to see the word “f*ck” typed eight thousand times again!»
The comic ended in 2002 and is iconic in the Western world. Yet it is little known in our part of the world since for a long time, there was no translation: «Transmetropolitan» was supposed to be adapted many times, but for a number of reasons, it was officially released only in July 2020. «It took too long!» — comic fans may complain. «But it's out in the cyberpunk heyday!» — WePlay Editorial Office will answer. And we'll both be right.
Finally, let's look at a game that once again lets us dive into a somber setting but has nothing to do with neither CDPR's unending project nor Shadowrun or any other cyberpunk RPG. As you can see from the subheading, it is called Dex. It was created five years ago by Dreadlocks Ltd, a small Czech studio, and did not become a major hit. It has detailed but low-budget pixel graphics interspersed with 2D portraits with only very basic animation. There is nothing special about it at first glance.
So, let's start with taking a second look. Dex is one of a kind. This is one of the very, very few games that combine an RPG, a Metroidvania, and an arcade shooter. The system for upgrading both the main character and her body is a simple one but quite interesting, so you can and should play Dex «from the build». There is also a nice selection of equipment and weapons that can be used all at once, and the combat allows you not only to shoot opponents from afar but also to toss them around using blows, combos, locks, rolls, and other techniques from the standard lot of 2D fighting games, which translates into a varied — albeit sloppy — combat system.
Quests must be the main attraction of Dex. The scriptwriters have created drawn-out dialogues that are interesting to read and offer the player to make some really exciting decisions — there's nothing to be embarrassed about if you spend a whole ten minutes thinking about what to do to reach the desired ending. And there are three of them, by the way.
As for lore, there's nothing special that Dex can offer. The already mentioned «Ghost in the Shell» and «Neuromancer» are two clearly traceable sources of inspiration. Moreover, the developers themselves made the title and the main character's name an homage to the Deus Ex series. This is a small but proud game, developed with love and an evident desire to bring new and exciting game mechanics to a familiar setting.
There will be no conclusion, just a reminder: Cyberpunk 2077 has not been canceled or delayed till next year. The game has officially gone gold, so the developers are just anxious about the product quality. And they are right to do so — such a vast and tremendously complex project can be safely called a feat of digital art, so if the product is not polished enough, it is all too easy to mess something up and tarnish the overall impression of the game. And cyberpunk fans should stop writing angry missives to CD Projekt Red and entertain themselves with something no less interesting, but a lot more accessible, instead.
Translated by Yaroslava Yakovenko