Stylized in all lower-case lettering and no spaces, cyberpunkdreams is an “interactive narrative adventure game” set in a dystopian future with a “dirty sky and neon lights.” “Forget your empathy,” commands the game’s home page, “survive our future.”
As perhaps an oversimplification, one could call cyberpunkdreams (CPD for short) a text-based RPG. The story and dialogue are all delivered via text. Scenarios and scenery alike are painted with words rather than imagery. Combat is written out and calculated by numbers instead of your aim as a player. In every meaningful way, CPD is indeed a text-based, choose-your-own-adventure game born out of the great tradition of the 1980s. However, I call it an oversimplification because beautifully colorful artwork accompanies the story you read, and selections and choices are represented by buttons with artwork symbolizing the items or actions you can choose. Rather than just making a choice by pressing or clicking a number, you can actually see an image of your choice, which gives an extra little splash of personality to your decisions. This artwork goes hand in hand with the game’s ambient music, suitably moody and thematic to accompany the oppressive and corrupt vision that Late Night Games has written for 2090 Cincinnati. The music made me feel right at home as I read through my unfolding story and considered my myriad of choices represented by the aforementioned artwork.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I can write much more about this game objectively, since from here it all boils down to whether or not the player will like the writing. Beyond the artwork, the game looks like a Web browser on Dark Mode, and functionally, it might as well be since an online connection is required to play it. It feels odd to critique or praise the story, since the story is crafted by the player. It can be whatever you want to make of it within the bounds of its setting, meaning that while you can make the story your own, you’re still playing a cyberpunk game, and none of your choices will work toward a white picket fence with a couple of kids and a dog in the Ohio suburbs. I like the writing style of the game and feel that it is descriptive and stylistically evocative for its setting, so I can at least praise the execution of whatever plot the player crafts even if your mileage may vary depending on what your story ends up becoming.
While it is hard to gauge how many hours a player will get out of CPD, since it literally boils down to reading speed, decision making, and choices, the game seems poised to last almost indefinitely with the developer promising content to be added regularly to expand the game further and further in the coming months and years. With each game session syncing with a server to load your character and adventure and push new content, this at least explains the justification for an always-online system that prevents players from enjoying the game offline, as weird as that still seems to me.
Of course, another reason that the game may be online only is its similarities to mobile gaming, being free to play but designed to slowly grind players who are enjoying it into buying credits with real world money. These credits allow you to purchase “premium storylines and perks, and you can spend credits on increasing your rate of play, skipping some grind and avoiding menaces.” What does the rate of play mean?
Well as the developer explains in an early, in-game tutorial prompt, “cyberpunkdreams is designed to be played in short bursts, but you also get one free binge per week and can pay credits to refill your actions at any time.”
So, if you want to play an extended session, but you’ve used up your allotment of actions, you’ll need to pay.
The developer continues. “Credits are also used to clear menaces, skip grin and unlock new content, although the vast majority of content is free and there’s no pay to win. Many credit-locked story options also remain unlocked if you die and come back.”
If your character dies (or if you decide you want to commit suicide to start over), you may create another character, replay the game making different (or the same) choices, and most of the content you’ve paid for will remain yours.
Of course, you can also use credits to buy another character slot to play a different story with a different character making different choices, or even get a subscription, which will give you more actions per refresh and a quicker refresh, too!
I am naturally very wary of mobile gaming and anything that smells like it, and even giving the developer the benefit of the doubt, there is just no reason why they cannot sell the game for an initial fee and provide updates or paid content updates to it while allowing players to play offline as long as they like. The only reason to go with a freeware release with credits and subscriptions is because CPD is a niche title that needs to draw in players with the allure of its free entry, and then hook them with the writing and hope for that hook to result in microtransactions.
While I applaud Late Night Games for having the integrity to keep the game free-to-play and not pay-to-win, I can only hope they will continue to resist the allure that the naturally predatory practices of microtransactions in gaming often bring with them.
If played exactly like the developer intends, it is a very fun, niche title that cyberpunk fans and text-based RPG fans should love, but only in spurts.
Score – 7/10