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Can the Cyberpunk video game be as good as Blade Runner?

Can the Cyberpunk video game be as good as Blade Runner?
Written by ga_dahmani
Can the Cyberpunk video game be as good as Blade Runner?

Almost two years have passed since the release of Cyberpunk 2077. Despite some solid reviews, the game’s reputation was quickly thrown away for replacement parts once it came out, when gamers on the latest-gen consoles were Witnesses the absolute breaking of the game on old hardware. As someone who was looking forward to Cyberpunk 2077 and as a huge fan of the cyberpunk genre in general, I was concerned that its disastrous launch might lead publishers and developers to conclude that no one wants to play any more cyberpunk-themed games.

If 2022 is any indication – and given how long games take to develop, it may not be – cyberpunk doesn’t seem to be in trouble. Stray, a double-A game repeatedly featured by Sony at press conferences, stars a cat making his way through a futuristic city inhabited entirely by robots. Citizen Sleeper, one of this year’s standout indie titles, stars an android trying to make a living on a massive space station. A small-scale point-and-click game, Norco is set in an alternate Louisiana, which is mostly southern gothic with a bit of cyberpunk.


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However, thousands of games are released every year, and three standouts aren’t enough to make an argument one way or the other. But it would be disappointing to see cyberpunk become a taboo genre in gaming. Despite the fact that there are many games set in the genre, it has not yet reached its full potential.

That’s interesting because, in the movies, cyberpunk was basically fully realized from its first appearance. Some might consider Blade Runner proto-cyberpunk given that it doesn’t include some of the genre’s hallmarks, such as a focus on hackers or any depiction of anti-authoritarian rebellion. But, the oil fields for the flame are missing. Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece set an aesthetic blueprint for cyberpunk that much art in the genre still follows today.

Blade Runner had a clarity of vision and attention to detail that is difficult for video game cyberpunk to replicate. Cyberpunk 2077 gives us free rein to explore a massive map, establishing a world across expansive and explorable space. Blade Runner, however, is a movie. It can suggest that Los Angeles is a sprawling technologically advanced urban wasteland without showing us much of that space at all. When Ridley Scott’s camera glides over the flames of the oil fields as a flying car passes by or when a blimp zooms over the city streets announcing new life in the alien colonies, those details give a glimpse of what is the world; a suggestion of the limitless visions that are not seen just outside the frame.

For this reason, Final Fantasy 7 remains my personal high for cyberpunk in gaming. While I prefer Final Fantasy 7 Remake as a complete package, with more developed characters and deeper, more interesting combat, the evocative art of the original is second to none. Sure, its pre-rendered backgrounds look dated by today’s standards, but that doesn’t mean they don’t perfectly capture the vibe of a futuristic city that retains a vibrant personality despite being hollowed out and impoverished by capitalism. Like other games from the PS1 era, such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill, Final Fantasy 7 can present precise shot compositions because the player is not in control of the camera. Cloud walks into an area where a giant mechanical hand is sticking out of the ground, but he has no way of getting a closer look at it. Rather than being a three-dimensional object that we can study in minute detail, the robot hand functions as a sketch; a suggestion of a story we cannot fully know.

The challenge Cyberpunk 2077 met (and largely failed) was allowing the player to explore a neon-drenched cityscape while retaining Blade Runner wonder infused into its indelible frames. Filmmaking is always a process of diversion, of capturing wilderness by hiding a telephone pole just outside the shot. But the promise of an open world video game, like Cyberpunk 2077, is that if you can see a location, you can go there. By stripping its futuristic city down to just the necessary frames, Final Fantasy 7 was able to build a world that suggested much more than it realized.

Cyberpunk is a genre loaded with themes. It’s about what it means to be human and how messy flesh can co-exist with rigid metal. It has to do with power structures and how capitalism, if left unchecked, destroys most of the people who live under it for the enrichment of a few. Fantasy and science fiction are big tents. Cyberpunk is defined by specific fixations.

But, equally important to this fan of the subgenre, it’s defined by vibes. It’s defined by tall, towering buildings, rusting metal, streets covered in rain puddles and garbage, flying cars, black cables connected to human bodies, overcrowded hacker apartments, and, yes, neon. In Final Fantasy 7, the vibrations are immaculate. But give me control of the camera and define it by what I want to see and my willingness to get close enough to see it. He removes the control and I feel a sense of awe at the vastness of the world beyond my peripheral vision.

NEXT: Cyberpunk 2077’s Nomad Path Promised The Path To The City I Always Imagined

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