Cyberpunk Edgerunners is fantastic, the latest in a recent line of impressive anime adaptations of video games. I’ve enjoyed the low-level shenanigans of its eclectic cast of sci-fi punks as they navigate the never-ending dystopia that is Night City. It presents a story more heartfelt than Cyberpunk 2077’s, with more likeable characters (not hard, when you consider the relentless – and inescapable – dickheadishness of Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Silverhand). Edgerunners, though, offers a slither of hope, and not just for its fictional characters. It shows CD Projekt’s Cyberpunk is still worth fighting for, despite everything.
CYBERPUNK 2077 SPOILERS ARE AHEAD.
I thought it impossible at first. Cyberpunk 2077’s launch was a car crash as catastrophic as any of the viral glitches the game spat out from some overloaded Night City crossroads. I had thought CD Projekt would fulfil its legal obligations and move on, like a cruel corpo washing their hands of a shady business deal gone wrong. Remember Witcher? Please, remember Witcher!
But no. CD Projekt has issued update after update, announced an expansion (there’s only going to be one, mind) and now released Cyberpunk Edgerunners, which, as I’ve said, is fantastic. Player numbers have exploded. Remarkably, Cyberpunk 2077 is the most-played single-player game on Steam. Take that, Game of the Year in-waiting, Elden Ring.
I played Cyberpunk 2077 when it came out, struggled through incompletable quest bugs and hard crashes only to die on a rooftop. I told myself I’d replay the game when the next-gen update came out, and while I reinstalled and soldiered through the prologue, I couldn’t bring myself to grind through Night City all over again.
And that, I thought, was that. I didn’t think I’d want more Cyberpunk from CD Projekt ever again. But after watching Edgerunners, I do. I want CD Projekt to finally capitalise on their vision of Cyberpunk, their take on Night City, because despite everything, there’s something special here.
Perhaps it’s the sound of a phone call, that metallic voice in your head when you answer. Perhaps it’s the prospect of a living, breathing Afterlife (I appreciated the nightclub’s appearance in the anime, which evoked a warm, ‘I’ve been there!’ feeling). Flying cars? Yes, please. But mostly, I want to be an Edgerunner. I want to be an Edgerunner like the Edgerunners in Edgerunners. I want to be a cyberpunk.
In many ways, the next Cyberpunk video game has a harder time living up to the anime than it does improving upon its video game predecessor. When we watch Edgerunners’ street kid protagonist skulk to school, stepping over salivating men who masturbate to VR porn on the street, Night City feels fresh. When we sprint past the homeless scattered outside V’s apartment in the game for the hundredth time, the world and its inhabitants become white noise.
Cyberpunk 2077 is ostensibly about a person who is losing their mind, but this is not, surprisingly, due to augmentation. Rather, it’s due to inescapable, inevitable sabotage, a terrible turn of events the player has no say in. Edgerunners is about a kid who risks cyberpsychosis through grief-fuelled augmentation – a more interesting, and relatable, premise, I think, although not an entirely new one. In 2077, augmentation carries no consequence, whether in aesthetic or story terms. Edgerunners revolves around that very problem.
This is the Cyberpunk I want to play: a game that asks interesting questions about grief, augmentation and love amid a sci-fi dystopia dripping in cool. And, crucially, I want to play a Cyberpunk with consequence. What are the consequences if I replace my spine with a machine that lets me move faster than a bullet? And what happens when I eventually realise that machine won’t bring my dead mother back?
Recently, CD Projekt insisted it’s “totally, fully committed” to developing the Cyberpunk IP further, despite confirming Phantom Liberty as the game’s only expansion. After watching Edgerunners, I really do hope CD Projekt gives Cyberpunk another go.