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A screenshot from Visual Out.

Give me cyberpunk, but make it better

So, Cyberpunk 2077 is a bit of a mess eh?

Even before its release we knew the developers were dealing with crunch conditions and the game had a lot of problems regarding its handling of trans characters. Once the game came out, players found it to be a buggy mess on Playstation 4 and Xbox One, including one bug in which the player’s genitals or breasts stick out of their clothes. The PC version (coincidentally, the one that reviewers were forced to work with) has fewer bugs. Every version of the game contains sequences that could trigger seizures and no option to make those scenes accessible. And you know, why not throw in some racism too?

Then there are the community problems. Prior to the release of Cyberpunk 2077, its fans harassed Gamespot reviewer Kallie Plagge, who dared give the game a 7/10 score. (In the world of gaming, anything below like a 9/10 is considered bad for some reason.) Bear in mind that at this point those fans hadn’t played the game yet. By Saturday, well, have a look at this tweet:

It’s rare you get to see jackasses who would harass women online over a disagreement of opinion so quickly backpedal. I doubt any of them will think “hey, maybe I should immediately stop harassing people online going forward” but one can hope. Of course, their backpedalling doesn’t change the fact they harassed someone in the first place. Plagge has a follow-up thread on the backlash that is worth a read.

All of the above turned me off Cyberpunk 2077. Thankfully, independent creators, many of them queer and/or people of colour, came together to offer an alternative.

Cyberpunk, but better

a screenshot from the video game Spinnorality
A screenshot from Spinnorality. I did not last long in this playthrough. Turns out AI freaks people out.

Nate Kiernan of kritiqal.com put together the Be a Better Cyberpunk bundle, which costs US$60 (although there is a US$10 version for people who are economically or otherwise marginalized) and features 29 pieces of cyberpunk media “without the transphobia, racism, and labor exploitation”. The bundle features video games, tabletop RPGs, written fiction and music.

Hell yeah I bought it the second I heard about it. It offers an extreme amount of content for a great price. Let me say upfront, I strongly recommend you buy it too. You have until Dec. 24 to get it as a bundle, but everything will remain available individually on itch.io after.

What follows is a look at some of the games the bundle includes. I haven’t interacted with everything because I wanted to get this first article up fairly quickly. Later in the week I’ll discuss any other games I got to play, as well as the other material in the bundle.

How I spent my weekend

The first game that grabbed my attention was dinosaurily. It’s a short game about found family and affection by Toto Lin and Fen Swanson. You play as a dinosaur in this peaceful and relaxing game. You can go around meeting others, planting flowers, laying down stickers, and having parties (which is basically dancing while fireworks go off). It’s super chill, and it’s easy to spend a lot of time laying down flowers and stickers in artful patterns. Even the aesthetics of the background feel comforting. I imagine this game being useful as a tool to help you cheer up when you’re feeling sad.

Next for something completely different. _transfer is a narrative-based game about what happens when you no longer understand who you are. The user interface mimics that of a command-prompt system. You use it to connect with other computers and gain .mem files that help you piece together what you are. There are a ton of routes to take, and in the few playthroughs I did I didn’t repeat any information.

Visual Out by Madame Berry Games has you play as a program that’s investigating a dying computer in search of answers as to what cause its demise, as well as its creator’s demise. You’re doing this against the wishes of your own operating system. This is a visually stunning game. It’s in the style of Metroid or Castlevania, and there is a lot of exploring to do. From the little I played I found it to be nonlinear, allowing you to explore paths at your own pace. I didn’t come anywhere close to completing it, but I will be picking it back up after these articles go live.

a screenshot from The Enigma Machine that shows the interface
A screenshot from The Enigma Machine. This is the interface through which you load the 3D worlds.

The Enigma Machine by Enigma Technologies has you explore the mind of an AI via Dreamscape technology, which presents 3D worlds to explore. Perhaps it won’t surprise you that this is a horror game, and a damn scary one that. It relies on atmosphere rather than jump scares to unsettle the player, which I strongly appreciate. The game freaked me out and I played it at noon on a sunny day, although I did use headphones.

For something a bit lighter, there is nullpointer by prophet goddess. It’s a procedurally generated first-person shooter that takes you through a bright, colourful wireframe world as you shoot up polygons that explode into binary data. I am terrible at FPS games – especially while playing with a keyboard and mouse – but I enjoyed the aesthetics despite dying very quickly, very often.

If you want a look at how megacorporations might rule/ruin the world in the future, Spinnorality by James Patton is for you. It’s a management simulator that steals your afternoon, and then also your evening as you reflect on the terror you wrought. This is obviously a satire, but its one that somehow manages to not get old after the first playthrough. The game gives you a ton of ways be the worst person you can be, running a destructive company.

Finally, I played Can Androids Pray: Red, which was written by Xalavier Nelson Jr., developed by Natalie Clayton and features music by Priscilla Snow. This short narrative-based game follows two femme mech pilots considering major philosophical questions as they approach death. The gameplay consists of choosing dialogue options and its story sucks you in. Nelson clearly put a lot of thought into the world, and you get a good sense of it even though the main story drivers are the philosophical questions considered, such as the nature of God. This game is for anyone who likes to consider those topics. Fans of the colour blue can pick up the blue version instead (though it’s not included in this bundle).

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