What to Play, Read, and Watch While You Wait for 'Cyberpunk 2077'
Here are the books, movies, and games you can enjoy to get familiar with the cyberpunk genre while you wait for the 'Cyberpunk 2077' release date to get here.
Image: CD Projekt Red art
Cyberpunk 2077 sounds like an amazing video game but we have no idea when it’s coming out. Luckily for you, Cyberpunk 2077 is building on a decades-long tradition of cyberpunk tropes, which started all the way back with William Gibson’s Neuromancer. There are a ton of amazing cyberpunk books, movies, and video games ready for your hungry eyes. From the foundational to the obscure, here’s some of the best cyberpunk things you can brush up on and distract yourself with until Cyberpunk 2077 comes out.
The Cyberpunk genre started with the written word and crept out of the imagination of writers such as William S. Burroughs and JG Ballard. But it was codified in the 1980s and became its own world when William Gibson published Neuromancer in 1984.
Unless you want to pour over Burroughs’ and Ballard’s surrealist sixties fiction, and I suggest you do, Neuromancer is the place to start. All the genre signifiers are here: high tech, low life, biologically integrated hardware, and paranoia. Bonus points for having one of the best opening lines of all time: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel is silly where Gibson is grim. It’s another foundational text but it feels much wackier than Gibson’s often grimdark worlds. At times, it feels like Stephenson is doing a Douglas Adams version of cyberpunk and that’s absolutely delightful. The main character is a half-Japanese samurai/ microcoder/ pizza delivery man named Hiro Protagonist. This book was popular enough among early internet pioneers that they borrowed terms such as metaverse and avatar from the novel to use when describing the burgeoning tech.
Imagine a comic book about Hunter S. Thompson rampaging through a dystopian future and battling corrupt politicians. His favorite weapons are his savage columns, the truth, and a bowel disrupting handgun that makes people shit their pants.
This 2003 novel from Max Barry riffs on the themes of the genre to create a horrifying world where corporations are the only power that matters. People in this universe assume surnames for whatever company they work for. There’s John Nike, Violet ExxonMobil, and Billy NRA. In this world, the government’s only function is to prevent crime and the police has largely been privatized.
There’s a ton of great cyberpunk video games—GOG is running a sale on all of them right now—and you should play them. But, you should also check out the pen and paper RPG Cyberpunk 2020 , the game CD Projekt Red based Cyberpunk 2027 on. Another great cyberpunk role playing game is Paranoia, where players work as troubleshooters in service of a controlling AI in a terrifying and controlled future.
This is an adventure game starring Rutger Hauer as a detective who invades people’s nightmares to solve crimes. Set in bleak future Poland, Hauer talks to the machine-ghost version of his son as what begins as a murder investigation opens up into a grander conspiracy.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution and its sequel aren’t bad, but nothing compares to the original. It’s a thrilling tale of corporate intrigue, the Illuminati, and hacking your own body to gain superpowers. The game has aged well, but its graphics haven’t. Fortunately, Deus Ex has a fantastic modding community that’s kept the game looking sharp in the modern age.
These underappreciated PC classics are tactical isometric strategy games set in a cyberpunk Detroit. Players play a corporate overlord controlling squads of four cyborgs fighting for control over business interests. The sequel, Syndicate Wars, pits the corporations against a church that’s using a computer virus to disrupt the augmented reality filters the corporations use to control the masses. Steer clear of EA’s 2012 first person reboot. It’s very bad.
This is another property based on a roleplaying game. The setting of Shadowrun blends cyberpunk and fantasy. It’s like the Netflix movie Bright, but good. The original game was an isometric RPG released on the Super Nintendo. It’s beloved, and this 2012 sequel released on the PC recaptures some of its magic.
We’ve all seen Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, and The Matrix. There’s so much more to the cyberpunk film genre. Even when it’s bad, it’s a lot of fun.
Look, this isn’t a good movie. It’s a weird mashup of William Gibson short stories and novellas that centers around Keanu Reeves as a courier who scooped out a piece of his brain to make room for a hard drive that carries corporate secrets. You wanna see Reeves screaming nonsensically about room service and whining about his internet addiction? Still not sold? What bout a fight between Dolph Lundgren and a Dolphin? Did I mention Lundgren is a street preacher mercenary?
Netflix’s Altered Carbon is an epic cyberpunk television. In a world where the rich never die, Takeshi Kovacs wakes up on a planet he’s never been to 200 years after everyone he’s ever known is gone. An ultra-rich billionaire hand picked Kovacs to solve a murder—his own. Come for the world building, stay for the AI hotel that looks like Edgar Allan Poe. If you like the show, the novels it’s based on are even better.
This is another so-bad-it’s good movie from the 1990s starring actors who went on to much better things. Russell Crowe plays SID 6.7, a virtual serial killer designed for a police training simulation. When SID escapes the virtual and enters the real world, only disgraced cop Denzel Washington can stop him.
Judge Dredd started as a British comic parodying American extremes. The 2012 movie starring Karl Urban is a cyberpunk masterpiece. Dredd must fight his way through a mega-city project to stop gangster Mama, played by Lena Headey, from spreading a new drug across what remains of civilization. He is the law.
In this deeply weird movie from 1990, Dylan McDermott explores the irradiate wastes beyond a mega-city looking for scrap and finds a strange robot. When he gives machine to his hacker girlfriend, it wakes up, puts itself together, and starts a killing spree.
So many of the great cyberpunk stories come from Japan. Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Appleseed are all classics, but there’s a lot of weirder stuff out there too. Stuff like 964 Pinocchio, a movie where the owners of a malfunctioning cyborg sex slave discard him rather than take him in for repairs. What follows is an epic and disturbing journey of self discovery for a lonely cyborg with no memory of its past and no plans for its future.