A Comprehensive Guide to Budget Cyberpunk Gaming – Part 1

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If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for new cyberpunk games to devour, but also, you’re pretty broke. Even though marketplaces like Steam make gaming an affordable luxury, there are only so many you can add to your consistently-metastasizing entertainment archive on a monthly basis.

Fortunately for you, quality app games for Android and iPhone are on the rise, and more often than not, they’re almost unbelievably affordable. If you’re anything like me, your paranoia and technophobia barred you from realizing that, fittingly, common smartphones are an effective new way to feed into the consumer culture that is increasing societal complacency and giving rise to a growing dystopian environment that is pretty much ruining the world. But you’re slowly getting over your inhibitions because you’ll be damned if you don’t get your fix of new content.

If you’re anything like me, you might have a bit of a problem.

Digital addictions aside, you might be surprised to know that there are options for you if you’re short on cash and have an hour or two to kill. Don’t worry your cyber-head, I’ve done some of the legwork for you. I’ve wrangled a list of cyberpunk games on mobile devices for less than $5 apiece and chipped in my two cents, just because I think you’re such a fine human specimen. You’re welcome.

Deus Ex: The Fall

Android: $0.99

iOS: $4.99

Let’s get the obvious choice out of the way first. If you’re a fan of the Deus Ex series (and I’d be willing to bet you are),  The Fall is a shockingly good adaptation of Eidos Montreal’s flagship franchise for mobile devices. In it, you take on the role of Ben Saxon, an ex-private military contractor who is recruited by (and summarily betrays) the Tyrants, whom you might recognize from the previous entry in the series. Hiding in a safe house in Panama City, Ben and his companion, Anna Kelso, struggle to survive while uncovering a conspiracy involving a shortage of the anti-rejection drug for cybernetic augmentations, Neuropozyne.

Compared to Human Revolution or Mankind Divided, Deus Ex: The Fall might not look like much. There’s a reason why the Windows port has not been well-received–the graphics and animations aren’t nearly as polished, and the user interface is considerably clunkier. However, it is on mobile devices where the game shines; all of the things that didn’t translate well into a PC game feel natural held between my fingers. Of course, the user interface takes a little getting used to if you’re not a veteran mobile gamer, but the gameplay is fluid and feels almost as challenging as a console Deus Ex title. Shortcuts are made, sure–your character does not have the ability to jump, combat is nigh impossible without use of the auto-aim feature–but this ultimately works around the limitations of a game that uses a surface without physical buttons as a controller. And keeping in mind that the graphics, more or less equivalent to that of a GameCube-era title, are powered by a handheld device, I find myself unable to complain.

I only have three criticisms: the first being that, on handheld devices, some icons are small and difficult to select by people with large, clumsy thumbs; the voice acting is oftentimes flat and does not lend much to the occasionally-lackluster dialogue; and the story itself, while compelling, feels cut short just as the game begins to pick up steam with the promise of another installment. But all in all, this is a game that is well worth your money.

Deus Ex: The Fall- 8/10

Neon Chrome

iOS: $2.99

Ever wondered what it would be like to fight your way to the top of the Tyrell Corporation headquartersNeon Chrome has the answer. As a hacker controlling human surrogates in a self-contained arcology with a resident population of over one million people, you quickly find that your “trust score” has dipped too low, and the Overseer, man-machine hybrid and cold dictator of Neon Corp, has sent his death squads of brainwashed soldiers to flush you out of your hideout deep within the building’s bowels. It’s a game of cat and mouse as you send one-(wo)man armies to make it as far as they can in this procedural twin-stick shooter.

Whether you’re a fan of old-school gaming or new, odds are there’s something you’ll like about 10tons, Ltd’s first foray into cyberpunkIn modern roguelike fashion, you (as the Unknown Hacker) are given a choice between three characters available for awakening from cryosleep at the beginning of each run, each with a different skillset and weapons set (and a randomly generated name, like Faridah Case). From there you shoot and loot your way through the levels, collecting credits, augmentations, and other upgrades along the way, until you reach the boss at the end of the sector. If your character dies (which is inevitable), they’re dead for good–their accumulated abilities and stats are gone, and you have to restart at the beginning of the sector. However, not all facets of progress are lost; you retain your credits, you have access to elevators that will take you to each sector you’ve completed, and there are permanent upgrades that you can purchase (to say, health, damage, etc.). The skill curve is gradual but natural and provides a challenging but rewarding experience. And it’s all wrapped up in a campy-but-not-ridiculous retro vision of a nightmarish future, set to a classic synth soundtrack and full of fun, 1990s cyberpunk aesthetics.

It’s a hell of a lot of fun–but personally, I prefer the console version, which I purchased through Steam (available for PC, Mac, and Linux at $14.99). It can also be found in the Google Play Store, for you Android users, but while it does go on sale once every couple months, its normal price is typically $9.99. Neon Chrome can also be found on the Nintendo Switch, XBox One, PlayStation 4PS Vita, and in the Humble Store at $14.99.

Neon Chrome- 8/10

Into Mirror

into mirror promo

Download free for Android and iOS

China-based developer Lemon Jam Studio takes a concept that has gone fairly unexplored outside of Sword Art Online and runs with it–but not very far. In the world of Into Mirror, resident megacorporation Mirror Group has created a perhaps-too-successful simulated reality, creating unprecedented demand a la our own virtual world, but with 50% more dystopia. One of the hitches is it’s as easy to prey on individuals in Mirror World as it is in reality; ambitious hackers can “kidnap” users, which in this context means preventing victims from logging off. Enter Allen and Kate, two special agents sent by Mirror Group to locate and retrieve a kidnapped girl. In the beginning of the game, Kate and Allen get separated, and much of the game consists of battling your way through levels in an effort to reunite the two characters, but as the game progresses, something more sinister begins to unravel.

And I have no idea what that is. I really wanted to like Into Mirror–it plays like an old-school level-based platformer, the controls are simple, and I’ll be honest, most of the draw for me was the cutscene art.

For a free app game, much of the game’s art is sleek and impressive, managing to give off a post-Tron: Legacy vibe while maintaining its own geometric sense of style. However, there are various choices in the game’s design that I might be taking a little too seriously, but there’s no turning back now, dammit. The game’s assets specifically have that cheap app-game feel–pools of clashy, bright-green acid are interspersed throughout the levels, and there is little variation in the enemy design. What wore through my patience was a game-breaking glitch: the player character, Allen, has the ability to double-jump, but only worked about half the time on my device (and seemingly never when I needed it to). This is particularly frustrating when the game requires said ability to progress.

Furthermore, the narrative and the way the game plays out seem to contradict one another. You are supposedly in a virtual world but usually traverse through dirty alleyways and across rooftops, with a suspiciously-typical-looking cityscape at your back. Your enemies–seemingly the only NPCs you interact within the game–mostly take the form of gang members with a generic low-level enemy feel or robots clad in uniforms, which supposedly act as cybersecurity. Since Into Mirror’s “storytelling” has a level of complexity along the lines of Princess Peach hanging out in another castle, I continuously found myself wondering why Mirror World is so fraught with quasi-physical peril. The short answer: it’s an app game designed to trick the player into giving the devs money, so the story doesn’t really matter.

Also, I think it installed malware on my phone.

Into Mirror- 4/10


retroshifter promo

Download free for Android and iOS

There isn’t a whole lot to say about Murdercloud Studios’ RetroshifterIt’s a 16-bit endless runner in which you parkour your unnamed character through various laser barriers set to a synth soundtrack and against an urban sci-fi backdrop. There’s no story, no variation in obstacles. In all honesty, I got more out of watching the background scroll past, which ultimately used up all of five minutes of my time. However, I admit that endless runners are not my thing; if you enjoy fast-paced, rhythmic gameplay, you might find more value in this game.

Retroshifter- 5/10

Vektor 1.0

vektor promo

Download free for Android and iOS

Like Retroshifter, Cagil Bektas’ Vektor 1.0 is an endless runner focusing on a retro-cyberpunk aesthetic. We’ve made mention of it some time ago, but there’s just something so iconic about riding a motorbike down a futuristic superhighway that’s worth bringing up more than once. I personally find Vektor much more engaging than the previous entry–even though the opening cutscene is really just supplementary. This may be due to the game’s more challenging and varied setup. Whatever the case, it’s free, there are no ads, and it’s useful if you’re stuck in your dentist’s waiting room for longer than ten minutes.

Vektor 1.0- 7/10

Stay tuned, there’s more to come. But, if you have any requests on pocket-change games you’d like to see covered, make sure to mention them in the comments!

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