After decades of action-heavy sci-fi guff, Cyberpunk is finally stepping back into the limelight. Films like Blade Runner and Robocop inspired a huge number of games and films, but many of these failed to emulate the original spirit. Films like The Matrix rekindled the genre, but ditched the sense of ethical apathy for a quick & dirty conspiratorial head-fuck. Quite literally, if you count those brain-USB sockets.
We all fell in love with the awesome black trenchcoats, and forgot that punk wasn't just about haircuts. Thirty years after the inception of the genre, Cyberpunk is seeing a substantial resurgence in videogames. Look at the current state of affairs, and it's not too hard to understand why.
Cyberpunk is all about creating worlds that sit right on the edge of moral bankruptcy. Spineless politicians make decisions to please corrupt corporations, while the rest of the world gets shafted by carefully institutionalised inequality. Cyberpunk originally found success in the wake of the early 1980's recession. It doesn't feel like a coincidence that we're starting to resonate again with it now.
After decades of fighting pantomime-villains because a massive corporations turns out to be bad, a new generation of passionate developers are determined to make the genre relevant to those who have political opinions that stretch beyond Rage Against the Machine lyrics. It's unsurprising to see the sci-fi legends of the future concentrating on videogames instead of trying to get into making films. Why bother with the restrictions of a lens and camera, when you can create without compromise in a digital world?
EA's attempts to revive Syndicate were typically heavy-handed, but Deus Ex: Human Revolution hit the nail on the head, creating a wonderfully seedy world of muddled morals that sparked off a couple of interesting thoughts. The upcoming Watch Dogs might not be far-future, but the emphasis on data security touches on something close to the genre's heart.
Slick noir-presentation always goes down a treat, but it's that technology-driven sense of twitchy paranoia that I think really brings Cyberpunk to life. One of the settings I've always thought nailed this best is a pen & paper RPG called Cyberpunk. CD Projekt RED - the excellent developer behind The Witcher games - recently acquired the rights to create a videogame set in this universe.
The Cyberpunk setting is rich, vibrant, and fascinating. After a socio-economical collapse leads to a period of martial law, the US government starts relying on major corporations to maintain order. Corporate sabotage is par for the course, and all-out warfare between major competing companies isn't unheard of.
If you've got the cash you can buy anything you want, and legality is usually the last of your problems. Men in suits will pay big bucks for cyber-enhanced trash willing to do their dirty work, but the rival companies you're screwing over will want more than your money if you get caught. Jobs are rarely as simple as claimed, and you can never be entirely sure of who you're dealing with.
The privately-funded police are still there to keep the peace, and are sure to show up whenever a beefcake cyborg loses the plot. Replacing parts of your body with enhanced metal prosthetics comes at a risk to your ongoing sanity - get too detached from what it is to be human, and things tend to get sticky. God bless rapid-response railgun units.