It's interesting to note that in this day and age, where there are computer simulations of just about any real-life activity you could think of, that there are no computer games about computers.
Realistically, it's hard to "simulate" a computer as a game; And even if you could, it probably wouldn't make much sense to do so, since you'd get a better sense of realism actually using your computer as a computer instead of a computer game simulating a computer. Still, considering how creative humanity has shown itself to be in terms of artistic media, you'd think that there would be at least some decent games about computers. The only ones that I can think of are not about real-world, modern-day computers; Instead, they take place in the future. They're cyberpunk.
Considering how important a genre it's become in book-based sci-fi, it's surprising how under-represented cyberpunk is in the world of computer games. They seem a natural combination, but only a few major cyberpunk games have ever been produced.
"Cyberpunk" is hard to define, and there are probably different ideas about exactly what the word means. Basically, it's probably the most popular sub-genre of science-fiction right now, owing to the changing nature of the field of science. Science-fiction has been around for decades, and it's traditionally been about space: Spaceships that go to exotic planets, and the aliens we'd find there. But in the past few years, space travel has taken a less important role in real-world science as computers have sprung up and gained worldwide attention. Accordingly, the focus of sci-fi has shifted to computers as well.
But cyberpunk is usually a bit more specific than just sci-fi about computers. It's almost universally dystopic, taking place in a world much like Orwell's famous book 1984, a world under constant surveillance by an oppressive government, a world where corruption, drug abuse, bizarre sex, and crime are common, and where pollution and environmental abuse has resulted in a mostly-industrial planet.
Cyberpunk's computer-using characters are also usually hackers; They don't just use the computers, they crack them. And there's usually a worldwide computer network, which people usually access through direct connection with neural implants in their brain, rather than keyboards and monitors as they do in today's real world.
Although none of these elements are truly essential to create a "cyberpunk" story, and you could probably have one without some of them, they are almost always incorporated because they're generally accepted as part of the territory. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a real cyberpunk story without them.
But the different forms of media (books, movies, games, etc.) tend to overlap. And a production made for one is very often converted to others. So here are some of the games which represent the cyberpunk genre, listed in chronological order of when the games were released, beginning with the earliest.
Released for the Sinclair Spectum, the BBC Micro, and the Commodore 64, S15K must be one of the earliest "hacking simulations" ever made, if not the earliest. It is the tale of a company called Comdata which has been ripped off of $1.5 million dollars, and you, the person who must uncover how and why. It was actually a fairly decent game considering how old it is, even though it wasn't terribly exciting.
AMFV was certainly not a cyberpunk game in the traditional mood. It does not have tough-guy protagonists who use a lot of foul language, it doesn't have much computer hacking, and although its view of the future is indeed dystopic, it doesn't dwell much on the dark aspects of this future like most cyberpunk. Instead, you play a computer named PRYSM (which was also the original working title for the game), who must make his/her/its way through a simulated world, to experience a variety of things which normal humans take for granted. It's a highly unusual adventure game, the likes of which I have not seen before or since, but that's a good thing.
The title says it all. In Hacker, you play a hacker. The entire game is played from the perspective of your hacker character, looking at his/her computer screen. Unfortunately, although the game has a fairly novel premise, the gameplay is repetitive, boring, and unforgiving. An original but failed attempt at making a "hacking simulation". Hacker was followed up by Hacker 2: The Doomsday Papers, which was a little bit more fun but had even less to do with computer cracking.
Some people might feel that this isn't a cyberpunk game; it isn't, really, in any proper sense, but it does share some key characteristics with true cyberpunk games, such that it feels sufficiently like one to be notable here. The plot of a giant spaceship which has been taken over by the machines that run it is an old one, but Paradroid created a game around this plot cliche years before either of the System Shock games came out, although of course System Shock mapped out that plot in much greater detail, whereas the plot premise is really not important to Paradroid's gameplay. In any case, as you'd expect, it's your job to take back the spacecraft by destroying the droids that are roaming around it.
You control a simple droid called an "Influence Device", a sort of helmet that can be used to take control of a more powerful droid for a limited period of time. While controlling a droid, you can use the droid's weapons to blast other droids, thus bringing you closer to your goal. Of course, the other droids will also be shooting at you, which is why it's important to jump from droid to droid as you proceed, since your current droid will wear down after a while. Taking over a droid actually involves a little mini-game using principles of digital logic; this game is an interesting aberration from the main gameplay of Paradroid, and it's obviously meant to be a sort of "hacking" interface, although it would be a very long stretch to liken the minigame to real hacking of any kind. Even so, it's sort of cyberpunkish.
Paradroid is a big game, mainly known as a Commodore 64 game, although it also came out for the Amiga and the Atari ST. There was never an official PC port, but in more recent times, the game has (not surprisingly) been remade in versions for Windows and Linux, of which the best-known is probably the excellent (and quite faithful to the original) Freedroid, which is actually two games grouped under a single project heading: Freedroid Classic is the straight remake, which mostly plays like the original, while FreedroidRPG is a wildly different game that feels like RPGs like Diablo; it just happens to contain some stylistic elements from the Paradroid universe, but it really is a completely different game. If you want something really, really faithful to the original, try SDL Paradroid. (Notice the server hosting both of these projects; praise be to SourceForge.)
Another purported "hacking simulation" for the Sinclair Spectrum, Supercom begins with the plot of a madman threatening to launch a computer-controlled nuclear warhead, and you, the hacker, given the task of breaking into his system and de-activating the nuke. It's an interesting premise, but the rest of the game should have been made interesting too.
Released for the Commodore 64 and 128 as well as the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum, Cholo is a unique game which could never have been commercially released today; it's just too unconventional and experimental. At first, it seems like a regular first-person shooter (yes, it's a first-person shooter that ran on the C64, although all the graphics are black-and-white wire-frame), but there's actually very little shooting involved. Rather, it's more of an exploration game which you might call a first-person adventure, although it's really not an adventure game in the traditional sense either.
The game has a surprisingly good plot, although none of it is contained within the software itself. Rather, it's related through the novella which ships in the game package. (Bear in mind, this was the 1980s, when games were enough of an art form that it was common to ship accessories like fold-out maps and other knickknacks in the box, instead of the seemingly standard practice that exists today of shipping a box that's empty except for the actual game disks.) I wouldn't want to give away too much of the background, but suffice it to say that this is yet another post-apocalyptic setting in which mankind has been forced to live in bunkers deep underground following a nuclear holocaust. None of the game actually takes place in these bunkers, however; instead, it takes place on the planet surface, because you control a series of robots, not humans. When the game starts, you have a single small robot with minimal ability other than being able to shoot a laser beam that can disable or destroy other robots. However, there is one other interesting thing this robot can do: Log into other robots. It turns out that "hacking" figures prominently in Cholo, as the game contains numerous computer consoles which you need to access in order to get valuable information and passwords. You can also crack into robots to gain control of them. Once you have cracked a robot, you can switch to it at any time. The result is another "teamwork" type of game where you control multiple characters, each with their own strenghts and weaknesses, and you must coordinate their various abilities in order to win. The mother of all robot-teamwork adventures would probably have to be Infocom's Suspended, of course, but it's nice to see this concept expanded into a fully-realized first-person world with Cholo.
The main problem with Cholo is that this world looks horrible. It's not even just that the graphics are wire-frame; the first Ultima game's dungeon was wire-frame, and it really wasn't so bad. It's more just that the graphics fail to convey any significant level of detail. Buildings are plain blocks, trees are triangular pyramids on sticks, and although the game's world contains a fair amount of water, the edge of the water is a simple line like those marking the sides of the street, meaning it's sometimes hard to tell if you're just stepping off the street or stepping into the water (which, of course, instantly destroys the robot you're controlling). Even all this might not be so bad if these stick-figure graphics moved with any sense of purpose, but as it is, the entire game moves at such a perpetually snail's pace that it's almost unbearable. These early micros might have been able to render lines in 3D, but that doesn't mean they could do all the necessary computations quickly. It's a noble effort, and the result really is a game with the potential to be very interesting, but you need virtually superhuman patience (not to mention time on your hands) to play Cholo all the way through.
It's very encouraging when promising games that didn't quite live up to their potential are recognized by a later generation of programmers. In the case of Cholo, a programming group called Ovine By Design created a full-color, smooth-scrolling update of Cholo for Windows, many years after the original Cholo was released. I've placed this update of Cholo (much) farther down on this page.
It seems somehow fitting that the book which is widely considered to have defined cyberpunk, William Gibson's Neuromancer, was made into a computer game years before the plan to put it into a movie (which is still in the works) came to light. This is one of the few games which does a good job of capturing the feel of connecting to a computer system you've just hacked, bringing up a simulated terminal screen and prompting for the login sequence before displaying nice welcome screens and menus. (The theme song to the game is "Some Things Never Change", by Devo, the New Wave band best known for their song "Whip It". The song was made into an instrumental version for the PC and Apple IIgs versions of Neuromancer, but on the Commodore 64 version, a short sample of the actual song is played during the title screen.)
This adventure/RPG is one of very few games in this lineup which I would definitely categorize as "serious" cyberpunk, with all the elements intact and very prominent. A crime-filled urban complex, drug abuse, cybernetic enhancements (including several types of microchips you can plug into your head), and bizarre sexual practices permeate this game, making it one of the only true hardcore cyberpunk games ever made.
Depressingly, although it is widely touted as a "cyberpunk" game, I wouldn't really put ROTD into that category. True, it does take place in a future Los Angeles (and you just *know* that a futuristic portrayal of L.A. will be crime-filled), but other than that and a few occasional trysts with gadgets, it's not very punky. It's really more of a mystery game, where you're a private detective looking into a series of strange deaths.
It is sadly ironic that although this is one of the few games in this list which I could really call cyberpunk, it is also an incredibly bad game. It's basically an adventure game with a point-and-click interface, which doesn't let you use the keyboard and the mouse at the same time. And while the context-sensitive cursor is nice, it would help if it changed context right away when you moved it over an object, instead of waiting about 5 seconds, so you wouldn't have to hold it over everything for a while to see if you can click on something or not. The interface is only the beginning of your problems, though. The dialogue in the game is shallow and lacking in any kind of flair; It brings to mind the really bad all-text adventure games which take you 5 minutes to play. Characters in B.A.T. speak in short, uninspiring sentences ("HELLO", "I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT", etc.) Considering how bad the text is, they could have at least made the game all-flash with some snazzy graphics, but they didn't even do that. B.A.T. has terribly dull graphics which use a lot of ugly washed-out shades of brown and green. The result is an unpleasant experience with little entertainment value or appreciable playtime.
Another game which takes place aboard a space station, Space Wrecked is an original mix of RPG with some adventure. You need to make your way through 20 ships, fighting lots of strange alien monsters along the way, while trying to get some critical items to get the ships running again. What makes this game really interesting is the robots, which can be programmed to go to specific places, and do specific things like attack monsters or perform maintenance work on parts of the ship. The robots actually incorporate a simple programming language, and can be enhanced with plug-in cartridges which allow them to do even more stuff.
As a cyberpunk vampire, your goal is to somehow become human again. I didn't play this one either so I'm not sure what it is, but I think it's an adventure.
Syndicate is not really a cyberpunk game, but I included it here because it has some of the elements of the genre; You control a team of up to 4 cyborg agents armed with heavy weaponry, through various locations around the globe to carry out increasingly difficult missions, most of which involve assasination, brainwashing, or destruction. It's dystopian and your characters are cybernetically enhanced, but there's not much of a technology theme here. Thus the game lacks what is, for most people, probably the most important part of cyberpunk.
This excellent adventure is really more of a straight sci-fi story, but I'm including it here because a lot of the game centers around gadgets and techno toys. You're cast as a timecop, who must repair rifts in time and space created by time travel. The game has a good story, and outstanding graphics.
A completely unknown game made by Jeff Marlow, a programmer from Toronto. I found it on a BBS in that city, and I don't think it ever made it beyond that area. Until now, that is. It's the best game I've seen about hacking (cracking, for you politically-correct types). And the sad thing is, it's not really that great; It's just better than the rest. And yes, it's freeware.
Download it here
Based on the pen-and-paper cyberpunk RPG of the same name, the electronic version of Shadowrun was, unfortunately, only released for the SNES and the Sega Genesis, not the PC. It was, however, quite a good game, with plenty of atmosphere (typical of the genre), although it did have its own peculiar flaws.
Although not a truly cyberpunk game in every aspect, BASS is a science-fiction adventure which involves at least some amount of bypassing computer network security. It also has a cyberspace-modeled world which is called "LINC Space" in the game, definitely cyberpunk. (However, you don't actually enter LINC Space until quite a ways into the game.) Whatever you categorize it as, it's got an interesting storyline and the dialogue is quite well-written. Overall, it's worth a look if you like adventure games.
System Shock is considered one of the most under-hyped gems of the computer gaming world. Although it did garner a following of several thousand fans, the computer game industry has become large enough that those kinds of numbers are small. At first glance it doesn't seem to be a cyberpunk game as it takes place aboard a space station, usually a setting for more straight-line sci-fi. Once you get into it, however, you uncover a fairly unusual little game: You're the sole survivor of a disaster aboard the space station, with the central computer running haywire and a bunch of robot guards trying to kill you. The game involves a large amount of bypassing security terminals, and occasionally you find a cyberspace terminal which lets you jack in. Your role as a computer-savvy hacker, running through cyberspace to defeat electronic security, is decidedly punkish. (System Shock 2 is even better than the original, but it may be too scary for some people.)
When you run DreamWeb, the first thing you see on the screen is a quote from the Bible; Specifically, Revelation 16:1. A grim taste of things to come, to be sure. DreamWeb is an good example of how dark cyberpunk science-fiction can be. Besides the violence (which can get somewhat gory at times), there's one of the earliest uncensored sex scenes ever in a big-ticket computer game. The game is absolutely rich with atmosphere, including an incredible amount of rain (does it ever stop raining in this city?), very good (and, as you'd expect, very dark) music, and well-done graphics which really bring out the darkness in the mood. DreamWeb is an excellent example of a game which values atmosphere over actual content. The whole plot is muddy and indecipherable. However, that doesn't really matter, since the plot isn't that important to the execution of the game anyway. DreamWeb is all about a dark, dirty city and the similar people who inhabit it. In terms of its actual gameplay, it's a pretty good adventure, although it's unusual in that it lets you pick up an incredible number of items, most of them ambient items which serve no purpose, which means it can be very hard to figure out what's useful and what's there only for show. This makes the puzzles tricky sometimes, and the fact that most of the time you're not quite sure what you should be doing (beyond a vague idea that your job is to assassinate specific people) means you'll get stuck a lot, particularly since many puzzles hinge on your having a particular object with you, and if you don't have it (which may very well be, considering your limited inventory space), you'll have to backtrack. Not only is the game full of objects you can take, it's also full of description. DreamWeb seems to take delight in surprisingly (some might say excessively) detailed descriptions of every small object. If you've ever read a cyberpunk novel, you know that authors like William Gibson often write very detailed descriptions of people, places, or things, including small quirky details; The same obsessive attention to detail manifests itself in DreamWeb's text.
Like a gem that you pull out from a dark cave, Newcomer is gorgeous, precious, and obscure, but--like much of cyberpunk itself--also somewhat rough and difficult to swallow. However, it's questionable whether it's really cyberpunk; it does seem to have a somewhat techno-sci-fi focus, but not all sci-fi is cyberpunk, and although the game starts off in a dystopian future-city, much of it also transpires in non-cyberpunk locations. Ah well, I'll add it here since the game is just so gorgeous, and it's for the Commodore 64, which is in itself quite cyberpunk. Although there were multiple efforts by the developers to port this game to the Amiga and PC, all of them were eventually aborted, leaving the C64 version alone. It doesn't look like a C64 game at first glance, though; the graphics are amazingly realistic, showcasing the very best that the C64 could do given enough time and attention to detail, although of course they do show some graininess upon closer inspection. What's perhaps even more amazing is that after almost a decade, the developers returned to this project and, obviously as a labor of love, went ahead and produced an enhanced version for the 21st century. (!) The result is rather large as C64 games go, but downloadable from the official homepage at www.newcomer.hu. It's "AppreciationWare", an apparently new word for shareware. So how does it play? Well, as the developers openly admit on their website, the classic RPG Wasteland was a significant inspiration for them, and it shows: The post-apocalyptic world of Newcomer is populated by giant mutated vermin and the overall interface and look and feel seem similar. A true sign of the good things that come out of the devoted European micro scene, as opposed to the North American mentality that has almost completely abandoned gameplay in favor of games that serve mainly as hardware demos.
Quarantine is not really a cyberpunk game at all, but both of my reference sites name it as one, so I might as well include it here. It takes place in a dark, dirty city of the future, but that's the only cyberpunk element in it.
A sort of science-fiction Alone In The Dark, BioForge was another of those sadly under-hyped gems which nobody ever heard about. Your character, who has been transformed into a cyborg against his will, is on a quest to discover his true identity. And so he's off on a violent journey through a large complex that begins in his jail cell and continues through a series of dangerous but interesting locations. BioForge has some really strong strengths and weaknesses, the weaknesses lying mainly in the rather poor physics modelling and the iffy camera angles, which together usually make combat a huge pain (your character moves way too slowly and it's often hard to see exactly where he's aiming). The graphics are quite nice, however, if somewhat unpleasant thanks to the grimy and bloody settings, and the sound effects are generally decent, although unremarkable. Plot development is good, but could have been better, since the game places just a bit too much emphasis on the action. Nonetheless, BioForge is an original and absorbing game that is not to be missed. (It is also worth mentioning that while it seems, at first glance, to fit well in the category of cyberpunk, there really is not that much cyberpunk about BioForge other than the fact that you are indeed a cyborg. Most of the game does not have much to do with technology, but people consider anything with a cyborg in it to be cyberpunk, so it gets listed here.)
An adventure of quite a different color, Bureau 13's first noticeable difference from typical adventure games is that it lets you choose 2 of 6 different characters to use in the game. These 6 characters consist of a hacker, a mech (cyborg fighting machine), a priest, a thief, a vampire, and a witch. Once you start, the game has more of a subversive and technological focus than most adventures, so it probably counts as cyberpunk.
Like many CD-ROM gems of the mid-1990s, Burn:Cycle quickly slipped into forgotten obscurity, which is a shame, since it's a great little adventure that's kind of short, but fun while it lasts. The plot is recycled but functional: Cast as Sol Cutter, a fairly typical cyberpunk cracker, your life is turned upside-down when a data run goes awry. You end up with a virus implanted in your brain and 90 minutes to get it out. (Yes, you read that right.) As I said, Burn:Cycle is a short (but sweet) game.
Loosely based on the Harrison Ford movie of the same name (with emphasis on "loosely"), Blade Runner looks like a typical adventure at first: You walk around, you talk to people, you pick up clues. But it's not quite standard adventure fare, mainly because of its branching storyline. In an age when games with multiple endings are all the rage, Blade Runner follows this trend with random variables that end up significantly affecting the gameplay and changing the ultimate outcome. The game's atmosphere is top-notch; It really has the feel of the movie. Interestingly, the game does not actually have a lot to do with the movie in terms of plot, beyond the fact that you are in fact a blade runner, a special kind of police officer whose main job is to "retire" (kill) "replicants" (androids which have been outlawed due to their unpredictably violent nature). You do not play Deckard (Harrison Ford's character in the movie), although the game does allude to him occasionally.
Rather loosely based on the novel of the same name from well-known sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, making this the second Dick book concept to be made into a game (the first being, of course, "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?", upon which both the movie and the computer game called "Blade Runner" were based). Ubik is a tactical action/strategy game with an adventure game's interface; Indeed, there are moments when the game has the rudimentary makings of an adventure (walking around, using items, talking to people), but those passages are brief and generally unimportant, giving them the status of window dressing, probably implemented to make the game seem more multi-genre. As Joe Chip (the protagonist of the book), Squad Leader for Runciter Corporation, your job is basically to lead combat squads into missions against your rivals, the Hollis Corporation.
Ubik seems like little more than an excuse to release another real-time strategy game with a plot that just happens to be fairly unique and based on a good book, but in fact it's a reasonably unique and entertaining game in its own right, although it has some quirks, some of which are very serious. The first problem you're likely to notice with the game is that it has the world's worst movement-path handling ever. Very, very frequently, your characters get stuck while trying to walk around, so that they end up simply walking in place, requiring you to change their movement path slightly so they can get where they're going. This is a fairly common problem in several 3D games, but in most games it's a problem with the characters getting stuck on some object, especially a door. But Ubik somehow manages to get your characters stuck on nothing at all; They'll walk half-way across a room, then get stuck on thin air. If this only happened occasionally, it would be merely irritating, but since it seems to happen on a regular basis, it becomes a game-crippling bug that any quality-testing team should have identified as a must-fix; As it is, this one flaw alone is serious enough to make Ubik a problematic game.
The game also has some rather clunky camera controls. You are supplied with an "Intelligent Camera" which is supposed to automatically determine a good camera position and angle to show the most important details at the current point in time. This is a good idea and it usually works fairly well, but occasionally it will give you a camera view that is not terribly useful. Still, it's better than using the manual camera control, which gives you a choice of several camera views, all of which will either show you a tiny corner of the room in which you can't see anything, or a view that's so ridiculously zoomed-out that everything appears to be about 3 pixels in size, and thus which you still can't see anything with.
Also odd is the access time required to pull any speech clips off the CD. In any conversation, every single spoken line of speech will pause the game for a few seconds, during which the music cuts out and the CD is accessed. It might seem logical that this could be solved with a faster CD-ROM drive, but this does not seem to be the case. It's not a problem of slow hardware, it's a software problem. (I'd be happy to have someone correct me on this if I'm wrong.)
All of these are basically technical problems; I haven't even mentioned the gameplay yet. Thankfully, however, if you can get over the glaring technical issues, the game itself is not half bad. Unfortunately, it *is* half-good: Ubik is a mediocre squad-combat game with very little to distinguish it. You go into your mission, you shoot up some enemies, you accomplish your objective. The graphics aren't good enough to make them outstanding, the voice acting and sound effects are only passable, and the plot (which is the only thing that distinguishes this game, because it is, after all, based on a novel by one of the greats of sci-fi) is too under-developed to maintain the player's interest for very long. As I said before, Ubik is just a bad excuse for a game based on Dick's book.
Another obscure adventure game which deserved more attention than it got. You play Joshua Reev (the sunglasses-clad, bald guy on the box cover), a private detective who's given the task of tracking down a terrorist organization. It's difficult to play Nightlong without thinking of Blade Runner, and it's difficult to talk about Nightlong without mentioning Blade Runner. Comparisons are just too obvious: The makeup of Union City is fairly obviously inspired by the design of the futuristic Los Angeles in Blade Runner. If you liked Blade Runner, however, then this is a good thing, because Nightlong is full of atmosphere. The graphics are colorful, detailed, and generally gorgeous, the music and sound effects fit right in, and the voice acting is actually quite decent. (Reev, whose gruff voice is a lot deeper than his monk-like exterior might lead one to suspect, narrates all his discoveries and activities in a tone that's, incredibly enough, not annoying.) In the end, it's just another adventure, but if you like adventure games and you enjoy cyberpunk atmosphere, then Nightlong is one to add to your collection.
It is a strange thing, but when you think about it, Eidos may be the foremost company responsible for the current intellifying of the first-person shooter. Although Eidos is best known for Tomb Raider, a game which is popular purely based on the size of its protagonist's breasts, they have a slew of other games which, together, stand as the most important games which have served to add to the FPS genre. Think about it: Recall Thief: The Dark Project, an utterly excellent game which made "first-person sneaker" a household phrase. Then there were Hitman: Codename 47 and Project IGI: I'm Going In, games which were a little more action-focused but which still had a storyline and a strong emphasis on being stealthy. Then we have Omikron: The Nomad Soul and Deus Ex, twin cyberpunk-influenced games which blend equal parts adventure game, role-playing game, and action game into what at first seems like just another first-person shooter.
Omikron takes place in a futuristic city which invites comparisons to Blade Runner. The dark, grungy mood of the game makes it cyberpunk, but almost everything else about it makes it junk. There are so many things wrong with Omikron that it doesn't seem productive to list them all here, but the main problems with the game are its camerawork, its save system, and the interactivity of its environment. Omikron uses a third-person camera system. Although you can see a first-person perspective, you can only look around in that perspective; To move around, you have to switch back to third-person. (Why? Your guess is as good as mine.) Not only that, but inside buildings, the camera tends to keep changing viewpoints, and although the indoor perspectives keep switching directions, they rarely seem to point toward the place you actually want to see. Omikron also doesn't let you save your game where you want to; You can only save at designated save points, which take the form of three rings floating in the air. (What do rings have to do with saving your game? Uh... Hmm. Good question. Well, okay, maybe somebody at Eidos figures games aren't supposed to make sense.) Worst of all, the world of Omikron is flat and boring. Whether you're out on the street or in any of the buildings in the city, people and objects all use the same model, so they all look exactly the same. (Actually, the game has about a half-dozen models for people on the street, but that still isn't nearly enough to make hundreds of people look different from each other.) On top of that, most objects in the game are non-interactive window dressing. If you try to do something with them, the game simply says you can't do anything with them. This is exactly what adventure games AREN'T supposed to do. Action games can get away with having noninteractive environments, because they're all about action. Adventure games need to have engaging environments with objects you can examine and people you can talk to. Omikron has too little excitement to be an effective action game, too little variety to be an interesting adventure game, and too little interactivity to warrant being called a game, period.
It's too bad, because Omikron really had the potential to be something great. It's obvious that a lot of work has gone into this game, and with a bit of a different design mentality, it could have been so much better. As it is, Omikron is one of the most disappointing games I've ever played. But where Omikron fails, a game called Deus Ex that was released a year later succeeded...
It seems that Eidos/Ion Storm originally intended for Deus Ex to be a superhero type of game. The early ads portrayed JC Denton as some kind of James Bond sort of character, which would have been pretty cool, but somewhere down the line they turned it into a somewhat darker game. (Cyberpunk is, after all, often simply interpreted as "techno Goth".) But Deus Ex is not a relentlessly dark and gloomy game, although it is persistently badly-lit and the plot line is pretty depressing, focusing largely on a deadly epidemic of some deadly virus sweeping over civilization. What it is, is an excellent game, definitely one of the best first-person shooters ever made, although some people insist on categorizing it as an RPG. It's also quite cyberpunk, as there's a fair of of computer hacking and electronics work to do here (although the hacking is a disappointingly boring act, basically consisting of clicking the "Hack" button and waiting for it to finish).
Since I railed on Omikron so much for being noninteractive, I might as well point out that one great aspect of Deus Ex is little things like being able to flip a light switch and having the lights in the room come on, or having books sitting around that you can actually read excerpts from, or miscellaneous objects that you can just pick up and toss around, even if they serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever. These seem like silly, trivial details, but they make all the difference in the world as far as making the world of Deus Ex feel like you can interact with it. Even extra characters in Deus Ex, who serve no purpose except to stand around and populate the world, will usually oblige you with a few moments of conversation if you stop to talk to them. This is what makes the difference between a game that feels like a real environment, and a game that makes you feel like you're being directed from the beginning to the end. Deus Ex might just be the most interactive non-adventure game I've ever played. That's high praise indeed, and a good cue that if you haven't played it yet, you should give it a try, regardless of whether you like cyberpunk science-fiction or not.
Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, one can't deny that AI Wars is a highly unusual game in itself, and yet also highly derivative of what's come before it. In this game, you play an "agent", which is a type of computer program designed mainly to collect and sell data in cyberspace. You really are a person who's jacked into the Matrix, but since the entire game takes place inside the net, you can think of yourself as being a computer program, or an AI. The net is mostly represented using the typical grid of lines and data blocks, the same visualization used in games like Neuromancer and System Shock; Generally, the look of the game is extremely techno-fetishist, with walls and doors that have been designed to look like circuit boards or other high-tech patterns. The graphics are good but not great; The standout aspect of AI Wars is the gameplay.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about AI Wars is the game's goal: There are actually 3 separate goals, which you can pursue all at once, or individually (whenever you begin a new game, you are asked which of these 3 goals you wish to achieve to finish the game; The game will not end until you have achieved all the goals you selected, and depending on which goals you picked, the game will come to one of five possible endings). These goals are to become immortal, to become sentient (thinking and feeling, like a human and not just a mere computer), and to gain control of the entire net. These are all lofty goals, to be sure, and the fact that you play a computer program that's trying to become greater than humans, instead of a human trying to battle these kinds of AIs, makes AI Wars a fresh experience. The game's world is large, and ever-changing, giving it some replay value, and it also has a good multiplayer mode, playable over our modern-day Internet. The game does not remember what condition you left any locations in, so if you collect all the datacubes in a particular node and didn't find any interesting information, you can simply leave the system and go back there, whereupon you will find it completely reset with all the datacubes back in their places, and you can then reap them again, finding completely different data in them this time. Such is not just a possibility, but indeed, the standard form of gameplay; Go inside a system, collect all its data, disconnect to magically make a lot more data appear, go and get more data, repeat for a long time. Tedious, to say the least.
Unfortunately, for all of its innovation, AI Wars ends up being not that much fun. The graphics, music, and sound are all crafted to try and create an immersive experience, but none of them are actually as immersive as they were probably meant to be. The music is decent but unremarkable techno-electronica, with a good beat but a highly repetitive nature, and the special effects tend to be unconvincing or cheesy. The gameplay, similarly, tries hard to pull you in but gets old after a while. AI Wars smacks of a game that was thought up as a promising concept, then was tried as a game, found to be lacking in substance, and eventually published anyway. The game's approach to "hacking" is utterly uninteresting; Basically, you hack when you encounter a locked door guarded by what's called a warden ICE. You run a crack program against the warden ICE, and depending on how lucky you are, the level of the ICE, and the level of your crack program, you either succeed, or you don't. If you fail, you basically need to try again. The problem with this is that your crack programs seem unreasonably impotent; You start off with all your programs being at level 1, which is understandably the weakest level, but even if you ever manage to get a level 6 crack program, you'll still find that you need to make several tries against a warden ICE, and very often you'll trigger an alarm by doing so before you manage to actually get through the door you're trying to hack. The game is absurdly difficult in this way, and the fact that your saved games don't actually save your position, but instead revert you to the beginning of a location when you restore, doesn't help matters at all.
The complete lack of explanation in most AI Wars concepts is a serious problem as well. The manual boasts that "This game does not spoon feed you with the required elements to finish it". Spoon-feeding the player is one thing (and it is a problem in some games), but the opposite problem is serious as well. In AI Wars' case, very little is said about how to achieve your goals (whichever ones you picked), how to upgrade your software or make money so you can afford to upgrade your software, or even how to move around. Perhaps recognizing that a computer game can take the concept of "Let the player explore and find their own way" a little too far, Nexus has released a strategy guide for AI Wars in PDF format that's much, much more helpful than the tiny manual that comes inside the jewel case of the game. You can get this strategy guide from the AI Wars website at www.aiwars.com; Once there, click Tech Support, then click the "Get Strategy Guide" link.
Regardless of its shortcomings, AI Wars is a must-see for anyone who's interested in cyberpunk/cyberspace games, but people who're actually looking for a fun, playable game may want to look elsewhere. The official homepage for AI Wars is at www.aiwars.com, and Nexus Information Systems' homepage is at www.nexus-is.qc.ca. It's worth mentioning that because Nexus is a small company and AI Wars is not a hugely popular game, it's not sold in stores; You can only get it through the online store on the website, so you may as well go there if you want the game.
Note that AI Wars is a game that lends itself pretty well to saved-game editing in general, because the saved game files have some simple areas which can be easily hex-edited. For example, the following is a list of all the bytes in the saved-game file which correspond to the level of your software programs. Note that all of these locations are to be added to the location of the "p" in "bsp" near the beginning of the file to get the actual location. So, for example, the first item listed is 81; If the "p" were at hex location 16h, then you'd add 81 hex to that. 16h plus 81h is 97 hexadecimal, so you'd edit location 97h in the saved-game file to change your anti-virus software level.
81: Anti-Virus 87: Firewall 8D: Masquerade 93: Virus 99: IRC 9F: Spoof A5: Crack AB: Data Manager B1: Encrypt B7: Decrypt
All of the breakthroughs in the game are stored as single-byte Boolean values in the saved game file; If the byte corresponding to that breakthrough is set to 1, the breakthrough has been discovered. If the byte is set to 0, the breakthrough has not yet been discovered. The locations of each breakthrough byte are as follows (these numbers are, again, to be added to the "p" in "bsp"):
175: Nano neural surgery 177: Neuro transmeters sensors/emitter 179: Language center translater 17B: Brain cartographer software 17D: Neural induction probe 17F: Human neural net replicator 181: Persona software 183: Behaviour analyser 185: Emotion algorythms 187: Fully immersive SIM sense 189: Concept imaging system 18B: Positronic Matrix Clock 18D: Positronic Matrix 18F: Data Crystals 191: Bioprocessors 193: Neural Biopacks
Also note that saved game file locations 6Bh and 6Ch (again, add these to the location of the "p" in "bsp") store how much money you have.
A game which has received quite a buzz in the underground gaming scene lately for a very simple reason: It is the first serious "hacking simulation" in a long, long time, and depending on how you define "serious", perhaps ever. Think about it: When was the last time you played a game which tried to simulate breaking into computers and did it with any measure of technical accuracy? Activision's game "Hacker" is a classic, but it was crippled right from the start by the two worst flaws it could possibly have: It was absolutely no fun to play, and it didn't even simulate hacking. Rather, it was about trying to peddle things to spy contacts around the world, and the only relation to "hacking" was the fact that you happened to be doing this through a computer terminal connected to a system you weren't supposed to be in. Of course there were the classic atmospheric cyberpunk adventures Neuromancer and Circuit's Edge, but CE had very little hacking beyond a brief episode with a computer terminal and a connection to the police department's system. Neuromancer, meanwhile, while an excellent adventure with some really fun computer-access scenarios, was not so much a game about computers as a game incarnation of William Gibson's famous novel. And then there's Computer Underground, a game which absolutely nobody has heard of because it was released as freeware by an obscure programmer in Canada. Even if it were better known, Computer Underground is not technically accurate in any way: It "simulates" crashing a server by playing a "concentration" type game in which you need to match various tiles in a grid. That's about it. If there are any other games in the world which put a strong emphasis on breaking through computer security, I haven't heard of them.
Now, enter Uplink, a game which presumably has tried to learn from the failures of the games just mentioned. It must be understood that hacking is an inherently boring process, made exciting only by the knowledge that you are getting into a place where most people are not allowed and getting secret information which few people can know. This is the thrill of the real-life act. In a game, it's just not the same thing breaking into a system because you don't have the joy of exploring its every nook and cranny. Thus, these kinds of games are given the very difficult task of striking a balance between realism and fun. Any fan of flight simulations is familiar with this dilemma, but it is even more acute in the creation of hacking simulations, which is probably why so few have been created.
Uplink is a game that wishes to strike the balance. It does probably the best job possible of trying to be fun while still tossing in some real-world factors that make it feel somewhat technical. You are tasked as an agent working for Uplink Corporation, essentially an employment agency which lets people rent hackers to do specific tasks for money. Servers are connected to through IP addresses which are given to you in your mission briefings, and more IP addresses can be gained by connecting to the InterNIC. Your computer has a simulated memory space in which you can choose where to store your various programs and data files, and you can upgrade your computer with better/more CPUs, more RAM, or a faster modem. Uplink also puts a very strong emphasis on connecting to your target server through several other computers, creating a long chain of connections that makes it much harder (and a much longer process) to trace you, a tactic often used by real-world hackers as well. All this starts to have the effect of making it feel somewhat technical, if you can forget for a moment that this isn't even remotely what real hacking is like.
Although it is probably the best game of its kind ever released, Uplink still feels somehow inaccessible simply because of the abstractness of it all. Most of your tasks are simply done by running software programs, which function as "black boxes" to do things like download files from servers, crack passwords, or monitor traces put on your line. Part of the fun in real hacking comes from knowing and visualizing how everything works, but in this case all you really do is run your programs, making Uplink feel like a "script kiddy" experience.
Uplink also represents a rather poor value, because even though it's not that expensive as games go, the game itself doesn't last for very long; Once you've done a few of the missions, you'll find that the procedure for nearly every single mission is very similar: Bypass the system's security, get in, do what you need to do, clear your tracks and get out quickly. It doesn't take long for Uplink to become extremely repetitive, and perhaps even worse, it doesn't take long until you've done most of the things to do in the game, at which point it becomes more like a job than a game.
Even so, Uplink is unique and fun, so it's worth a look. You can get more info at Introversion's official website at http://www.introversion.co.uk.
(TIP: Getting caught breaking into any government-owned computers, or any mainframe computers, will end your game instantly. Before you risk hacking these babies, be very, very sure that you won't get caught. Their security is sometimes astonishingly capable of tracking you down.)
Uplink has historically been one of those games that was released with some notable problems and has since gone through several patches that significantly altered the face of the game; You would be well advised to get the latest patch (version 1.31 as of this writing) from Introversion's website, under the "Other Files" heading of the Downloads section.
There is, however, one showstopper bug that they never did seem to fix. I'm not certain it's a bug (perhaps it's by design), but it can prevent you from starting the game's story. It works like this: Uplink's story starts in mid-April (on April 14, to be specific), when you spontaneously get an e-mail from another Uplink agent which gives some information on an organization called ARC. The e-mail includes a link to ARC's Central Mainframe, along with a username and password combination to let you log into that mainframe. The way things are supposed to work is, when you get this e-mail, you're supposed to connect to the mainframe and try using the username and password in the e-mail to log in. You'll find that they won't work; However, after you try using them, ARC will be alerted to your presence, and a few days later they'll send you an e-mail that develops the game's storyline. However, if you're a slow, methodical gamer (like me), it's tempting to wait a while before you try connecting to the ARC mainframe. Rather than trying to log in immediately after you get the e-mail, you may want to wait a while. However, you only get the e-mail from ARC if you try to connect to their server SOON after you get the initial e-mail from the Uplink agent. If you wait too long, you'll never hear from ARC, and it will be impossible to start the game's story. To avoid this, try to log into the ARC Central Mainframe as soon as you get the initial e-mail from the Uplink agent. (You won't be able to log in anyway, so there's not much point in waiting.) If you wait too long, you won't be able to advance. Similarly, when you get the first e-mail from ARC, reply to it quickly, because if you wait too long to respond, you'll never hear back from them. This is a pretty stupid setup, but in a way it's realistic, since people might behave the same way in real life. By the way, after you reply to the first e-mail from ARC, wait a while before you react to the second one; In a little while you'll get a competing offer from an organization called Arunmor. At this point, you decide whether you'll work for ARC (the "bad" guys, who want to destroy the Internet) or Arunmor (the "good" guys, who want to protect the Internet).
The fact that the plot goes away if you don't respond to it right away is bad, but the game's handling of LAN systems seems almost broken. Uplink really was not meant to contain LANs at first; They were tacked on to the game later in a patch, and it shows. LANs are clumsy to navigate, and instructions on how to use them are conspicuously absent. Considering the fact that they also don't figure that prominently in the game, it might have been best if they were just left out. It's too bad, because hacking LANs in Uplink can actually be a lot of fun once you get the hang of it--it's certainly a different experience from anything else in the game--and if Introversion had made the idea a bit more fully-realized, it could have worked well. As it is, it seems like the idea was meant to be developed later in yet another patch, but that never happened. Briefly, a couple of pieces of advice on LANs: First of all, you'll sometimes come across "subnets" on LANs, which are incredibly annoying at first until you figure out how to get past them. The idea of a subnet in Uplink is that one computer is "guarded" by the subnet, and the subnet itself is a group of other computers which you must get through first to reach the protected computer. (Sort of like a reverse firewall concept; Instead of using a single security device to guard a network of systems, Uplink's subnets are a network of security devices to protect a single system.) To get past a subnet, you must be within a device that shares a link with both the protected computer and one of the computers in the subnet. Once there, you must use the "LAN Spoof" program on one of the computers in the subnet, and then you will be able to enter the guarded system. Since the LAN Spoof program is not explained properly, you might think that you're supposed to use it while you're within one of the computers in the subnet; Not so. In reality, you use it on a computer in the subnet while you're NEXT to that system, and after doing so, you should be able to click "Back" and then gain access to the protected system. Also, if you look at the lines that form the links between devices in a LAN, you'll notice that at the end of each link, the line widens out a little bit at the very edge of each device. Presumably, this is meant to look like a plug. Well, pay attention to it, because sometimes links will SEEM to go to devices that they don't actually go to. I myself got stuck in a situation where a line seemed to go to a particular computer, and I spent several frustrating minutes wondering why I couldn't link to that computer. It turned out that the link in question didn't actually go to the computer I thought it went to; The line representing the link just happened to pass right through the computer! The algorithm to decide where to draw lines is presumably supposed to avoid having the lines pass right through another device, but apparently they don't always do such a good job of that. So, be aware: If a link line doesn't have the little plug on the end of it where it meets a device, it doesn't actually link to the device; It passes through it.
Just to illustrate this point, here's a screenshot of the LAN problem I ran into:
The device on the right side of that picture is a hub. Now, hubs in Uplink LANs have no security whatsoever; You're always able to connect to them, as long as you're within an adjacent device. In this case, I'm in the computer in the lower-right (you can tell this because of the double-lined box around that computer, indicating the device that I'm currently in), and I want to proceed through the LAN by entering the hub on the right. However, this was impossible; When I clicked the "Connect" button, nothing happened. It took me a while to realize that the computer I'm in is not connected to the hub. If you look carefully at the line that connects the hub to the computer, you'll notice that on the end which connects to the hub, there is a plug, but on the left side of the line (the side which goes into the computer), there isn't one. This is because, in fact, the link from the hub doesn't go to that computer; It goes through the computer. The hub is actually connected to the computer at the top of this picture; The only way to get to the hub is through that computer, when in fact, the way the line is placed makes it look like the computer in the lower-right is the only way to reach the hub. Can you imagine my irritation when I realized this? What's really bad about this is that there was no indication of why I could not reach the hub; A message to the effect of "The device you're in is not connected to your target" would have been appropriate, but when you try to connect to a device you can't reach, Uplink simply does nothing, without giving you any error message or indication of why you can't proceed. Clearly, the LAN system in Uplink suffers from a lack of quality control.
There's a file in the "misc" directory on the Uplink CD called gamebible.zip which has received a lot of attention from the Uplink gaming community; It is a passworded ZIP file, and the password is "too many secrets?", without the quotation marks but including the question mark and spaces. (Many websites incorrectly cite this password without the spaces.) The file turns out to be somewhat disappointing, however, since inside it is little more than a collection of some conceptual diagrams of the design of Uplink. It's an interesting behind-the-scenes glance at the making of Uplink, but it is hardly a game "bible", as the filename suggests.
Also note that although Uplink offers no in-game "save game" option, you can easily save your status by simply making a backup of your .USR file in Uplink's "users" directory. If your character should come to some misfortune in the game, just restore the file from your backup.
A relatively new and unknown face on the "hacking simulation" scene, Professional Hacker 2001 is a game with some interesting new ideas to it that deserve some attention, even though the game overall is somewhat amateurish.
The game is mainly a one-man effort, which explains its simple design, but it has an original premise which ends up working against it more than for it: It runs on a time limit. When you begin the game, you have 5 minutes on the clock to work with. You must get hacking jobs and pull them off to get money, and with that money, you can buy time (which is expensive, at $1,000 per minute), as well as proxy server addresses, credit card numbers, and passwords for your password list (which is used with your brute-force password cracker). The proxy servers are a key part of the game and you'll want to make sure you're using one at all times, since they essentially allow you to be untraceable. If you lose all your proxy servers (you lose your current one after a random amount of usage), you'd better buy another one before continuing. If you don't have enough money to buy another one, count on losing the game soon.
Like all other games of this kind, PH2001 has a serious weakness in the lack of variety in its missions. There are only 4 mission types, and they're not even that much different from each other: Get the root password to a system (a simple matter of using your brute-force cracker and hoping it works; there's nothing you can do if it doesn't), find a vulnerability in the system (which works in exactly the same way, except that you use your vulnerability scanner instead of a password scanner), get a certain quantity of credit card numbers (which is a little more complicated), and transfer the password file to another system (which requires you to first find a vulnerability in the system, then log into it and use the uucp command to transfer the file). These aren't bad ideas for missions, but the fact that each mission run is completely formulaic makes the game get old even more quickly than most. At least most games have systems with different structures to make each hack a little different, but in PH2001, the procedure is exactly the same each time. There is one very interesting feature in PH2001 which I wouldn't mind seeing in other games like this, even though it's utterly useless and nothing more than a joke: When you log into a system, you can browse the files and start looking at some text files. The game actually contains a number of fake texts which are things like saved e-mails or chat logs. They have absolutely no value as far as gameplay goes, but some of them are quite amusing and their inclusion adds some atmosphere and humour to the game. This makes the systems seem a little more alive, and other programmers of hacking games might want to make a note of this. Unfortunately, there are only a very few of these fake text files, and so they soon start to repeat as well.
The premise of a time limit is the only thing that lends any real challenge to the game. You'll find you have to work against the clock quite hard to be able to keep your time from running out. However, doing so simply isn't much fun, and in fact it takes away from one of the most important aspects of cracking: Patience. Real crackers don't try (or need) to break into a system in under 60 seconds. On the contrary, crackers are famous for having huge gobs of time on their hands, often staying up well into the night (or morning) performing their "hobby". The ability to take your time and explore a remote computer system at a leisurely pace is one of the things that make cracking so enjoyable. It's like a walk through the park, except the park is somebody else's computer. Having to hurry is the antithesis of what cracking's all about.
Nonetheless, Professional Hacker 2001 is a good effort that deserves at least 5 minutes of attention. (Professional Hacker 2001 seems to be hard-coded to look for a file called C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM\HREG.INI. It does not seem to be able to cope with your Windows directory being something other than C:\WINDOWS, so you'll have to actually manually create this path and file if your Windows directory has a different path.)
As is often the case, the world of hobby-made freeware produced a remarkable game that stands above the other games in the genre, even the ones which cost money. Individual people often have a better idea of what makes a really fun game than software companies do, and Mr. Overcash appears to be one of these people. Decker is simply an amazingly addictive little turn-based RPG for Windows, based on the cyberspace rules for the Shadowrun RPG. This is even more incredible when you think about the game's missions and realize that although Decker has the same problem with missions as Uplink (i.e., there are too few of them, and so they end up repeating constantly), Decker's missions never seem to get old, even though they basically boil down to either messing with an I/O node, or messing with a data storage node. The fun in Decker comes in simply exploring the systems that you break into, which is done via a graphical representation of the node you're in, including cute little pictures of any ICE or other programs in the area. Eluding gateways so you can get to the forbidden data centers and start browsing the files there, scanning and analyzing the files to see which ones are worthless and which ones are worth money, eventually finding your target and then disconnecting from the system as mysteriously as you entered is a thrill that Uplink doesn't quite capture. Another appealing aspect of Decker is the ability to program your own software and ROM chips for your computer: As you complete more missions, you get more skill points, and if you allocate some of them to programming, you can start writing better programs and loading them into your deck. This is a simple feature, but it adds a lot to the game, since it means you are well rewarded for each successful hack you complete. Decker is not nearly as sophisticated as Uplink (in terms of both presentation and gameplay), but it's just a lot of fun, which is ultimately what most games strive to be. You can download Decker from the official homepage at www.caro.net/dsi/decker.
Given that it's one of few true cyberpunk games released since the year 2000, it's worth taking a look at Paradise Cracked simply to see where the cyberpunk game genre is going. If this game is any indication, however, then it basically confirms what you might have suspected by now: The genre isn't really doing too well.
On the surface, Paradise Cracked looks very good. The graphics aren't of an especially high quality, but they're more than good enough, and they certainly convey a dark, tech-noir city more effectively than most computer games you'll find today. Similarly, the sound effects and voice acting in the game are all serviceable, if somewhat flat, while the music is actually outstanding; some of the background music in this game is, amazingly, worth listening to. In terms of its presentation, Paradise Cracked is a winner.
Where this game quickly falls flat is in its gameplay. The first and probably biggest flaw in its design is the decision to make the entire game turn-based. Turn-based combat is one thing, but Paradise Cracked has turn-based everything, and this means you can't comfortably move any of your characters around without being hampered by how many action points and turns are required to go anywhere. Not only that, but after EVERY turn you take, you have to wait several seconds while the screen is hidden so the computer can calculate the "hidden movement" of NPCs outside of your visual range. This is instantly annoying and destroys the whole gaming experience. Every single review that I've read of Paradise Cracked cites this as the number one fault in the game. It should be understood, however, that the game's designers deliberately made it this way as a conscious design decision. The rationale, apparently, is that you're almost constantly in combat (which is somewhat true; Street fighting is ubiquitous in this game, but then, fighting is ubiquitous in almost any RPG), so rather than switching you to turn-based mode whenever you encounter an enemy, you're just in combat mode all the time. This leads to some interesting quirks that you don't find in most RPGs, like enemies who are ridiculously far away from you taking pot shots at you (or, for that matter, your own ability to do the same). If you can live with the turn-based nature of the game, however, it has other flaws as well.
Paradise Cracked begins without much introduction. When the game starts, you have no goals and not a clue what you're supposed to be doing. None. There *is* a plot in this game, but uncovering it is more a matter of taking stabs in the dark until you find something you're supposed to do rather than setting out with any sense of purpose. The plot has something to do with some AI called CyberBrain gone bad, typical cyberpunk stuff, but uncovering it is more trouble than it's worth for most people. The game extends over four different regions: Lower City, Upper City, Sky City, and Space Station. Each of these regions has about half a dozen maps, and progress through each area is slow, because of the turn-based, combat-heavy nature of the game.
Combat in this game becomes tiresome. You're constantly under attack as you walk around. However, I always say that this same is true of most RPGs, and RPGers don't seem to mind it, so draw your own conclusions. Worse than the constant combat is the fact that NPCs in this game have terrible aim: Often enemies will shoot each other by accident, and similarly, your own party members have an annoying habit of shooting you, when they're not busy missing their targets by an almost 45-degree deflection. In fact, the abominable aiming capabilities of your party members is probably the single worst thing about the game. I find that in most RPGs, the problem of unbalanced hit ratios is a problem. You know, when it takes you half a dozen tries to hit your opponent, but they seem to get you every time? Well, this problem is taken to an extreme in Paradise Cracked. Especially at the beginning of the game, you'll be lucky if you can hit your target one time out of twenty. Later on, as you get more accurate weapons like sniper rifles and gain levels so you can upgrade your targeting accuracy, this becomes less of a problem, but it never stops being frustrating. Even with sniper rifles loaded with special sniper ammo in the hands of a character with an ultra-high accuracy rating, you'll still sometimes be infuriated by shots that seem to go almost perpendicular to their intended path. On top of that, Paradise Cracked does not seem to think that people can fight without weapons. There's simply no option to fight with your fists, meaning that you have to use your firearms to defend yourself. Given how constant the fighting in this game is (and how horrible everyone's aim is), this means you'll go through a lot of ammo. Here's a tip: Probably the first thing you should do when you begin the game is to go see Sam Lee. You're advised by a bum in an alley to go see him, but given little indication of where he actually is. Luckily, he's not far. In fact, he's in the building closest to you when you start the game (the one with the green and pink neon signs outside). If you go in and see him, you will be able to buy and sell weapons and ammunition. Also, oddly absent from the manual is an explanation of how to take things from NPCs who die in the game. There is no option to simply pick up the objects they leave on the ground; Rather, you have to actually walk to where the items are and open your character's inventory window. Then the items on the ground will appear at the bottom of the inventory window, and you can pick them up and place them in your character's inventory. Once you learn how to operate the game's movement, inventory, and fighting mechanics, you'll probably make liberal use of the game's quick-save and quick-load features. Press F5 to quick-save, and F9 to quick-load. Speaking of which, although Paradise Cracked's quick-save function is almost instantaneous, the so-called "quick-load" function takes as long as the regular load does. This gets frustrating too.
A particularly foolish blunder is the "patrol drones" in the city streets which, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, will come up to you and repeatedly zap you. The thing about patrol drones is, their attacks don't damage you; They simply take away your action points. This means that very often, you'll get into a trap where a patrol drone will zap you, thus taking away all your action points for that turn, so that when it's time to make your decision, you won't have any action points to actually do anything, such as run away or attack the patrol drone. Your only option will be to end your turn, but of course, when you do this, the patrol drone will attack you again. This situation comes up often, and if you're only a single character, it simply ends the possibility of advancing in the game, since you can't do anything after that. The patrol drone will keep zapping you, and you'll be stuck. Having at least two people in your party helps a lot, because if one person gets stuck, the other can still attack the patrol drone. This may explain why you have the option of taking on a second party member as soon as the game starts. I highly recommend you accept this option.
There are various types of damage which get dealt in Paradise Cracked, and they are designated by an abbreviation in parentheses after each number indicating how many points of damage were dealt. For example, 10 points of shock damage would be displayed as "10 (sh)" in the game. The various damage types are as follows:
c: Concussion. Basic damage as dealt by bullets, explosions, etc.
Diminishes the target's health points. (Perhaps "concussion" is not the best
word for this, but this exhibits one example of a curious word choice in the
Russian-to-English translation of the game.)
sh: Shock. This does not affect the target's health points at all, but rather diminishes their action points. This is the type of damage dealt by the aforementioned patrol drones.
f: Fire. This take away from health points, and also leaves the target on fire for a few extra turns, so it will continue to lose health points for the next few turns.
en: Energy. Reduces health points.
el: Electricity. Reduces shooting accuracy.
Be wary of installing too many implants too soon. Each character has limited slots for implants, and implants cannot be removed in the game, ever. In particular, I recommend you avoid installing "resistance" implants to resist shock or electrical damage, because while they may be helpful in certain situations, their usefulness is quite limited. Implants to boost strength and auto-heal implants to make your characters heal damage on every turn are much more useful, and the effects of any implants are cumulative, meaning two implants of the same type will have double the effect of one.
One other piece of advice if you do decide to play this game: Beware of cyber spiders! These four-legged robots are practically walking tanks. In all the key areas--speed, durability, firepower, and accuracy--they considerably surpass your human enemies. They run faster than most of your enemies, they take more damage to destroy (they have 110 hit points), they're armed with twin machine guns, and they shoot those guns with amazing accuracy. The only mercy is that they're not as prevalent as your other enemies. Even so, they are a huge problem simply because they'll likely take several turns to destroy, yet they can easily turn you to pulp with a single shot. I recommend hacking these cyber spiders. To do so requires a character with an intellect of 90, which will probably have to be Hacker. Getting him up to that level will require a couple of level-ups. This is why it's particularly important to conserve Hacker's skill points in the beginning of the game; The temptation is to upgrade his shooting accuracy, since (like most characters in the game) he doesn't aim very well, and he starts off with a very high intellect anyway, but upgrading his intellect to 90 is invaluable when the cyber spiders come out, because then you can not only neutralize their threat in a single turn, you can also turn them to your advantage by making them shoot up your enemies. This is an incredibly effective tactic, and when you're done using the cyber spider to your own ends, you can simply shoot it up to destroy it, and get experience points just the same as if you'd taken it on without hacking it first. A win-win scenario; The only drawback is that this means you won't be able to upgrade Hacker's other skills for a while.
One danger you should definitely take even more seriously than the cyber spiders is the RAM Tanks. These monsters show up around the middle of the game, and they're by far the most difficult enemy munition (except for a few "boss" enemies) that seem to exist in the game. Although they take damage fairly readily, you should note that they have 350 hitpoints, an absurdly high number, and considerably beyond any other armed vehicle in the game. They're also armed with rocket launchers which can blow several of your team members to pieces with one shot, and unlike cyber spiders, they cannot be hacked; They must be either avoided or destroyed. Good luck dealing with these things, your only real hope is to either stay out of their line of fire (difficult, given how excellent their aim is), or destroy them with the full force of your team's firepower. With six people in your team, each armed with heavy weaponry, you should be able to administer 350 damage points to the RAM Tank in two turns at the most (assuming every shot hits its mark), and with super-heavy weaponry, it's possible to do it in a single turn.
The other big armored threat (which doesn't show up until you finally get to the Sky City, where attempts to kill you really begin in earnest) is the RMC 320 "Walking Death" robot. They seem like lesser enemies than RAM Tanks in almost every respect: They only have 300 hitpoints of damage, and all their other stats are lower as well, except for one: The absolutely ridiculous amounts of damage their weapons can do. Avoid getting hit by these suckers, and make it a point to kill them in a single turn.
Speaking of the Sky City, when you finally get there, you'll find it so congested with enemies that getting around will be difficult at first. I recommend starting by clearing out the Club Square map first; You can get there by first going to the Cybercenter (which you can't get into at first because it's locked, but which has links to other maps on the outside), then go to the Energy Station (which is heavily defended, but which has two exit areas very close to each other). From there, you can go to the Club Square, which is filled with "only" Specops, and once you get rid of those, you'll find two people inside the club which you can add to your team. (Actually, you can get to the Club Square directly from the elevator map you first entered Sky City from, but that puts you in a bad shooting position because you'll end up upon a high platform that you'll need to come down from; The path from the Energy Station is a much better point for both attacking and retreating from.) Also, note that it's rumored that if you shut down the Energy Station (which is probably done by either destroying the computer console or the strange red structure equipment at its center, or killing Jacob, the person in charge who's also at the center), this will considerably reduce the number of enemies who arrive in the Sky City, since their means of entering the area will be cut off. This can be done in only a few turns by simply having a person with a lot of action points and high dexterity run in to the center, take a few shots to destroy the items and kill Jacob, and run back out. Otherwise, the Energy Station has nothing useful in it; Apparently there was intent to add more importance to it in a later patch of the game, but it seems this never materialized.
Also note that in the Sky City, your main goal is to penetrate the Cybercenter and kill Dr. Mortimer. Betty, a stripper in the club, has a Cybercenter access card that you can use to access the Cybercenter; You can actually just kill her immediately, and not only will you be able to get the card from her body, you'll get a fair bit of experience for killing her. Once in the Cybercenter, Dr. Mortimer will become aware of your presence after a while. When he does, he'll send you a message. After the message, he will sic his robot, Gem, on you, and all the doors in the Cybercenter will open. This is supposed to allow the security forces to come get you (and it will), but it also allows you to start running through the building. Conveniently, Dr. Mortimer himself is actually on the opposite side of the building from where Gem is. Gem shows up in the large computer room to the right of the front door, while Dr. Mortimer is in the sitting room on the other side of the building. If you can run there fast enough, you should be able to get a clear shot at him. To destroy the robot, you need to kill the Doctor, because the robot is controlled by his brain. Once Dr. Mortimer is killed, Gem will be immediately destroyed. Don't take this battle lightly, however; the Cybercenter building is packed with Agents and Specops, and since you've never run into an Agent before, you won't realize how powerful their weapons are until it's too late. Make sure you are absolutely loaded to the gills with weapons, and do take along plenty of healing kits, and preferably one or two force shields, as well. Once Dr. Mortimer is dead, there's really not much else to do in Sky City, and you can proceed to fight your way to Spaceport 1241. Once there, fight your way through the map. This is another huge battle, especially when Gann shows up, but once Gann is dead, it gets easier, and when he dies, the force field to the city exit (the shuttle launch pad near the radar tower with the sniper Specops on top of it) will open up, and you can then move all your characters there to transport them to the Space Station, the final area of the game.
Once on the Space Station, you're almost at your ultimate destination. The first map screen has a character named Oilril who you will definitely want to bring into your team. It's a no-brainer, as he's quite simply the most powerful character you can hire in the game. The commercial trade area on the station has two merchants, who collectively will be able to sell you almost any weapon and ammo type in the game (for a price, of course). When you get to this area, go on a spending spree. It is the last location in the game where you can buy and sell things, so don't try to save up any credits for later; Any credits will be worthless beyond the trade area, and you'll soon be facing the toughest battle of the game, so be prepared! ALL of your team members should have some sort of rocket or grenade launcher (or some other weapon which does a minimum of 50 points of damage per hit) before you leave the trade area. When you're ready for the final endgame, you'll need to go to the Control Center, which has no interesting items in it but is the only way to reach the path to the end. From the Control Center, go to the Reactor Section. (Note that once you enter the Reactor Section, there's no going back; There is no way to go back to the Control Center from the Reactor Section.) The Reaction Section also doesn't have much of interest, but note that you will need to kill Roby, a cyborg who's not the toughest enemy you've faced yet, but don't underestimate him. After Roby is killed, the doors leading to the Council Hall will open, and then you can proceed to the Council Hall, the final map of the game. Again, note that once you go there, there's no going back. In the Council Hall, you'll come upon three battle robots: Two Gorn 4 "Angel Wing"s, and one Gorn 5 "Fallen Angel". If you can handle them, the game is yours. (But brace yourself if you do: Adding insult to injury, Paradise Cracked has one of the worst endings of any computer game ever made.)
Now, after complaining about how bad Paradise Cracked is and then writing all this, you've probably guessed that I must have played the game to the end. If it's so bad, why did I bother? Simply because Paradise Cracked is, indeed, a cyberpunk game, and as such, a modern-day representation of a dying breed. There are moments when Paradise Cracked is actually a pretty good game. There are moments where it all comes together: The combat is thrilling, the action is palpable, and having your bullets hit their mark makes you want to cheer. These are the moments that every game strives to maximize, but alas, Paradise Cracked minimizes them. Like every RPG, it keeps you going by making each battle just a little harder than the last one, always advancing your characters and your equipment so that you can go on to the next stage, and I did indeed keep playing it. But I've played many terrible games, usually out of curiosity more than anything else, so the fact that I played this one all the way through should probably not be taken as a positive testimonial.
Paradise Cracked is yet another example of a game that has a good fundamental base, but goes completely off the rails because of some bad design flaws. Many people have called Paradise Cracked "unplayable", but in actuality, the game is quite playable if you have the patience and motivation to stick with it. However, finding that motivation is difficult indeed, given that this game tends to be confusing and unrewarding to play. It's got enough atmosphere to interest people who really want a cyberpunk game, but anyone wishing to play a quality RPG will probably do better to pass this game by.
The ultimate style-over-substance cyberpunk movie spawned this action game which was released for the PC, XBox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube. There might be some who debate how cyberpunk the Matrix is, but like the movies, this game feels like it's in a gritty and technology-heavy future, which is how cyberpunk is supposed to feel. So much has been said about the movies and this game that it feels a little silly to reintroduce the game in this context, but suffice it to say that this is the only game I've played in which you can alter the fabric of the game's reality through a computer console available from the main menu. If that's not supercool cyberpunk, I'm not sure what is. I'll admit that I liked it, even if it is a silly gimmick. But if you prefer more steak and less sizzle, you might be better off just playing something else.
Hey, this thing's actually pretty good. Street Hacker is yet another "hacking simulation" (apparently, developers never get tired of trying to get this genre right), but for some reason it received considerably less attention than Uplink. This could be because Street Hacker seems to be a little less accessible than Uplink; there appears to be more to do here, but the interface is kind of clunky, requiring you to switch between several open windows to get any work done. I do like the fact that you seem to do most of your cracking from a terminal window rather than point-and-clicking your way to crackerdom. However, just as in Uplink, cracking still seems to consist mainly of coming up with some snazzy program that will automatically crack your target computer for you, so all you end up having to do is run the exploit and the work is done for you. Nonetheless, if you're still hungry for more simulated cracking action, this is definitely a piece of work worth looking at. Get the demo from the official homepage at www.streethacker.com.
This is a remake of the 1987 game listed higher up on this page. I hate to judge a game by its appearance, but my first reaction upon seeing this remake (and probably yours, too, if you've played the original Cholo) was basically: "Wow, is this game ever DIFFERENT!" Gone are the monochrome wire-frame graphics, replaced with true-3D graphics rendered in color (even if that color seems to be almost entirely green). The sound effects have been beefed up as well, and the game actually has a very nice atmospheric music background; you probably won't notice the music much because it's quite subdued, but it does add a nice touch to the futuristic feel of the game. And Cholo certainly does feel futuristic: Virtually everything about the game looks and sounds ultra-techno. The graphics absolutely drip with a techno-fetishist look that makes the city look much like the movie Tron, although to me the game feels more like the aforementioned AI Wars: The Awakening because of its gameplay.
Now that I've praised the graphics, let me talk about that gameplay for a while. Basically, Cholo's gameplay, although sometimes original, is usually also deficient. Ovine By Design appears to have taken only a few gentle creative liberties with this remake, meaning the fundamental structure of the game seems very faithful to the original, which brings out some of the problems in the original Cholo which were acceptable in a game from 1987, but not quite as easy to overlook in a game today. Like too many computer games from every era of game design (from the 1970s right on up to today), Cholo depends too much on aimless exploration. Rather than giving you clear clues on where to go and what to do, you're expected to simply methodically go from place to place until you find something that's useful. Like far too many other games that provide you with a large world that you're free to explore, this freedom is soon spoiled when you realize that there's little to reward your explorations. What's the fun in having a fully-realized city to walk around in when the interior of every building looks the same, and there are very few objects you can actually interact with? Because the gameworld here doesn't actually have too terribly many dead ends to blunder down, Cholo isn't quite as bad an offender as some other games I could name, but if you strip away all the wasted time you'll spend checking out buildings only to find nothing useful in them, Cholo ends up actually providing precious little playtime.
Despite its flaws, however, Cholo is still a noteworthy game which is good for a few hours of fun. Since it's freely downloadable, it obviously can't include a printed novella like the original Cholo did, so instead the full text of the novella is accessible from the game's main menu. Of course, the text hasn't changed, but unlike the game, this novella is something timeless: It's infused with a quality comparable to a basic science-fiction novel, and it's actually pretty readable, though none too original. As ever, the novella doesn't come to a conclusion, but instead leaves the story hanging, because to find out how the story ends, you're going to have to play Cholo. To do just that, download the game from its homepage at http://cholo.ovine.net.
Many thanks to Moby Games and Home Of The Underdogs for having parts of their site devoted to cyberpunk games (Moby's is here and Underdogs' is here, and for providing several ideas for entries on this page. =) Thanks are also extended to J, who pointed out several games that deserved a place on this page.
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