Now You’re Playing with Potential

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  • The world is convulsing through a cyberpunk-saturated moment, and Poland seems to be leading the ping. Not only is CD Projekt Red transforming Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk 2020 into a lush and ethically turbid playground, but a little more than a year ago a smaller Polish team released >observer_, a dystopian detective game set in 2084 where players get to luxuriate in the sound of Rutger Hauer’s vocal rockslide while hacking minds. That game was lauded for its theatrical trappings, a near-future where technology has betrayed its architects and many people are permanently lost in holographic delights thanks to war and drugs. A future cracked from the 80s and all its neon garbage and droughts of empathy.

    >observer_ did well enough that a few members peeled off to keep playing in their world with a more action-oriented premise via their new game 2084, which landed in early access somewhat surprisingly at the end of 2018. The world of these games is set nearly a century after the first wisps of Neuromancer wafted through the popular consciousness, bringing along console-cowboys, Wargames, Blade Runner, Akira, and all the other remaining suspects. All of these touchstones plant cyberpunk as a dystopia of spent potential, amplifying the ways that humanity simultaneously advances technologically while it rots spiritually. They are the extremities of capitalism, consumption gone mad, the greatest achievements of mankind built on exploitation and limitless greed. Look at these incredible worlds we could assemble, and please ignore the continents of toxic trash sloughed off to create them. 

    As an early access cyberpunk game, 2084 currently floats on mists of possibility. Developers Feardemic first composed this title through a 72-hour game jam, carving not only the setting of >observer_ but the ambience and assets as well. It’s slick, but as we know the future tends to be rife with gobs of style, leaving little substance to nourish. The accomplishment of this jam is one to celebrate, with cramped and gnarled hallways feeding you to the phage-possessed madmen while you hash and salt still-cryptic narrative emails, hacking terminals, security cameras, washing machines and more to temporarily aid you in your attempt to escape this sunless arena.

    2084, being unfinished, shows a lack of varnish. You run and shoot, but you also hack glowing panels and occasionally TV-headed enemies by, uh, shooting them. If you aren’t mowing down hordes you’re unloading into boxes and quickly entering d-pad directions as a metaphor for electronic intrusion. It’s two flavors of firearms, buttressed with left-thumb Dance Dance Revolution, quickdashes, and intense aural unease. All of this serves as a solid concrete foundation to a future game experience, but the beams are still very exposed, wires loose, enemies repetitive and a second level mob-fight that I can’t brute-force my way through. But still, I am drawn in by the potential for its future. 

    This game could settle in as a halogen-draped Devil Daggers endless arena, with incrementally stronger waves coming at you while you try to hack/shoot an HVAC unit to lend you a hand. There’s a strong Left 4 Dead vibe as well, if they decide to allow some team-ups that could keep the crashing surf of hospital-gowned phage victims at bay. Perhaps 2084 wants to carve a slightly more realistic slice of Doom 2016, tucking that tongue a little further into the cheek with the demonic corporate shenanigans but still teaching you to strafe and full-clip with the best. These great tastes all echo throughout 2084 as it stands right now, but that’s the spice of promise.

    Cyberpunk often depicts a world of infinite capabilities gone cancerous, metastasized but blinking and hacking to the bitter end. It’s a time of squandered promise, and whether or not people can claw their way from the tomb of sparking filth they’ve cocooned themselves in. At this still early stage, 2084 lovingly dresses itself in these same trappings, but its game-state currently rests before the fall, thrumming with latency. It will be interesting to see what Feardemic does with this nutrient-dense beginning, and whether this game can craft a singular near-future digital story that capitalizes on this rich start. 

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