Cyberpunk and neo-noir are two genres people often use interchangeably. But when you take a closer look at what these genres mean, it’s clear they’re really not the same at all.
While both frequently share a futuristic setting and stark neon color palette, that’s where the similarities end. Cyberpunk tends to focus on larger, more political plots that involve an entire population. Whether that’s the story of an oppressive government, shady corporations, genetic augments, or perhaps a bit of all three, cyberpunk paints the picture of a fatally flawed dystopia.
Neo-noir is far smaller in scope. Its stories are more self-centered and character driven, and tend to lean heavily on melodrama. Hardboiled protagonists, femme fetales, and other carryovers from the traditional “noir” genre also frequently make their appearance.
Despite the apparent differences, many video games end up combining a bit of both—thus probably lending to the confusion. So, let’s embrace the confusion, at least for the sake of this article.
Below, we’ve rounded up seven of the best cyberpunkish games for the neo-noir in you. Regardless of which genre you prefer, you’re bound to enjoy something here.
Is anyone surprised this game is here? The genre is in the name itself and the game is based on a 1980s tabletop game designed by Mike Pondsmith, who many consider one of the godfathers of cyberpunk. As far as cyberpunk games go, Cyberpunk 2077 is a shoo-in among the best there is.
Before its disastrous launch, Cyberpunk 2077 was easily one of the most hyped games of all time. Audiences waited almost a decade for it. That probably helps explain why there was an industry-wide backlash when it failed to meet expectations during its launch in late 2020. But, for all of its faults, Cyberpunk 2077 did give audiences a wild ride as the mercenary V within a hyper-capitalist setting known as Night City.
If you missed out on Cyberpunk 2077 or intentionally skipped it due to its issues, many of the game’s more glaring bugs and glitches have been fixed (on modern-gen consoles at least; still stay clear of it on PS4 and Xbox One). Better yet, CDPR has a sizable content roadmap planned for 2022 and onward. So, now is as good of a time as any to jump in and see if you still have a city to burn.
The Red Strings Club
The Red Strings Club exchanges action-packed adventure for a more melodramatic point-and-click narrative-driven tale, but one that remains just as compelling. The game puts players in the role of a bartender whose job is to find the right mix for the right clientele based on who they are, what you think is best for them, and what kind of response you want to get out of each one.
This very simple but intriguing mechanic pretty much drives the whole game. The goal is to pay close attention to everything around you so you can create the right drink and get an appropriate response. From there, you’ll uncover a tale involving everything from robots and augmentations to how corporate takeovers work.
Just like the drinks you’ll be serving in The Red Strings Club, the game isn’t for everybody. However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you to try and take a sip of the game, if only to see if it’s for you.
Most people don’t know this, but Ridley Scott’s classic film, 1982’s Blade Runner, had a video game adaptation. Well, technically, not a direct one, but it did get a video game set in the same world in 1997. A remaster of the game is in development, but progress has been a bit rocky.
1997’s Blade Runner places players in the role of Ray McCoy, a new runner whose mission is to “retire” a few select replicants. Similar to the film, Ray finds himself conflicted about his order and what will happen if he carries it out. The best part about the game is it gives you a chance to impact the story’s ending depending on your choices, which was a rarity at the time.
In this 2017 psychological sci-fi thriller, which stars Rutger Hauer as the voice and face of the game’s protagonist, Daniel Lazarski, players take control of a police investigator in a world that’s very much like the one in Blade Runner.
However, instead of chasing down replicants that have gone rogue, Daniel uses futuristic implants that can search through the unconscious minds of other people. All Daniel has to do is to plug his implant into the back of a suspect’s head and he’ll know everything he needs to know.
Unfortunately, Observer might have fallen in love a bit too much with its neat trick and forgot to add in some action. As a result, the adventure can end up feeling sluggish at times. Still, there are enough interesting things that happen in the game to make a familiar neo-noir concept feel entirely new.
Like Observer, Cloudpunk is a narrative-heavy adventure game. But whereas the former takes on foot, Cloudpunk takes to the sky, putting you in control of the future’s equivalent of a taxi driver. As you drive from point A to point B, you’ll uncover more of Cloudpunk‘s story while taking in its visual smorgasbord of a neo-noir setting.
If you’ve ever wondered why some people love working as a driver in the big city, Cloudpunk is a good way to explain it. The atmosphere and vibes are all there.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Blood Dragon is a full game condensed into a couple of hours and packaged as a DLC title for Far Cry 3. And, oh, in case it wasn’t obvious, it’s a satire of older films that tried to depict a bleak and dreary dystopian future for mankind. It’s witty, and all your favorite sci-fi characters make an appearance.
There’s not much else to say about Blood Dragon, outside of letting you know that you should definitely experience it for yourself.
VirtuaVerse is a pixel art point-and-click adventure title that should take no longer than half a day to complete. In it, you’ll take on the role of an off-grid tech smuggler who has a custom headset that allows him to see reality as it is, while other people wear headsets that are a futuristic version of rose-tinted glasses.
You’ll venture into this science fiction world in search of your missing girlfriend, meeting some interesting characters along the way.
What Are Your Favorite Cyberpunkish Neo-Noir Games?
Whether you’re looking to stick it to the proverbial man, or you want a more melodramatic tale set in a dystopian future, there’s a game in our round-up for you. And if you’re looking for gaming products to access these games, head over to OffGamers right here.
Which cyberpunk or neo-noir games did we miss? Let us know in the comments below!